By John LaForge
Last June, off the coast of Florida, the test of a $21 million Trident D5 missile fired from the British submarine HMS Vengeance, failed and the unarmed rocket self-destructed, but the news was kept secret from the British and US public—at the request of President Obama—for seven months.
Fired toward what the Navy calls its “Eastern firing range” near the west coast of Africa, the London Sunday Times—a right-wing journal owned by the Rupert Murdoch machine—revealed in January that the test of the D5 missile, which reportedly has a range of 7,500 miles, saw the rocket fail and careen toward the US coast before spinning out into the Atlantic. The self-destruction trick is programmed to be automatic after a failure is detected, CNN reported.
The Times also revealed that when the colossally expensive failure occurred in June, the Obama White House asked then Prime Minister David Cameron’s government not to comment on it publicly. The Times report was based on a British military official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The submarine Vengeance is one of four Trident subs including Vanguard, Victorious, and Vigilant. Each submarine carries 16 Trident missiles with eight nuclear warheads on each missile; 512 nuclear weapons in all.
The rocket failure came just one month prior to the House of Commons vote on whether to approve a controversial $50-to-$100 billion program to replace the four missile-firing Trident subs. Under the slogan “Scrap Trident,” strong majorities of the general public, the British Labour Party, and the Scottish Parliament (Britain’s Tridents are based in Scotland) are opposed to replacement. “Unaware of the failure, members of the House of Commons voted 472 to 117 in favor of renewal,” CNN reported.
Both the UK and the US have invested hundreds of billions of tax dollars in upgrading nuclear arsenals, and both are beholden to multinational conglomerates that design and build nuclear weapons and contribute generously to political campaigns and party coffers. The world’s largest arms dealer, Lockheed Martin based in Bethesda, Maryland, builds the flawed $21 million-dollar missiles. The UK’s 512 Trident missiles garner about $10.75 billion for Lockheed Martin.
Catastrophic failures of such expensive weapons can prompt increased calls for their elimination. Scores of UN member states will begin negotiations March 26 in New York seeking a treaty ban on nuclear weapons, an “international convention” that both the US and UK governments have worked to derail.
Weapons “Lease” may violate treaty
Britain’s long-range Trident D5 missiles are all produced and owned by the United States, which then “leases” about 512 of them to the Royal Navy—which is turn is invited to “test” them off Florida’s coast near Port Canaveral. Articles I and II of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty forbid the transfer to another state, and the acceptance from another state, any nuclear weapon system.
The cost of building four new ballistic-missile-firing submarines is said by the UK government to babout $49.8 billion. Britain’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and other independent experts warn that the actual cost will be closer to $124.7 billion.
Asked four times in January if she knew of the failure prior to the July House of Commons vote on Trident replacement July 18, 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May refused to answer, the London Telegraph reported.
“I can assure the House that the capability and effectiveness of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent is not in doubt,” British Defense Minister Michael Fallon said Jan. 23. The phrase “nuclear deterrent” is the destabilizing rationale that allows nine self-selected countries to plan and threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. Minister Fallon asserted his “absolute confidence” in the missile system, if not in his ability to keep a secret.
The Times disclosed the failure January 22 after being informed by an anonymous source in the Ministry of Defense. The Times reported, “[A] senior naval source has told this newspaper that the missile—which was unarmed for the test—may have veered off in the wrong direction towards America after being launched from HMS Vengeance.…”
According to the Times, “The source said: ‘There was a major panic at the highest level of government and the military after the first test of our nuclear deterrent in four years ended in disastrous failure. Ultimately Downing Street decided to cover up the failed test. The upcoming Trident vote made it all the more sensitive.’”
—Sunday Times, Jan. 22 & 24; Nadia Prupis, Commondreams, Jan. 23; CNN, Jan. 23; The London Telegraph, Jan. 22; Russia Today, Jan. 22, 2017.