That Trident Launch Failure

Today, news broke of the launch failure of a Trident II D5 ICBM in 2016, a few weeks before Parliament voted to renew the Royal Navy submarines that carry them.

Let’s just start by stating an undeniable fact: the Trident missile is an extremely reliable piece of equipment. Between 1989 and 2015, it successfully completed 155 test launches with both the United States Navy and the Royal Navy.[1] This gives the missile a success rate of 99.4% (including this failure).

While I am not uncritical about how the news of this incident was kept secret, I am annoyed (though not shocked) at how it has been jumped upon by various groups in an attempt to suggest the system is unreliable and/or unnecessarily dangerous. So let’s take apart some of their sentiments:

‘This test proves that Trident is unreliable and dangerous’

Ignoring the statistics I listed above, everything has the capability to fail at some point. The Titanic was unsinkable, and we all know how that turned out. The reason we conduct these tests is so potential problems can be identified and corrected.

‘Lives were put at risk’

The missile was unarmed and fired towards a pre-designated target, following a pre-designated path. Notices are released for mariners and airmen (NOTAMs) for these launches (as well as all rocket launches) so that precautions can be taken to avoid unsafe areas. Additionally, the range safety officer (who in this case is said to be the one who aborted the test) keeps watch during every launch to ensure no-one infringes into unsafe areas.

‘This could happen with a real, armed launch’

Technically, yes, it could. But it’s extremely unlikely (I point to the success rate above). Every vital piece of equipment can fail – aircraft can crash, we still fly, cookers can catch fire, nearly every home still has one. Additionally, in this case, with the current reason for the malfunction being a telemetry error, there is a possibility that the missile could have continued to operate correctly and go on to deliver its payload – we just don’t take that risk during test flights.

TL;DR – your car could blow up tomorrow, but you’ll still drive it to work.

‘A 99.4% success rate is not good enough’ 

If you’ve got an idea for an SLBM that is guaranteed to work 100% of the time, then you might want to let someone like the MoD know, as you’re going to make a lot of money.

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Cult or not a cult?

In recent weeks and months, a common term used for many supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, like the group Momentum, was ‘cult’.

Unsurprisingly, the accused were quick to attempt to deny these ‘smears’ as they call them.

So, in an attempt to settle this, I went in search for a, for lack of a better word, checklist for identifying a cult.

The best list I found was from CARM. While this list applies mainly to Christianity, it can easily be adapted for the purpose I’d like to use it for. I’ll only be listing the parts that I feel apply.

1. Submission:

  1. Complete, almost unquestioned trust in the leadership. 

We can see this in many Corbyn supporters through ignorance of abysmal polling of the public about Corbyn and the Labour Party in general. No matter what they say, his core supporters will always defend and excuse him.

2. Leaders are often seen as prophets, apostles, or special individuals with unusual connections to God. This helps a person give themselves over psychologically to trusting someone else for their spiritual welfare.

We’ve seen marches through streets with people holding massive pictures of Corbyn, we’ve seen Corbyn be compared to the ‘messiah’. Similar images have been seen across the globe, and they aren’t in thriving democracies, they’re in North Korea, they were in the Soviet Union, they were in Nazi Germany.

There’s even been serious attempts to compare him to a fictional superhero.

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3. Increased submission to the leadership is rewarded with additional responsibilities and/or roles, and/or praises, increasing the importance of the person within the group.

When the Shadow Cabinet went through reshuffles, MPs weren’t necessarily replaced by someone better suited for the job, they were replaced by MPs who were more supportive of Corbyn’s leadership.

2. Exclusivity

  1. Their group is the only true religious system, or one of the few true remnants of God’s people.

Substitute “God’s people” with the term “true Labour Party” and you have another point.

In Corbyn’s Labour Party, if you oppose the leadership, then you are a Red Tory, you are a neoliberal, you are a warmonger. I’ve been called all three, and much much more. I’ve been told that I endorse the murder of innocent children because I disagreed with Corbyn’s view on airstrikes against Daesh in Syria.

