Video – First firings of Sea Ceptor missiles at sea

Video uploaded to the Ministry of Defence’s YouTube channel.

Today (04/09/17) the Defence Minister Harriett Baldwin announced the successful first firings of the Sea Ceptor air defence system.

In a visit to defence company MBDA’s site in Bristol, the Minister revealed the major milestone for the Royal Navy. HMS Argyll fired the Sea Ceptor missiles off the coast of Scotland earlier this Summer that will be used to protect the new aircraft carriers.

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PM questioned on knowledge of Trident malfunction ahead of decision to renew nuclear deterrent

theresa-may-british-prime-minister-2016British Prime Minister Theresa May has been put under pressure to answer questions over whether she deliberately withheld knowledge of a malfunction of a Trident missile fired from HMS Vengeance weeks before she lobbied Parliament for the nuclear deterrent to be renewed. The accusation was made by The Sunday Times newspaper claiming a “naval source” broke the story of the malfunction to them.

In June 2016, the Vanguard-class SSBN HMS Vengeance test fired an unarmed Trident II D5 nuclear missile as part of an operation which is designed to certify the submarine and its crew for conducting nuclear deterrence patrols with live nuclear weapons. In the wake of the The Sunday Times claims the MoD issued a statement saying;

Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested and certified, allowing Vengeance to return into service. We have absolute confidence in our independent nuclear deterrent.

Vanguard-class nuclear submarine trident2

The newspaper claims that the missile, which was intended to be fired 5,600 miles to a target area off the west coast of Africa, malfunctioned and instead veered towards the US. Interviewed by Andrew Marr on the BBC, the Prime Minister rebuffed four questions regarding the claim which has left her exposed to criticism from the leaders of two of the major British political parties – Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party and Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party – both of whom have routinely voiced their opposition to maintaining the British nuclear deterrent.

Both the MoD and Downing Street have issued statements denying the newspaper’s claims regarding a malfunction but there are still calls for an investigation.

On July 18th 2016, a month after the test took place, Parliament voted 472-117 to renew the nuclear deterrent based around the Trident II D5 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) carried by the new Dreadnought-class SSBNs. The first Dreadnought-class is expected to enter service in 2028 and the cost of the entire project is expected to be around £40bn.

 

Daesh tank destroyed by RAF Tornado using Brimstone missile

Video posted on the Ministry of Defence’s YouTube channel today. On Tuesday 29th November 2016, a Tornado GR.4 scored a direct hit with a Brimstone missile on one of the few main battle tanks (MBTs) operated by Daesh, some ten miles west of Mosul.

Successor-class becomes Dreadnought-class

Building to start on new nuclear submarines as government announces £1.3 billion investment

Composite rendering of how the new class will look (Crown)

The Royal Navy is to see the return of one of its most famous ship names. It has been confirmed that the new fleet of Trident D5-armed ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) previously known as the Successor-class will now become the Dreadnought-class. Construction of first-of-class HMS Dreadnought began last month and along with her three sister ships will carry the UK’s nuclear deterrence in to the 2050s.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon made the announcement  during Trafalgar Day celebrations on Friday;

Her Majesty the Queen has graciously approved that Dreadnought, one of the most famous names in the Royal Navy, will become the lead boat and class name for the Royal Navy’s new successor submarines.

HMS DreadnoughtThe name Dreadnought has now been carried by 12 Royal Navy vessels including those operated by the English Navy before the 1707 Acts of Union with Scotland with the first being a 40-gun man-of-war built in 1553. A dreadnought was present at both the battle against the Spanish Armada and in the Battle of Trafalgar but it is perhaps the revolutionary 1906 vessel that has become most synonymous with the name. That Dreadnought was so revolutionary that not only did it render all other warships obsolete but it gave birth to a whole new type of warship known as the Dreadnoughts.

