Trident launch fails for second time in a row with Defence Secretary onboard as missile 'falls yards from nuclear sub'

21 February 2024, 05:36 | Updated: 21 February 2024, 10:14

A Trident test launch has failed
A Trident test launch has failed. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

A trident nuclear missile has fallen into the ocean just a few yards from the submarine it was launched from, prompting questions about the security of Britain's nuclear deterrent.

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The failed launch was the second consecutive Trident test to go wrong, after an incident in 2016.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that an "anomaly occurred" during the January 30 exercise on HMS Vanguard, which is a nuclear-powered submarine.

It took place in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of the US state of Florida.

A dummy Trident 2 missile was shot into the air by compressed gas in its launch tube, but that the first stage boosters did not ignite, according to the Sun.

A trident missile launch in 2012
A trident missile launch in 2012. Picture: Alamy

An anonymous source said: "It left the submarine but it just went plop, right next to them."

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps was onboard the submarine at the time of the failed launch.

The MoD declined to comment further, citing national security concerns.

Labour demanded assurances over the effectiveness of Britain's nuclear deterrent following the failure.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey said: "Reports of a Trident test failure are concerning.

"The Defence Secretary will want to reassure Parliament that this test has no impact on the effectiveness of the UK's deterrent operations."

HMS Vanguard submarine
HMS Vanguard submarine. Picture: Alamy

Malcolm Nance, a former US naval intelligence officer, told LBC's Richard Spurr after the failure that it's lucky the missile didn't damage the submarine and injure crew members.

He said: "HMS Vanguard is one of the biggest nuclear-carrying weapons systems in the world. It's Britain's own independent nuclear deterrence against Russia and other nefarious states that have atomic bombs.

"You know, despite all of Moscow's recent warbling and making noise about going to war with England, people need to understand that you have your own independent capability from America."

He added that, in his understanding, "the failure was based on a data link problem that is not found as part of the testing regime, but is not part of the actual ballistic missiles capability in wartime.

"So we have these failures ourselves. The real danger was that the missile collapse near HMS Vanguard and could have damaged the hull or... injured crew. We're lucky that didn't happen."

Grant Shapps was onboard the submarine
Grant Shapps was onboard the submarine. Picture: Alamy

A spokeswoman for the MoD said: "HMS Vanguard and her crew have been proven fully capable of operating the UK's continuous at-sea deterrent, passing all tests during a recent demonstration and shakedown operation (DASO) - a routine test to confirm that the submarine can return to service following deep maintenance work.

"The test has reaffirmed the effectiveness of the UK's nuclear deterrent, in which we have absolute confidence. During the test an anomaly occurred.

"As a matter of national security, we cannot provide further information on this, however we are confident that the anomaly was event specific, and therefore there are no implications for the reliability of the wider Trident missile systems and stockpile.

"The UK's nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective."

Caller: 'We're escalating the war to a nuclear end.'

Aside from the 2024 and 2016 failures, other Trident test launches this century were held in 2005, 2009 and 2012.

The latest test failure comes as global tensions increase. The war in Ukraine continues to rage, two years in.

Western supporters of Kyiv fear increased support for hard right nationalists and Donald Trump in the US could see countries draw down support for Ukraine - without which it could not survive.

Vladimir Putin has also been condemned for the unexplained death of opposition politician Alexei Navalny in prison.

It comes amid Israel's ongoing campaign against Hamas in Gaza, which has already heavily polarised many states.

HMS Vanguard is one of four of the so-called Vanguard-class nuclear submarines that first went on patrol in 1994, with one of the vessels continually at sea.

The submarine can carry up to 16 Trident 2s, which can hold several nuclear warheads with 20 times the power of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

They carry the American-built Trident 2 D5 nuclear missiles, the mainstay of Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent.

A Trident missile can be fired at targets up to 4,000 miles away and at its fastest can travel at more than 13,000 miles an hour, according to the Royal Navy.

They are 13 metres long, weigh 130,000lb (58,500kg) and are ejected from the submarine by high-pressured gas before they fire as they reach the surface of the water.

The V-class is due to be replaced by the bigger Dreadnought-class submarines in the 2030s.

Between £31 billion and £41 billion has been set aside for the wider programme of replacing the Vanguard-class submarines, according to figures from the House of Commons Library.

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