MPs who do not support Corbyn are frequently bombarded with messages on social media telling them to leave the party and to join the Tories. A local Momentum page had this to say on the possibility of an MP leaving:

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Corbyn appears to be seen as what would in religious terms be called the ‘one true God’, like the passage quoted above describes. I have personally seen and debated with many people who have only joined or will only vote Labour because of Corbyn.

2016-08-04 17_27_12-2016-08-04 17_22_48-(1) Momentum Falmouth.png ‎- Photos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Persecution complex

  1. Us against them mentality. Therefore, when someone (inside or outside of the group) corrects the group in doctrine and/or behavior, it is interpreted as persecution, which then is interpreted as validation.  

This is evident from the institutionalized skepticism of any media outlet or any person that reports negatively on Corbyn. Bad polling, critical accounts from MPs etc are dismissed as mainstream media (“MSM”) lies. MPs who are critical are immediately labelled Red Tories.

4. Control

  1. Control of members’ actions and thinking through repeated indoctrination and/or threats of loss of salvation, or a place to live, or receiving curses from God, etc

Labour MPs who have opposed Corbyn have been threatened with deselection from people even beyond their CLP – a threat of loss.

5. Isolation

  1. Minimizing contact of church members with those outside the group. This facilitates a further control over the thinking and practices of the members by the leadership.

Refusing to cooperate with ‘Tory media’, banning/blocking of dissenters on social media.

 10. Group Think

2. There is an internal enforcement of policies by members who reward “proper” behavior, and those who perform properly are rewarded with further inclusion and acceptance by the group.

As mentioned earlier, MPs who oppose Corbyn will get heckled on social media – those who support him however, will be love-bombed.

11. Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Avoidance of critical thinking and/or maintaining logically impossible beliefs and/or beliefs that are inconsistent with other beliefs held by the group
  2. Avoidance of and/or denial of any facts that might contradict the group’s belief system.

Where do I start?

  • Ignoring the polls
  • Ignoring accounts from MPs
  • Ignoring public opinion from doorsteps etc
  • Ignoring the past
  • Dismissing any critical reports on the leadership, even those trying to help
  • Ignoring actual facts
  • Ignoring how Parliament works

12. Shunning

  1. Those who do not keep in step with group policies are shunned and/or expelled.

Owen Jones suddenly became part of ‘the establishment’ and part of the ‘right wing media’ after he published his article which gave some very valid criticisms of the Labour leadership.

Owen Smith was celebrated when fighting the welfare bill as Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – now he’s apparently a ‘Red Tory’ and a ‘sellout’.


 

So, was it a smear, or was it a valid observation?

Who do you trust on the European Union?

Rather than argue the points for and against the European Union here, I thought I’d have a look at who has declared support for each side – political parties, businesses, celebrities etc.

(note: lists are not comprehensive)

Remain

UK Political Parties

Of course, there are likely to be varying views within all political parties on the subject of the European Union, but most parties have taken an official line on the matter. All of the following parties have officially decided to back remaining within the European Union.

  • Labour Party
  • Liberal Democrats
  • Green Party of England and Wales
  • Scottish National Party
  • Plaid Cymru

Political Figures

  • David Cameron – Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (Conservative)[The Guardian]
  • Jeremy Corbyn – Leader of the Labour Party and HM Opposition[The Guardian]
  • Tim Farron – Leader of the Liberal Democrats[Huffington Post]
  • Tony Blair – former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (Labour)[The Telegraph]
  • Sadiq Khan – Mayor of London[ITV]
  • Gordon Brown – former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (Labour)[The Mirror]
  • John Major – former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (Conservative)[The Spectator]
  • Barack Obama – President of the United States[BBC News]
  • Bill Clinton – Former President of the United States [The Telegraph]
  • Hillary Clinton – Candidate for the US Democratic Presidential nomination[The Guardian]
  • Bernie Sanders – Candidate for the US Democratic Presidential nomination [Huffington Post]
  • John Kerry – Secretary of State of the United States[The Guardian]
  • Justin Trudeau – Prime Minister of Canada[The Guardian]
  • Malcolm Turnbull – Prime Minister of Australia[BBC News]
  • François Hollande – President of France[Economic Times]
  • Angela Merkel – Chancellor of Germany[The Independent]
  • Enda Kenny – Prime Minister of Ireland [The Telegraph]
  • Xi Jinping – President of the People’s Republic of China[Financial Times]
  • John Key – Prime Minister of New Zealand[BBC News]
  • Yanis Varoufakis – former Greek finance minister [yanisvaroufakis.eu]
  • John McCain – US Senator and Republican Presidential candidate in 2008 [The Times]
  • Kofi Annan – former Secretary-General of the United Nations [IB Times]

