76. Other witnesses took the view that, in an operational
sense, the UK's nuclear deterrent is independent.
77. The warhead: Commodore Tim Hare, a former
Director of Nuclear Policy at the MoD, told us that although the
US had long shared its warhead designs with the UK, and that the
British warhead closely resembled the American W76 design, the
UK retained the design authority on its Trident warhead. Commodore
Hare also told us that whilst AWE Aldermaston was managed by a
consortium which included Lockheed Martin, it was nevertheless
owned by the MoD.
78. The missile: Dr Lee Willett, of RUSI,
stated that the Trident II D5 missile was "a totally self-contained
package" which had "an inertial guidance system that
takes it to a point in space, and then the ballistic trajectory
then takes it to the latitudinal and longitudinal point on the
target" and that "[i]t does not
. rely on external
guidance systems such as American satellites".
79. The platform: We heard that the Vanguard-class
submarines were designed and built entirely in the UK and that
the UK retained design authority on the boats.
80. It is important to distinguish between two
different types of independence: independence of acquisition and
independence of operation. We heard that independence of acquisition
is what the French have opted for at a significantly higher cost
to the defence budget. Independence of operation is an alternative
concept of independence and it is this which the UK has opted
for at a lower price.
81. Sir Michael Quinlan told us that the UK's decision
to choose independence of operation meant that "in the last
resort, when the chips are down and we are scared, worried to
the extreme, we can press the button and launch the missiles whether
the Americans say so or not".
He argued that the decision to fire is an independent, sovereign
decision. The United States "can neither dictate that the
[UK's] force be used if HMG does not so wish, nor [can it] apply
any vetolegal or physicalif HMG were to decide upon
82. Commodore Hare told us that "operationally
the system is completely independent of the United States. Any
decision to launch missiles is a sovereign decision taken by the
UK and does not involve anybody else". He told us that the
United States does not have a "technical golden key"
which can prevent the UK from using the system.
83. The potential disadvantage of the UK decision
to forego independence of acquisition is that "if, over a
very long period, we became deeply estranged from the Americans
and they decide to rat on their agreements, we would be in
Commodore Hare told us that such a risk was, in reality, "very
low" and that, ultimately, "one must balance that risk
against the enormous cost benefits that we have in procuring an
American system to house in our submarines. That should not be
84. We call upon the MoD to clarify the technical
dependencies of the UK's Trident system upon the United States
and to respond to the argument that the UK's nuclear deterrent
is not truly independent. In weighing the importance of maintaining
independence, attention needs to be paid to the differing concepts
of independence adopted by the UK and France.