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UK to test fire first nuclear missile since failed launch in 2016

HMS Vanguard, a £4bn nuclear submarine, has been undergoing a major refit ahead of its return to service

Tom Watling
Friday 02 February 2024 14:01 GMT
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The Royal Navy is set to test its first nuclear missile since a failed launch in 2016.

The £4 billion HMS Vanguard, which recently underwent a £500 million upgrade that took three years longer than planned, will carry out the launch for its final test to re-enter service as part of the UK’s nuclear deterrent fleet. It is one of only four nuclear submarines in the Royal Navy.

The 60-tonne missile will be fired from 56 miles off the US east coast in the coming days. It will be aimed at an area in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between Brazil and West Africa, some 3,700 miles from the launch site.

The US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency issued a “hazardous operations” warning to ships in the wider region to avoid the intended target area. It has also plotted areas around the target area where debris is expected to fall. The warning has been in force since 9pm on 30 January and will remain in place until 4am on 4 February.

The last time a Trident nuclear-capable warhead was tested by the Royal Navy, there was a serious malfunction in the system and the missile flew in the wrong direction. It has been nearly 12 years since the UK has carried out a successful test.

HMS Vengeance fired an unarmed Trident II DB ballistic missile in 2016 at a remote position in the southern Atlantic off the coast of West Africa - but it ended up heading in the opposite direction. After flying over the US, the warhead self-destructed in the air.

Defence sources told The Guardian at the time that the missile had veered off-course due to the relay of incorrect information, as opposed to the projectile itself being faulty.

It was revealed last year that an investigation had been launched after workers on the HMS Vanguard glued broken bolts back together in a nuclear reactor chamber.

The repairs to vital cooling pipes were only discovered when one bolt fell off during cheks aboard the submarine.

It led to Ben Wallace, the then defence secretary, holding a phone call with the chief executive of Babcock, the defence contractor which had glued the bolt back on, demanding greater transparency.

The 30-year-old, 16,000-tonne submarine has been undergoing a refit in Plymouth for seven years.

It was pictured sailing from Port Canavarel in Florida on Tuesday morning, according to The Sun.

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