Countries and Organisations

Businesses

  • Airbus – one of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world, producers of the largest passenger plane ever built. All wings of Airbus’ civilian aircraft are built in the UK[Reuters]
  • ASDA – a subsidiary of Walmart, ASDA is the second largest supermarket chain in the United Kingdom[The Courier]
  • BAE Systems – the third largest defence contractor on Earth in 2015, BAE Systems employ over 33,000 people in the UK and are currently working on the F-35 Lightning II, the Astute class attack submarines, the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and the Eurofighter Typhoon[The Telegraph]
  • BT – telecommunications company who also own the EE mobile network, the internet service provider Plusnet, as well as Openreach (who in turn own and manage the UK’s broadband and telephone cables)[BBC News]
  • BMW (inc Mini and Rolls Royce) – German vehicle manufacturer, noted by Forbes.com in 2012 as the “most reputable company in the world”[BBC News]
  • Bombardier – biggest employer in the manufacturing sector of Northern Ireland [BBC News]
  • EasyJet – a low cost airline that has beaten even British Airways to attain the title of the second largest airline in Europe by passenger numbers[The Mirror]
  • Gatwick Airport – the second largest airport in the United Kingdom[Sky News]
  • Heathrow Airport – the largest airport in the United Kingdom[Sky News]
  • Marks and Spencer – British retailer with other 1100 stores worldwide[BBC News]
  • Nissan – Japanese vehicle manufacturer with a significant UK division, employing upwards of 7000 people and building over half a million cars per year[Financial Times]
  • Toyota – Japanese vehicle manufacturer also with a significant UK division, 3800 employees produce up to one car every 60 seconds at the Toyota factory in Derbyshire[The Guardian]
  • Vodafone – the second largest mobile telecommunications company in the world[The Courier]

Non-political figures (…mostly)

  • Alan Sugar – founder of Amstrad, well known for starring in the TV series The Apprentice. Also a crossbench (formerly Labour) member of the House of Lords[City AM]
  • Richard Branson – founder of Virgin[The Independent]
  • Karren Brady – vice-chairman of West Ham United football club, also known for featuring as an aide to Alan Sugar in The Apprentice. Conservative life peer in the House of Lords since 2014[The Guardian]
  • Michael O’Leary – CEO of Ryanair, the largest airline in the world by passengers carried[Sky News]
  • Robert Winston – renowned scientist and surgeon, also a Labour peer in the House of Lords[BBC News]
  • Deborah Meaden – businesswoman famous for appearing in the TV series Dragon’s Den[Twitter]
  • Stephen Hawking – world renowned theoretical physicist [Wired]
  • Rowan Williams – former Archbishop of Canterbury[Premier.org.uk]
  • Simon Cowell – reality TV judge, film/TV/music producer[Mirror]
  • Sir Ian McKellen – distinguished British actor[Britain Stronger in Europe]
  • Jeremy Clarkson – British TV presenter, famous for Top Gear[Huffington Post]
  • James May – British TV presenter, famous for Top Gear[YouTube]
  • Emma Thompson – British actress[Guardian]
  • British entertainment figures (selection, more listed here)
    • Benedict Cumberbatch
    • Bill Nighy
    • Brian Blessed
    • Danny Boyle
    • Sir Derek Jacobi
    • Dominic West
    • Eddie Izzard
    • Helena Bonham Carter
    • Jo Brand
    • Sir John Hurt
    • Jude Law
    • Keira Knightley
    • Michael Morpurgo
    • Paloma Faith
    • Sir Patrick Stewart
    • Richard Curtis
    • Sandi Toksvig
    • Steve Coogan
    • Thandie Newton
  • Ruth Jones – British actress and writer [Welsh Labour]
  • David Mitchell – British writer, actor and comedian [Guardian]
  • Brian Cox – Physicist and TV Presenter [Twitter]
  • Sir Tim Berners-Lee – inventor of the World Wide Web [IB Times]
  • Chris Lintott – Professor of Astrophysics at Oxford University, TV presenter on The Sky At Night and Stargazing Live [Twitter]

