Earlier this summer, MPs debated the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The resulting vote endorsed a government motion to replace Britain’s fleet of Vanguard-class submarines, which provide a continuous at-sea deterrent, with new boats.
Current debates focus on the development of this new Successor-class vessel, but 2016 also marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Britain’s first ballistic missile submarine (SSBN). 1 On 15 September 1966, the lead ship of the Royal Navy’s Resolution-class was launched, with Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother looking on.
Britain had successfully tested its first nuclear weapon nearly 24 years earlier under the codename Operation Hurricane. From the outset of the British deterrent, responsibility for delivering the weapon fell to the Royal Air Force (RAF) and its V-bombers, comprised of Valiant, Vulcan and Victor aircraft. These planes faced obsolescence by the mid-1960s, however, and the British government looked to develop an alternative.
The RAF’s operational control of the nuclear deterrent was set to continue with development of the Blue Streak medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), but this was eventually cancelled amidst escalating costs and technical drawbacks that left it vulnerable to an enemy first strike. As Harold Watkinson, the minister of defence, stated to the House of Commons on 13 April 1960, ‘we ought not to continue to develop, as a military weapon, a missile that can be launched only from a fixed site’. 2 Continue reading »