US Trident tests cast doubt over UK design claims
12th December 2006
Almost half of the tests carried out on nuclear warheads by US laboratories between 1999 and 2001 involved verifying Britain's "independent" nuclear deterrent.
A US Freedom of Information (FoI) inquiry shows five of 13 simulations and experiments at the strategic Sandia laboratories in New Mexico were done in support of the UK's Trident missile system.
The tests involved shock, vibration and blast evaluations of the warheads fitted to the D5 missiles carried by the Vanguard submarines based at Faslane on the Clyde.
Despite government insistence that the UK warheads are British-designed and built, the US tests used the W76 American warhead.
The Federation of American Scientists, an arms control lobby group, is now questioning how independent Britain's nuclear arsenal really is. An FAS spokesman said: "Rumours have persisted for years that the British Trident warhead is just a modified version of the US W76. The US has about 3200 of these in its stockpile.
"This FoI document links the British warhead design directly with the nukes carried on US ballistic missile boats, despite the claim by the British government only last week in its white paper on the future of nuclear deterrence that its own warheads were designed and manufactured in the UK.
"The document obtained under FoI legislation shows that US Department of Energy work on five of 13 W76 experiments involved the UK Trident system. "The British warheads appear to be so similar to their US equivalents that they make up an integral part of the US engineering, design and evaluation schedule."
The UK leases 50 Trident D5 missiles from a US naval depot in King's Bay, Georgia.
Each Royal Navy Vanguard submarine carries 16 missiles tipped with up to three warheads apiece.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is recruiting hundreds of scientists for the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment near Reading. The government is also investing £2.2bn to upgrade laser laboratories and other facilities at the top-security site.
The MoD insists the warheads assembled there are British-designed, although some key components are American-made.