 

Leave

UK Political Parties

  • UK Independence Party (UKIP)
  • British National Party (BNP)
  • Respect Party
  • Britain First
  • Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC)

Political Figures

  • Nigel Farage – leader of UKIP (do I really need to source that? ;))
  • George Galloway – leader of the Respect Party[Respect Party]
  • Boris Johnson – Former Mayor of London (Conservative)[The Guardian]
  • Zac Goldsmith – Conservative candidate for the London Mayoral Elections 2016[Politics Home]
  • Michael Gove – UK Secretary of State for Justice (Conservative)[BBC News]
  • Ian Duncan Smith – Former UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Conservative)[The Independent]
  • Donald Trump – Presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States[BBC News]
  • Marine Le Pen – leader of the National Front (France)[The Telegraph]
  • John Howard – former Prime Minister of Australia[FT]

Organisations

Businesses

  • JCB – manufacturer of construction and agricultural equipment, third largest construction equipment manufacturer in the world[Politics Home]

Non-political figures

  • Katie Hopkins – columnist, currently famous for making a number of controversial remarks[Daily Mail]
  • Michael Caine – renowned actor, starred in The Italian Job and Battle of Britain[Huffington Post]
  • Duncan Bannatyne – businessman, known for appearing on Dragon’s Den[Twitter]
  • Tim Martin – founder of Wetherspoons[Business Insider]
  • Bernie Ecclestone – CEO of Formula One Group[BBC News] 
  • John Cleese – British comedian and actor[Evening Standard]
  • Julian Assange – founder of Wikileaks[ITV]

 

 

Britain’s Air War Against ISIL: Combat Aircraft

Introduction

On the 26th September 2014, the British Parliament voted 524 to 43 in favour of launching air strikes against the self proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) within the nation of Iraq, following an official request for help from the Iraqi Government. The mission would be codenamed Operation Shader.

Armed operations commenced very soon after the the vote took place, using six Panavia Tornado GR.4 strike aircraft already forward deployed to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to provide reconnaissance for humanitarian missions. Four days later, two Tornado GR.4s opened fire on ISIL targets for the first time, striking a weapon position with a Paveway IV laser guided bomb (LGB) and a technical (an armed pickup truck) with a Brimstone missile. These six Tornado GR.4s were then supplemented by a further two aircraft, increasing the number of deployed Tornado GR.4s to eight.

Rather than giving a detailed timeline of all Royal Air Force operations against ISIL (detailed accounts can be found here), I will go through the combat equipment used so far in Operation Shader.

Panavia Tornado GR.4

RAF CONDUCTS FIRST AIR STRIKES OF IRAQ MISSION

A Tornado GR.4 returns to RAF Akrotiri following a combat operation over Iraq | Crown Copyright

Although it first flew over forty years ago, the Tornado remains the Royal Air Force’s primary air to ground fighter. Before Operation Shader, the type was gradually being withdrawn in favour of the newer Eurofighter Typhoon, but as the Typhoon does not currently carry all of the RAF’s air to ground weapons, the Tornado has been given a short reprieve and is now due to retire in 2019.

The Tornado has a long history in supporting British military operations, both in its GR (ground attack/reconnaissance) variant and its F (fighter) variant (retired in 2011). Prior to the current fight against ISIL, RAF Tornados had been deployed in support of previous operations in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, Kosovo and Libya.

One of the oft stated points for extending Operation Shader to Syria was the Tornado’s Brimstone missile. Brimstone was originally developed as an anti-armor weapon, but its high degree of accuracy and low fragmentation warhead makes it an ideal weapon to use against targets in high risk scenarios, such as within a city, minimising civilian casualties. This of course is not the Tornado’s only trick – many sorties during Operation Shader have seen Tornados drop Paveway IV laser guided bombs. The Paveway IV is the weapon of choice for larger targets, further away from civilian populations. A prominent deployment of these bombs were a series of strikes against an ISIL controlled oil facility in Syria, notable for being launched just hours after Parliament voted in favour of extending Operation Shader to Syria on the 2nd December 2015.