The name transferred from surface warships to submarines with the launch of another Dreadnought in 1960. HMS Dreadnought S101 was Britain’s first nuclear powered submarine and as such was as revolutionary in the Royal Navy as her predecessor was. The new Dreadnought will continue the tradition of representing technical achievement and innovation being one of the most advanced and stealthy ballistic missile submarines in the world.

HMS Westminster to rejoin fleet with new SAM

sea-ceptor-surface-to-air-missile-royal-navy-type-23-26

Sea Ceptor SAM (MBDA)

At present the Type-23 frigate is undergoing a major overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Base and is set to rejoin the fleet next year. When it does it will be carrying the MBDA Sea Ceptor surface-to-air missile (SAM) in place of its Sea Wolf missile system. Sea Ceptor was selected by the Royal Navy in January 2012 under the future local area air defence system (FLAADS) program and will eventually be adopted by the future Type 26 frigate as well as being retrofitted to the remaining Type 23s.

Capable of speeds up to Mach 3 and with a range of 15.5miles (25km), the weapon is designed for defence against high speed aircraft and anti-ship missiles. The missile was designed to be easily integrated with a number of radar systems both existing and in development meaning it can theoretically be integrated in to a number of surface warships. With 360 degree coverage of the launching vessel it is reported as being able to protect 1,300km² of sea from multiple air threats.

As well as new weaponry, the Royal Navy’s website states that Westminster will also have the main propulsion systems thoroughly overhauled and the hull will be subjected to repairs and preventative maintenance.

 

Is the British nuclear deterrent relevant in the 21st century?

 

They sail beneath the waves almost totally unseen carrying more firepower than was unleashed in World War Two. The nuclear ballistic missile submarine or SSBN is the ultimate safeguard from direct attack by a foreign power. Not knowing where one of these Trident nuclear missile armed behemoths is at any one time means that an enemy country cannot launch an attack without sustaining unthinkable losses to their own people and national infrastructure – a concept known quite aptly in military circles as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).

Vanguard-class nuclear submarine trident

It is truly stomach wrenching to contemplate just how devastating these vessels potentially are to humanity itself and it is that fact above all others that has spurred the campaign for nuclear disarmament. In Britain, the country that played a big role in developing America’s atomic bomb and the third independent nuclear power to rise, the lobby for nuclear disarmament has seen a powerful ally take prominence in British politics in the form of the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn has been a prolific anti-nuclear campaigner for many years and when he was elected to leader of the Labour Party he made it abundantly clear that if elected he planned to take the first steps to the nuclear disarmament of the Royal Navy. Corbyn even went as far as to remove his shadow defence secretary, Maria Eagle, in a cabinet reshuffle because supposedly she was not against the nuclear deterrent unlike her replacement, Emily Thornbury, who is much more vocally opposed to Britain’s nuclear submarines.

In an, a post on his website entitled Nuclear Madness he says;

“Nobody is made more secure by this insane waste of resources on destruction.”

Vanguard-class nuclear submarine trident2Corbyn’s Labour Party is not alone in British politics with their anti-nuclear stance. The Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party are also firmly against a nuclear armed Britain. However, David Cameron’s ruling Conservative Party disagrees and have begun the process of replacing the Trident nuclear missile-armed Vanguard-class submarines with a fleet of three new Successor-class vessels believing the nuclear deterrence is key to Britain’s security.

Clearly these are fundamentally opposite opinions and this has reignited the debate with more passion than ever before. So the question becomes; is the nuclear deterrence relevant in the 21st century especially in light of the threat from the Islamic State terror group which the average person on the street views as the most immediate threat to their way of life?

