GDB
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The Finger On The UK Nuclear Button

Wed Dec 03, 2008 9:09 pm

Firstly, apologies to anyone who cannot access this and bear in mind that if you can, it's only here for another 6 days (from 3 Dec)

This is a radio programme about the people who have had, in various forms, their finger on the British nuclear weapons trigger.
Through the whole chain from Prime Minister to today's submarine crews, from the V-Bomber crews of the 1960's.
Sorry it's sound only on a visual medium as this, though there is a nice pic of a Vulcan - and you'll hear one too!

But this is more about the people rather than past and present hardware.
Would a PM really do it, even if the UK was about to be destroyed?
What are these letters every new PM has to write for each SSBN commander, since 1970?
How does the system work? Bearing in mind the UK one is it seems unique amongst nuclear armed nations?
Those who were a part of it in the past, what did they think then and now about this awful responsibility?
What if a Prime Minister goes mad?

Interesting and chilling stuff, with some quite surprising revelations.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00fq2sy/The_Human_Button/
 
bennett123
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RE: The Finger On The UK Nuclear Button

Wed Dec 03, 2008 10:07 pm

I would say "if he went mad, how would you know".

However, given the subject it would be in rather poor taste.
 
MCIGuy
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RE: The Finger On The UK Nuclear Button

Thu Dec 04, 2008 1:53 am



Quoting GDB (Thread starter):
Would a PM really do it, even if the UK was about to be destroyed?

I would think so, that's the whole premise behind MAD.

Quoting GDB (Thread starter):
How does the system work? Bearing in mind the UK one is it seems unique amongst nuclear armed nations?

I would guess it's similar to the US system, especially for sub-launched ICBMs.

Quoting GDB (Thread starter):
Those who were a part of it in the past, what did they think then and now about this awful responsibility?

They know it goes with the job ahead of time. I wouldn't be surprised if President-elect Obama has already been briefed.

Quoting GDB (Thread starter):
What if a Prime Minister goes mad?

I suppose it could happen, but that's why these people are so well vetted ahead of time. Chances are, any tendencies toward being a "loose canon" would show early enough, at least we hope so.  Wink
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sasd209
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RE: The Finger On The UK Nuclear Button

Thu Dec 04, 2008 2:14 am

Listening to it now, very good show. Thanks for posting it.

SASD209
 
GDB
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RE: The Finger On The UK Nuclear Button

Thu Dec 04, 2008 7:24 pm

MCIguy, it's pretty different, there is no TCAMO style system in UK service, (but there is for the French, imported equipment and all).
It's more passive command and control wise, if that's the right word, not at the trigger puller level true, there it's similar to the US.

For a 'PM going mad' or other serious doubts about his/her fitness to make nuclear decisions, unlike a US or French President, he/she is neither head of state nor commander in chief.
Those subs are HMS as in Her Majesties Submarine . Their crews and the rest of the Armed Forces, swear allegiance to the monarch.
In practical terms, they of course follow the orders of the elected government, but it's still referred to as 'HMG' - Her Majesties Government .
If she is advised by any or some of the large number of people who can do so, that the PM is unfit for office, as stated in this programme, for example she will appoint a Chief Of Defence Staff if our bonkers PM sacks the incumbent who won't follow his orders.
And the CDS gives the order to fire, not the PM in person.

Blair has since admitted that he found the task of both being briefed on the SSBN's capabilities and having to draft his own 'from beyond the grave' letters to the sub commanders, a very sobering experience indeed, shocking even.
Post Cold War these issues had faded from view, so in fairness to Blair, he was the first PM to take office who not not been in government during the Cold War.
Plus the whole British stance on these issues is for some, more secretive, others may see it as more understated however!

Not alluded to in this programme however, is the fact that since all UK nuclear weapons are now on Trident, (the last RAF air dropped bombs retired in 1998), it also has a 'sub-strategic' role too.
In effect, some missiles are single warhead only. Trident D5, when ordered in 1982, was seen by many as overkill for the UK, it's high accuracy for a sub launched system, meant it had more capabilities than just what the UK had it for, bluntly put, deterring nuclear attack on the UK by being able to destroy major population centers of the attacker.
Now, the accuracy of the D5 has enabled the UK force to have this extra deterrence, short of destroying a whole nation. But still a deterrent.

This has meaning when you consider that when Saddam actually DID have WMD's in 1991, it is thought he did not use them in the first Gulf War since the US threatened nuclear retaliation if he did so.
This would not have been a threat to 'wipe out Iraq', more likely it was a direct one to him, in his bunker but no longer safe.
In 2006, the French President alluded to using his force to deter any regime that thinks of supplying terrorists with WMD's, since he pointed out that debris from either a nuclear detonation, or the more likely 'dirty bomb', can be traced to the reactor it came from.
 
trident3
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RE: The Finger On The UK Nuclear Button

Thu Dec 04, 2008 10:15 pm

A very interesting programme.
There was a report on Newsnight about a year ago that revealed that the UK's nuclear weapons have never been fitted with a "fail-safe" and that all it took to arm a free-fall bomb was one key similar to that used for a bike lock!.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/7097101.stm

Interesting to hear that one of the checks the sub crew use to determine if the UK still "exists" is to tune in to BBC Radio 4. Presumably for the shipping forecast  sarcastic 
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ebj1248650
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RE: The Finger On The UK Nuclear Button

Sat Dec 06, 2008 12:27 am

The RAF does still have the ability to deliver tactical nuclear weapons via the Tornado squadrons, does it not?
Dare to dream; dream big!
 
trident3
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RE: The Finger On The UK Nuclear Button

Sat Dec 06, 2008 8:40 am

According to Wikipedia (takes pinch of salt),the last British air launched nuclear weapon ,the WE.177 was withdrawn by the Navy in 1992 and the Air Force in 1998. The only weapons left in the arsenal now are the Trident ballistic missiles.
"We are the warrior race-Tough men in the toughest sport." Brian Noble, Head Coach, Great Britain Rugby League.
 
GDB
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RE: The Finger On The UK Nuclear Button

Sat Dec 06, 2008 4:57 pm

Trident 3 is right, the WE-177's were to have been replaced by a stand off weapon, this was cancelled at the end of the Cold War (quite rightly).
The WE-177's carried on until 1998 with Tornados as the delivery platform.

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