The Tornado also provides a capable reconnaissance platform, and can carry the RAPTOR electro-optical/infrared imaging pod as well as the LITENING reconnaissance and targeting pod.

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

Reaper UAV

An RAF MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada | Crown Copyright

Arguably the most controversial of all of the RAF’s current equipment, the MQ-9 Reaper is a remotely piloted aerial system (RPAS), often referred to as a drone – misleading, as they are not autonomous, only remotely piloted.

The RAF operates 10 Reapers, usually remote controlled from RAF Waddington.

The large camera mounted on the underside of the fuselage is a Raytheon AN/AAS-52 multi spectral targeting sensor, which offers colour and infrared imagery as well as a laser rangefinder for target designation.

In addition to the reconnaissance capability offered by the systems listed above, Reapers can be fitted with GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided bombs and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.

Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4

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Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 ZK330 landing at RNAS Culdrose, June 2015 | © Kyle Greet 2016

The Eurofighter Typhoon is the RAF’s newest active fighter aircraft.

Operation Shader is the RAF Typhoon fleet’s second combat deployment, having also taken part in Operation Ellamy over Libya in an air to air role policing the No Fly Zone (NFZ), and a limited air to ground role employing the Paveway II.

Since 2007, four Typhoons have provided the UK’s Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) force, with two aircraft stationed at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, and another two at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland (as well as RAF Northolt during the 2012 Olympics). The QRA force has risen to prominence in the last few years following the resurgence of long range Russian strategic bomber operations, which often stray into the UK’s FIR leading to QRA being scrambled to intercept.

Typhoons first joined Operation Shader in December 2015 following the vote to extend airstrikes against ISIL to Syria. Although not yet capable of using the Brimstone missile, Typhoon FGR.4s have launched a number of strikes against ISIL targets using Paveway IV laser guided bombs, and like the Tornado GR.4, Typhoon FGR.4s can employ LITENING reconnaissance and targeting pods.

Trident: A Quick Guide to the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent

What is Trident?

The word Trident is commonly used to describe the entire UK nuclear weapon system, although really it refers only to the Trident missile system which carries the UK’s nuclear weapons, currently the Trident D5. Up to 16 Tridents can be carried by each of the Royal Navy’s four Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), and within each missile rests up to 8 independently targetable nuclear warheads.

Trident Nuclear Submarine HMS Victorious

HMS Victorious, a Vanguard class ballistic missile submarine | Crown Copyright

 

The renewal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent is often referred to as Trident renewal, but the renewal currently proposed is of the submarines only, as the Vanguard-class is nearing the end of its service life. The Trident missiles and their warheads will remain effectively the same.

Is Trident independent?

A commonly peddled myth is that the UK’s nuclear deterrent is not independent, that it requires permission from the United States to fire.

This is untrue.

Although, as a very close ally and a member of NATO, it’s likely any possible nuclear launch would be discussed with the USA, the final decision rests solely with the Prime Minister. The US have no way to stop or prevent an independent UK missile launch.

An additional facet to this myth is that Trident relies on US controlled global positioning system (GPS) satellites for guidance. Again, an untrue statement. Trident guides itself using a combination of inertial and celestial navigation systems. And while GPS could be used to enhance its accuracy, it would be very risky to trust the guidance system of a nuclear weapon to an outside source that is as vulnerable to jamming as GPS is.

It is true that a lot of the UK’s Trident missiles are kept and maintained at a storage facility in Virginia, USA, along with some of the US Navy’s stock of Tridents, but as at least one Vanguard class is permanently on patrol with nuclear weapons then this has little effect on the UK’s nuclear capability. Theoretically, if the USA withdrew long term support for Trident then the UK may lose access to any missiles stored in the USA. However, given how long the agreement has existed, coupled with the close relationship between the two nations, this is a very unlikely scenario.