To begin to answer this question one must first look at the history of the nuclear deterrence itself which can be traced back to work carried out in British laboratories before the Second World War. Like America and Germany, Britain was carrying out the ground work that would ultimately lead to nuclear weapons which Britain viewed as a way of safeguarding her empire against the ever increasing threat from Germany, Japan, Italy and the Soviet Union all of whom were expanding at the time. Winston Churchill wrote of the potential of nuclear weapons as a deterrence in the 1930s even though they were still a fantasy at that time. When war broke out in 1939 Britain lacked the resources to continue the work on her own but when America joined the fray in 1941 the scientists involved were transferred to the United States to work on the Manhattan Project which would lead to the world’s first atomic bombs which ended World War II when they were used on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which resulted in almost 200,000 deaths.

After the war, Britain expected to be repaid for its part in developing its ally’s superweapon with atomic weapons for their own forces built with US support. However, the United States refused and pulled all support for Britain’s nuclear weapons program wanting to establish a nuclear monopoly. The British scientists returned to Britain and were instructed to work on the first British atomic bomb using the experience they had gained in the United States.

vickers valiant nuclear testBritain detonated its first atomic weapon on October 3rd 1952 and were soon fielding a fleet of bombers for the Royal Air Force to deliver them on to a target should World War III break out. Realising they had lost their monopoly by the 1950s the US relaxed its policy and began supplying British forces with their more advanced nuclear weapons with which to square off with the Soviet Union in the Cold War. By the late 1950s, Britain and the US developed a joint operational plan for the use of nuclear weapons against a Soviet invasion of Western Europe but the bombers that carried them were becoming increasingly vulnerable to advanced Soviet fighters and surface-to-air weapons. Therefore, the two countries began developing the Skybolt missile which was a very long range nuclear-armed weapon which could be fired by the bombers far from the target. However, when President John F. Kennedy arrived at the White House he pulled the plug on the project which left Britain’s nuclear bombers on the verge of becoming obsolete.

In order to keep Britain in the nuclear game with the United States which was (and remains) important both strategically and politically to Washington, Kennedy offered to sell Polaris submarine-launched nuclear missiles for Britain to put in its own force of ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). Thus the Royal Navy took over the nuclear deterrence role from the Royal Air Force in the late 1960s. By the 1980s the Polaris-armed submarines were in need of replacement and this led to Britain purchasing the UGM-133 Trident II submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for use in four new Vanguard-class submarines.

HMS Vnegeance Royal Navy

Despite the end of the Cold War the submarines continued to carry Britain’s nuclear deterrent through the nineties and the first decade of the 21st century but are now fast approaching the end of their useful lives and need replacing themselves which has led to the current debate in London. Aside from their moral implications, the cost of replacing these three vessels is one of the biggest sources for opposition with varying figures being thrown around by those for and against David Cameron’s plans. Any figures for the Successor-class at the moment are speculative but in 2014 the independent Trident Commission estimated the lifetime cost (building and operation) of a Trident replacement as being at least £100 billion. With Britain still recovering from the economic recession that blighted Europe and North America almost eight years ago it is easy to see why even leaders of the British armed forces are starting to voice their opposition with Britain’s conventional forces looking increasingly stretched having to tackle Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and Libya as well as maintain garrisons on the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar. To put this figure in to perspective it is the equivalent sum to how much it would cost to build approximately 95 Type 45 destroyers or 16 Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

That is a staggering realization so just why does David Cameron and his Conservative Party feel that the need to spend that much on a weapon system that in theory will never be used? Just what is the threat to Britain in 2016 that justifies such an expense?

The first answer that springs to mind is of course, Russia. After the initial honeymoon period of the post-Cold War years, the rise of Vladimir Putin in Moscow and the explosion of Russian nationalism has seen Russia projecting its influence beyond its borders once more to such an extent that it would not be inaccurate to say that we are truly in the grip of “Cold War II”. Russian successes in Georgia and the Crimea have only encouraged Putin further leading to his boldest step yet; putting Russian forces in to Syria to support President Assad whom the west wants removed. This has had consequences beyond Syria’s borders with British aircraft (below) and warships playing cat-and-mouse with their Russian counterparts in the Baltic and North Atlantic while the war of words becomes more bitter.

