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Ex-RAF chief says flyers should regain nuclear deterrent role after submarine’s Trident missile misfired and ‘plopped’ into the ocean – as former Royal Navy head insists we can still ‘wipe out cities 7,000 miles away’


The RAF should regain its nuclear deterrent role after a botched submarine test saw a Trident missile misfire and ‘plop’ back into the sea, a former air force chief has said.

Air Marshal Greg Bagwell, the RAF’s former Deputy Commander, warned Britain had ‘all its eggs in one basket’ with its submarine-based nuclear deterrent.

The senior chief’s message comes after a second failed test of the nation’s Trident missile raised fears about the reliability of the critical £21billion nuclear attack system.

A former head of the Royal Navy today insisted the costly weapons platform could was still ‘functioning’ and could ‘wipe out cities 7,000 miles away’. 

But reacting to the submarine launch blunder, Air Marshal Bagwell wrote on X: ‘The failure of a test firing is never a good outcome for maintaining the credibility of the deterrent.

Britain has botched another nuclear submarine test after a Trident missile launched from HMS Vanguard (pictured) 'dramatically misfired' and crashed into the ocean, it has emerged

Britain has botched another nuclear submarine test after a Trident missile launched from HMS Vanguard (pictured) ‘dramatically misfired’ and crashed into the ocean, it has emerged

The Ministry of Defence confirmed to MailOnline that an 'anomaly occurred' during the exercise, but insists the nuclear deterrent remains 'effective'. Pictured: A test launch of a Trident nuclear missile (file photo)

The Ministry of Defence confirmed to MailOnline that an ‘anomaly occurred’ during the exercise, but insists the nuclear deterrent remains ‘effective’. Pictured: A test launch of a Trident nuclear missile (file photo)

Air Marshal Greg Bagwell, the RAF's former Deputy Commander, warned Britain had 'all its eggs in one basket' with its submarine-based nuclear deterrent.

Air Marshal Greg Bagwell, the RAF’s former Deputy Commander, warned Britain had ‘all its eggs in one basket’ with its submarine-based nuclear deterrent.

‘Single failures aside, our “eggs” are most definitely in one basket. The RAF ceased its nuclear role in 1998; perhaps it is time to consider bringing back an additional option?’ 

But the RAF chief’s comments have been branded ‘naïve’ by a British Army Colonel and former spymaster, who scoffed at the idea the RAF could take on the role. 

Phil Ingram, who served in British military intelligence, insisted the Navy was still the best option for Britain’s nuclear deterrence, despite the latest error.

Speaking to MailOnline, the veteran commander added: ‘The RAF can’t man all the fighter jets it has got at the moment. Therefore it can’t provide enough fighter bombers for this sort of task.

‘To try and suggest the RAF would want to spend huge amounts of money to recreate nuclear deterrence that would bleed the rest of the RAF dry, is extremely naïve. I’m surprised a senior officer has made such a statement.’

The RAF had primary control of Britain’s nuclear deterrent during the 1950s and 1960s through its V-Force bomber unit.  However, since 1969, the Royal Navy has had at least one submarine armed with nuclear weapons silently patrolling the globe.

The air force remained a key part of the UK’s nuclear deterrent up until 1998 when it was stood down following the introduction of Trident, which led to the Navy taking sole charge of the defensive mission. 

The latest test-firing blunder is the second failed launch in a row after a Trident missile launched from sister sub HMS Vengeance misfired during a test in 2016. 

Retired Air Marshal Bagwell said military chiefs should 'consider bring back' the RAF's nuclear deterrent mission role in a comment on X (formerly Twitter)

Retired Air Marshal Bagwell said military chiefs should ‘consider bring back’ the RAF’s nuclear deterrent mission role in a comment on X (formerly Twitter)

A team of Royal Navy service personnel in the control room of HMS Vigilant, one of Britain's nuclear subs, in January 2016

A team of Royal Navy service personnel in the control room of HMS Vigilant, one of Britain’s nuclear subs, in January 2016

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed an ‘anomaly occurred’ during an exercise on January 30 onboard the nuclear-powered sub HMS Vanguard.

The Trident 2 successfully ‘left the submarine’, but its first stage boosters failed to ignite and the 58-ton missile fell into the water next to the boat and sank.

Despite the errors, a retired head of the Royal Navy has insisted Britain still had the ability to launch ‘devastating’ nuclear missiles and ‘wipe out cities 7,000 miles away’.

Admiral Lord Alan West, who now sits on the Intelligence and Security Committee in Parliament, has seen classified briefings about the dramatic launch.

Speaking to MailOnline, the Cold War commander said he was initially ‘extremely worried’ when he heard about the failure.

But after seeing the secret documents outlining how the problem occurred, the naval chief insisted he was not concerned.

‘Of course it looks embarrassing but it’s not at all,’ Lord West told MailOnline. ‘I’ve had the full briefing of what happened. The system and capability of the live system is still there. It’s still a functioning and deterrent that can wipe out cities 7,000 miles away.

‘There’s no doubt at all that the system is working and functioning properly with devastating effect with huge range and security.

