Britain 'plans rare nuclear missile test launch in days' as fears of war grow

1 February 2024, 17:54 | Updated: 1 February 2024, 19:02

Britain is preparing to test a nuclear-capable missile
Britain is preparing to test a nuclear-capable missile. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Britain is poised to test fire a nuclear-capable missile within days as fears of a major war grow.

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Nuclear strike submarine HMS Vanguard has sailed to Florida to blast off a Trident 2 missile - without a nuclear warhead, The Sun reports.

The weapon is the kind that Britain uses to deter any nuclear strike from hostile powers like Russia, which has spent years sabre-rattling amid its invasion of Ukraine.

A missile will fly over the Atlantic and splash 3,500 miles away in the middle of the ocean.

The Ministry of Defence said it does not comment on nuclear operations.

It's the first time the UK has attempted a launch since 2016, when it failed. Other launches carried out this century were only held in 2005, 2009 and 2012.

Naturally, without a warhead loaded a nuclear explosion won't follow - the UK has signed up to a nuclear test ban - but it will ensure the missile carrying a doomsday weapon works.

HMS Vanguard, which cost £4bn, is carrying out the test after a seven year refit in Plymouth, The Sun said.

Read more: Gap-year students should be paid to go to military boot camp, says General who called for ‘citizens army’

HMS Vanguard is poised to launch a Trident 2 missile
HMS Vanguard is poised to launch a Trident 2 missile. Picture: Alamy

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

The Royal Navy says the maximum amount of firepower held on one of its nuclear attack subs is more than all of the explosives used in the Second World War.

The test is being held so the sub can resume its duties in Britain's nuclear deterrence, which relies on submarines being deployed and ready to strike in the case of the UK ever being hit.

The vessel was off the cost of Port Canavarel on Tuesday. It is expected to make the launch about 90km off the US east coast and target the sea between Brazil and West Africa.

Read more: Putin 'prepared to use nuke' against UK and Nato 'because he believes West would be too scared to respond'

Trident 2 is due to be tested
Trident 2 is due to be tested. Picture: Alamy

Shipping has been warned about the missile's expected landing zone, with the US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency issuing a "hazardous operations alert".

The warning, which lasts until February 4, includes a caution about debris.

The last test, in 2016, failed when HMS Vengeance was unable to hit a target off Ascension Island, instead going off-course and self-destructing.

The test comes as global tensions peak.

Russia is trying to capture more territory in Ukraine, though it is continuing to fail to make any serious gains.

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.

The US is also poised to retaliate against Iranian proxies in the Middle East, having already bombed the Houthis in Yemen with the UK for their attacks on international shipping.

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

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