What is Trident for?

The best weapon is one you never have to fire.

Trident is a nuclear deterrent. In essence, it is designed to prevent itself ever needing to be fired.

Think of a Mexican stand-off. If one person fires their gun, then everyone dies. Deterrence works in a similar way. While a number of countries maintain a deterrent, then nuclear war remains a scenario that no-one can win, thereby making it a less attractive strategy.

You might say, well why would anyone fire a nuclear weapon in the first place?

It’s a common thought among many that nuclear weapons are relegated only to near apocalyptic uses, striking cities and killing millions of people. In reality, a lot of nuclear weapons have been developed specifically to counter military targets. In addition to the widely known nuclear bombs and nuclear missiles, there have been nuclear depth charges and torpedoes, developed to cripple fleets of ships and submarines, there have been nuclear weapons designed for use on a battlefield, small enough to fit on a portable mortar. It’s these types of nuclear weapon that, I believe, are most likely to be used. If countries disarm unilaterally, where will the deterrent to using nuclear weapons in this way be?

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M-28/M-29 Davy Crockett recoilless gun, loaded with an M-388 nuclear projectile. These weapons were deployed by US forces in Germany during the Cold War | US Department of Defense

Who are nuclear threats to the UK?

The question in nuclear deterrence is less of a “who are we deterring?” and more of a “what are we deterring?”, with the answer being any usage of nuclear weapons.

There are some answers to a “who?” question though.

The state of North Korea recently (at the time of writing) claimed to have detonated their first hydrogen bomb. I don’t think North Korea are a direct threat to the UK, but as I’ve said, our deterrent is there to deter all nuclear war, and with a nuclear armed North Korea and a young leader looking to prove his authority, Japan and South Korea are targets within easy reach.

Closer to home, a resurgent Russia is gradually rebuilding its armed forces, including nuclear arms. Flights near NATO airspace have increased to Cold War levels once more, with the RAF’s Typhoon FGR.4s scrambling 8 separate times when Russian strategic bombers flew within the UK’s area of interest. Combine this with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, stating he has not ruled out the usage of nuclear weapons in Syria, and it is clear although nuclear war might not be imminent, it is wise to keep one’s guard up, rather than let it down.

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A Typhoon FGR.4 from 6 Squadron, RAF Lossiemouth, intercepts a Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-95 strategic nuclear bomber off the coast of Scotland in 2014 | Crown Copyright

Is the money not better spent on the NHS or education?

This question can be answered quite quickly.

Using figures often reported by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the new class of submarines will cost £167 billion to operate over their expected lifetime, which will be 30-40 years (working out at about £5 billion per year). Over 30 years the NHS will cost at least £3 trillion.

In no way am I saying the NHS should have their funding cut, quite the opposite, they’re an excellent institution, I’m simply using its cost as a comparison. On a government scale, the cost of Trident is a drop in the water.

Are there cheaper alternatives?

Yes, kind of.

There are many ways of maintaining a nuclear deterrent for less money than renewing Trident, but they all come with their individual drawbacks.

A cruise missile based deterrent could be air launched or submarine launched. However, the range of most cruise missiles is very short compared to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) like Trident. They also travel much slower, presenting themselves as easier targets for defence systems, whereas the warheads from Trident travel at up to 18000 miles per hour during re-entry. The UK already possesses non-nuclear cruise missiles in the form of BGM-109 Tomahawks, which are launched from Astute class and Trafalgar class submarines, as well as the Storm Shadow, launched from the Tornado GR.4 and in future the Typhoon FGR.4. Neither of these missiles currently have a nuclear warhead available, so there would be an added cost of development should the UK switch to a cruise missile deterrent.

Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 Aircraft from 617 Squadron with Storm Shadow Cruise Missiles

A Tornado GR.4, with two Storm Shadow cruise missiles fitted under the fuselage | Crown Copyright

Tactical Tomahawk Block IV Cruise Missile Test

BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile | US Navy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An aircraft based nuclear deterrent suffers two of the same issues as cruise missiles; range and vulnerability. By the time aircraft carrying a prospective UK nuclear deterrent (for example, F-35Bs with B61 nuclear bombs) have deployed to an area within range of their target, days could have passed since they were directed to deliver nuclear weapons. Unlike the US Air Force, the Royal Air Force has neither the budget nor the infrastructure to maintain huge fleets of strategic bombers and aerial refuelling aircraft.