RAF Typhoon Tu-160 BlackjackBut just how far is Putin willing to push things with the west to achieve his aims? Excluding the incident earlier this year in which a Turkish fighter shot down a Russian Su-24 strike aircraft near the Turkey-Syria border Putin has been very careful to avoid a direct confrontation with the western powers regarding Syria. If one looks at the situation with Russia regarding Syria in a Cold War context, then both sides know the possible consequences of escalating the situation in Syria. While it is not openly admitted, the fact that the United States, Britain, France and Russia all have nuclear weapons and all have interests in Syria is what has kept these powers from reacting to one another militarily. If we take the Su-24 shootdown but without the risk of nuclear weapons, then it is likely that Russia would have responded to Turkey with military force plunging Europe in to another massive conventional war. If proof was ever needed that this could happen, you need only remember that World War I began with one man armed only with a handgun and a strong sense of nationalism.

But just as nuclear weapons have prevented open conflict with Russia thus far they have also created the problem of just what the west can do about Putin’s actions in Syria. No one wants the situation to escalate to the point of direct confrontation but with Russian forces firmly embedded in the country to meet Putin’s aims then the west is clearly in a weak position. Only time will tell how this chapter of history will ultimately play out.

Kim Jong Un nuclear missileBeyond Russia other potential nuclear threats to Britain come from China despite the recent economic progress made between London and Beijing. China is increasingly locking horns with its old enemies of Taiwan and Japan both of whom are supported by the United States and therefore by association, Britain. To the south of China, the “hermit kingdom” of North Korea continues to develop its nuclear weapons and missile programs (right) while India and Pakistan still stare at one another across the border with their nuclear weapons sitting ready for the final confrontation. Then of course there is the situation with Iran’s nuclear weapons program which despite having calmed down somewhat remains a source for possible conflict in the future should relations with the west worsen again. If any of these countries utilise nuclear weapons against their neighbours, then things could start happening very quickly that could see the world’s other nuclear powers dragged in leading to the potential for an apocalypse however it is this fact that has largely kept these countries in line with their weapons.

The cynic would perhaps argue that Britain and America’s nuclear weapons have not done anything to curb these developments and may even be responsible for encouraging them. The fact of the matter is however that despite efforts to stop it, nuclear proliferation is increasing around the world. When it boils down to it nuclear weapons are simply a matter of physics rather than some state secret and theoretically, any country or even a well-organized terrorist group anywhere in the world can build them if they pour enough resources and research in to making them.

So to reference Jeremy Corbyn’s statement about how safer the world would be without British nuclear weapons we have to remember that the threat remains to us from across the globe regardless. Removing the nuclear weapons capability from the British arsenal will not change that fact but retaining those weapons will mean that Britain will be able to exert its influence on the world stage when it comes to dealing with other nuclear armed countries as opposed to surrendering it to a nuclear armed ally who may not have our best interests at heart. This, coupled with the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), means that far from being a weapon system that may never be used the nuclear deterrence is in fact in constant use by its very existence.

Vanguard class

Does that justify a £100bn price tag?

That’s a question we each have to ask ourselves regarding our view of the world since as tax-payers we are funding the weapons. The debate will never go away even if Corbyn gets his wish and the weapons are dismantled; the debate will then become about resurrecting the deterrence amid a loss of political influence and/or a direct threat to national security. Whatever your views on their use in the 21st century just remember this one undeniable fact; the threat of nuclear weapons did prevent World War III throughout the years of the Cold War and if we are truly in Cold War II then surely we should retain that asset to continue to do the same.

 

Bloodhound – The Ack-Ack Missile

British Pathé newsreel of the Bloodhound Surface-to-Air Missile being tested at Woomera in Australia. What’s particularly interesting is how the narrator describes the weapon as an “Ack-Ack Missile” reflecting the period of transition between the weapons of World War II and the more sophisticated weapons of the Cold War.