Downing Street confirms PM knew about Trident missile test but malfunction claims still dismissed

Vanguard class

A Downing Street spokesperson speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed that she was made aware of a Trident II D5 missile test carried out in June 2016 before she petitioned ministers to vote to renew the nuclear deterrent. The Prime Minister had side-stepped questions put to her by the BBC following claims in The Sunday Times that she deliberately withheld knowledge of the test because the missile malfunctioned.

When questioned on whether the missile did indeed malfunction however the spokesperson was less clear;

We have been clear that the submarine and the crew were successfully tested and certified. That was the purpose of the operation. What is also clear is that the capability and effectiveness of the Trident missile is unquestionable.

Loosely translated, the spokesperson is stating that the operation was a success because it was designed to test the submarine – namely HMS Vengeance – and not the missile. However, adding that the effectiveness of the Trident missile was “unquestionable” implies that either there was no malfunction during the test or that any malfunction that did occur has now been addressed and the government and MoD is confident that it won’t happen again.

In the last few hours, US news juggernaut CNN reported that an American official had said to them that the British missile was diverted into the ocean. This occurred automatically when the electronics onboard detected an anomaly within the missile’s systems but Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, when quizzed about this today refused to confirm a malfunction took place citing issues of secrecy and security regarding the nuclear deterrent.

Either way the Prime Minister and her government’s handling of the situation has only fuelled the anti-nuclear campaign in the UK with the secretive nature of the Prime Minister’s response on Sunday leading to speculation of a cover-up.

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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.