Trident Missile Test Fails Near Cape Canaveral

( – A British tabloid has revealed that a Trident missile test failed last month, dropping the weapon into the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Canaveral. The missile was fired from a British missile submarine as part of a system test; identical missiles form a major part of the US nuclear deterrent. So what went wrong, and could this be a sign our own security is at risk?

Missile Fired — But Doesn’t Fly

On February 20, The Sun, a British tabloid, reported that in January the HMS Vanguard, a Royal Navy nuclear-powered missile submarine, launched a D5 Trident II ballistic missile near Port Canaveral, Florida. The boat’s gas generator apparently worked perfectly, blowing the missile out of its tube, through the surface, and into the air — but then the Trident’s first-stage rocket engine failed to ignite.

Unpowered, the 58-ton weapon, which was supposed to fly several thousand miles and land in the middle of the South Atlantic, splashed down close to the submarine and sank. British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, who was on board the Vanguard with First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key to watch the test, called the failure “embarrassing.”

British defense sources said the problem was “event specific” and caused by safety equipment fitted for the test firing, rather than the missile itself. A previous British Trident firing in 2016 also failed when the missile had to be destroyed in flight because its range safety package — which allows its course to be tracked — failed after launch. Tobias Elwood MP (Cons, Bournemouth East) said the missile would have worked if it had been fired as a warshot, while defense secretary Shapps insists the Trident is “effective, dependable and formidable.”

Shared Missile System

Although HMS Vanguard was designed and built in Britain, and the nuclear warheads she carries are also British-made, the Trident missiles themselves are identical to the ones in US Navy missile submarines. In fact, they’re literally the same ones. The UK paid part of the system’s development cost and bought 65 of the weapons — but those 65 (minus eight or nine that have been fired in tests) aren’t specific missiles. Instead, they’re part of a shared US Navy/RN pool.

All the missiles are maintained in the US by Lockheed Martin; when a submarine is being armed for a patrol, the required number of missiles are taken from the pool and sent to either a US submarine base or the Clyde Submarine Base at Faslane, Scotland, depending on whose boat it is.

A missile can be carried on a deterrence patrol by a British submarine, returned to Lockheed for refurbishment, then loaded into a US sub and sent on patrol again. The Trident that failed in January could just as easily have been in an American Ohio-class submarine as a British V-boat — so if there’s something wrong with the missiles, which are now more than 30 years old, it’s our problem too.

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