Britain has botched another nuclear submarine test after a Trident missile launched from HMS Vanguard (pictured) 'dramatically misfired' and crashed into the ocean, it has emerged

Britain has botched another nuclear submarine test after a Trident missile launched from HMS Vanguard (pictured) ‘dramatically misfired’ and crashed into the ocean, it has emerged

‘It’s always an embarrassment when something like this goes wrong but I have no doubt that the system is functioning properly – and I have no doubt that Vladimir Putin understands that as well.’

While Ryan Ramsey, the former captain of nuclear attack submarine HMS Turbulent, insisted Britain’s nuclear deterrence was still ‘as credible as ever’ and that a misfiring test missile was not indicative of a weakness in the nation’s defensive capabilities. 

The Navy veteran told MailOnline: ‘The fact is at no point would you ever fire just one missile.  

‘Deterrence works on principal of mutually assured destruction. That doesn’t happen with one missile – it happens with many.

‘Even if one did fail… the others would get through. The deterrence remains as credible as ever.’

HMS Vanguard carried out the doomsday drill off the coast of Florida on January 30 with Defence Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured) reportedly onboard

HMS Vanguard carried out the doomsday drill off the coast of Florida on January 30 with Defence Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured) reportedly onboard

HMS Vanguard carried out the doomsday drill off the coast of Florida on January 30. Defence Secretary Grant Shapps was on-board the 150 metre vessel at the time of the incident, reported The Sun

Officials said they could not say any more because the incident relates to national security. But they said there remained ‘absolute confidence’ in Britain’s constant at-sea nuclear deterrent and that it continues to be ‘secure and effective’. 

Labour has now called for assurances over the effectiveness of Britain’s nuclear deterrent after ‘concerning’ reports about the test failure. 

The Trident missile was expected to travel some 3,500 miles before splashing into the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere between West Africa and Brazil. But instead it landed next to the submarine.

A still image taken from video of the missile firing from HMS Vigilant, which fired an unarmed Trident II (D5) ballistic missile.

A still image taken from video of the missile firing from HMS Vigilant, which fired an unarmed Trident II (D5) ballistic missile.

Crew from HMS Vengeance look out from the conning tower as they return along the Clyde river to the Faslane naval base near Glasgow, Scotland on December 4, 2006

Crew from HMS Vengeance look out from the conning tower as they return along the Clyde river to the Faslane naval base near Glasgow, Scotland on December 4, 2006 

The Sun reported that a dummy Trident 2 missile was propelled into the air by compressed gas in its launch tube, but that its so-called first stage boosters did not ignite.

HMS Vanguard was under the surface and hovering at launch depth during the test, but was not hit as the 44ft missile plunged into the water.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed to MailOnline that an ‘anomaly occurred’ during the exercise, but insists the nuclear deterrent remains ‘effective’.

A probe has been ordered to determine the cause of the failure and a search will be carried out to recover the Trident 2 from the ocean.

Details of the misfire are not being made public due to ‘national security’ matters. However, officials are ‘confident’ the incident was ‘event specific’ and that ‘there are no implications for the reliability of the wider Trident missile systems and stockpile’.

A written ministerial statement on Britain’s nuclear deterrent is expected to be laid in the House of Commons by Mr Shapps, according to Wednesday’s order paper.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key was also present at the time to mark what was the final exercise for Vanguard and its crew after undergoing a refit that took more than seven years, an MoD spokesman said.

Speaking of the latest Trident test-firing gaffe, Col Ingram added: ‘The Royal Navy doesn’t get many opportunities to test fire its Trident missiles and for this to be the second missile failure or launch failure in a row is slightly more than embarrassing.

‘But there is a danger we read too much into this. The processes and procedures on the submarine all seem to have worked but the missile when ejected from the launch tube failed.

‘That’s a technical issue for Lockhead Martin not for the Royal Navy. That’s why I think the MoD is being quite robust saying it’s an anomaly.’

The missiles are designed to blast to the edge of space and track their position against the stars, before re-entering the atmosphere, plummeting to earth and raining warheads down on its target.

The maximum range of the missile is 12,000km (7,400 miles), which is roughly the distance from London to Indonesia one way, or Hawaii the other.

The test was understood to be the final hurdle that the £4billion submarine must clear in order to re-enter service as part of the UK’s nuclear deterrent force.

Pictured: A trident missile test firing off Cape Canaveral, Florida from HMS Vanguard in October 2005

Pictured: A trident missile test firing off Cape Canaveral, Florida from HMS Vanguard in October 2005

Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey has now called for assurances, saying: ‘Reports of a Trident test failure are concerning.

‘The Defence Secretary will want to reassure Parliament that this test has no impact on the effectiveness of the UK’s deterrent operations.’

An MoD spokesperson said: ‘HMS Vanguard and her crew have been proven fully capable of operating the UK’s Continuous At-Sea Deterrent, passing all tests during a recent demonstration and shakedown operation (DASO) – a routine test to confirm that the submarine can return to service following deep maintenance work.

‘The test has reaffirmed the effectiveness of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, in which we have absolute confidence.

‘During the test an anomaly occurred. As a matter of national security, we cannot provide further information on this, however we are confident that the anomaly was event specific, and therefore there are no implications for the reliability of the wider Trident missile systems and stockpile. The UK’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective.’



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