Silo based deterrents usually utilise ICBMs, similar to Trident, so for range and vulnerability they score highly. The drawback to this solution though, is the size of the UK. Where would the silos be built? Very few people will want even one silo in their area. The USA has the advantage of huge swathes of sparsely populated land where they can maintain their silos, the UK does not have this luxury. Also, as silos would be expensive to build, and the need to procure new land based ICBMs, the cost could quite easily run just as high as renewing Trident.

So, to summarise:

Are there cheaper alternatives? Yes.

Are those cheaper alternatives as effective and credible as Trident? No.

Are the UK’s nuclear weapons illegal?

No.

Quoting from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT):

Article VI

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

Nothing there forbids current nuclear countries to maintain their deterrents, nor does it call for unilateral disarmament, it calls for negotiations towards multilateral nuclear disarmament.

These negotiations have already taken place in multiple guises. Both the USA and USSR reduced the size of their nuclear forces in the Strategic Arms Limitation and Strategic Arms Reduction treaties.

The UK’s nuclear stockpile is the lowest it has been in decades. The UK is also the only nation to maintain only one part of the nuclear triad (air launched, submarine launched, silo launched), after the WE.177 free fall nuclear bomb was retired from service in 1998.

While in a perfect world, everyone might agree to disarm, in the real world, while countries like North Korea have access to nuclear weapons, while India and Pakistan each maintain nuclear weapons, while Russia is modernising its nuclear stockpile, that conclusion is unlikely at best.

Where are the UK’s nuclear weapons and submarines based?

The Royal Navy’s fleet of Vanguard SSBNs are based at HMNB Clyde in Scotland, along with the Astute class SSN. Maintenance for these submarines can also be carried out at HMNB Devonport, where the fleet of Trafalgar class SSNs are based.

The UK’s main nuclear weapons storage area is adjacent to HMNB Clyde, at RNAD Coulport. The complex, which is partly underground, has facilities to store a number of Trident ICBMs, as well as the nuclear warheads that would be fitted onto them. Underneath the base there are two docks to facilitate loading of Trident missiles onto Vanguard submarines. The base is also a storage area for a large number of the Royal Navy’s conventional weapons.

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RNAD Coulport satellite image | Google Maps

The warheads themselves were built by the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), who have large facilities are Aldermaston and Burghfield. It is likely that a number of the warheads are also stored at these facilities as well as in Scotland.

If you have any additional questions that you feel should be answered here, feel free to suggest it in the comments.

Featured photo: A Trident D5 missile launches from a Vanguard class submarine | US Department of Defense

RFA Argus sails to Africa

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship RFA Argus has been featured in the news rather a lot this week, having set sail on Friday 17th October 2014 for West Africa to join the international effort against the Ebola virus. But what does this, before now, relatively unknown ship do?

Officially classed by the Royal Navy as a Primary Casualty Receiving Ship (PCRS), the ship is also used for training helicopter pilots to land on a flight deck at sea. Both the AW101 Merlin HM.2 and the AgustaWestland Wildcat have had much publicised trials aboard the ship, which features large flight deck aft of the main superstructure.

In the PCRS role, it is claimed by the Royal Navy to feature “a fully equipped 100-bed medical complex”, and served in this role during the Battle of Al Faw in 2003, as well as Operation Telic – the British operation in Iraq from 2003 to 2011.

Aside from operational duties, the ship appeared in the film World War Z portraying the fictional USS Argus.

On her current deployment, Argus will be acting as an offshore operating base for Royal Marines and Royal Navy personnel, who will set up treatment centres within the countries afflicted with the Ebola virus. She is carrying three AW101 Merlin helicopters from RNAS Culdrose, as well as what appeared to be at least one LCVP MK.5 Landing craft, along with numerous Offshore Raiding Craft.

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 Royal Marines LCVP MK.5

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Royal Navy AW101 Merlin HM.2