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The failure of the UK’s £17 million Trident missile launch is ‘beyond embarrassing’ and undermines the nuclear deterrent, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps is warned


A Trident missile test failure has ‘undermined’ the nuclear deterrent, the Defence Secretary was warned last night.

In an incident branded ‘worse than an embarrassment’, a £17million missile misfired and crashed into the sea next to the submarine that launched it.

But Grant Shapps insisted Britian’s nuclear deterrent remains ‘effective’ and ‘dependable’. 

He said the Government retains ‘absolute confidence’ in the nuclear weapons system despite the second failed launch in a row following a misfire in 2016.

Last month, during a test off the coast of Florida with Mr Shapps and First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key on board, the HMS Vanguard crew performed a doomsday drill. 

The HMS Vanguard where the trident missile was fired from during a test off the coast of Florida

The HMS Vanguard where the trident missile was fired from during a test off the coast of Florida

Trident II (D5) ballistic missile firing from HMS Vigilant on January 30

Trident II (D5) ballistic missile firing from HMS Vigilant on January 30

Grant Shapps (pictured) was on board the vessel at the time when an 'anomaly occurred' during the test exercise

Grant Shapps (pictured) was on board the vessel at the time when an ‘anomaly occurred’ during the test exercise

A Trident 2 missile was propelled into the air, but its first stage boosters did not ignite and the 58-ton missile ‘just went plop’ into the sea next to the vessel and sank, The Sun revealed yesterday.

It is understood the issue related to equipment attached to the missile, which prevented the firing of the rocket system. 

Officials insisted that if the missile was fired in conflict, the problem would not have occurred as the testing equipment would not be attached.

A Defence source added: ‘We could absolutely fire in a real world situation if we needed to. That’s in no doubt after this.

‘The issue that occurred during the test was specific to the event and would not have occurred during a live armed fire.’

But a former Navy commander told the Mail: ‘Putin must be laughing. The Ministry of Defence is adamant this was a test missile issue not a war shot issue. I believe them, but am not sure they’re explaining it very well. We can add it to the list of things making the Royal Navy look bad at the moment.’

Former British Army commander Colonel Richard Kemp told the Mail: ‘It’s worse than an embarrassment – it’s a form of undermining our own deterrent. 

‘The British nuclear deterrent is an absolute cornerstone of our defences, and if it is seen so publicly to fail then that undercuts the value of the deterrence overall. 

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key (pictured) was also on board the HMS Vanguard when its crew performed the doomsday drill

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key (pictured) was also on board the HMS Vanguard when its crew performed the doomsday drill

‘That’s obviously an extremely bad thing, particularly in this age when we’re probably in the most dangerous period of time since the Second World War, with threats from nuclear armed Russia, as well as from nuclear armed China, and from Iran which is almost nuclear armed.

‘It’s really important that our conventional, as well as nuclear, deterrent is seen to be effective. Actually, our conventional deterrent is ineffective now because we have such a small Armed Forces that we don’t really present any deterrent effect on our enemies.

‘If we now have a reduced deterrent from the nuclear element, then together they put us in a very vulnerable position, I believe.’

Former British Army chief Lord Dannatt said the test failure was ‘nationally embarrassing’. ‘It’s not ideal, is it? I think nationally it is rather embarrassing,’ he told Sky News. 

‘My understanding is that the Secretary of State for Defence and the First Sea Lord were on board the ship and so it was obviously a very high-profile event that was expected to go well.’

He added: ‘I don’t know what lessons the experts will take away from this, I don’t know what lessons the Royal Navy will take away from this.

‘But it may be that Grant Shapps will reflect on the question ‘are we spending enough on our nuclear deterrent capability, on the Royal Navy overall, and on our overall defence capability?’.’

Trident missiles are not frequently tested, as each launch can cost up to £17million. A previous test fire, in 2016, also ended in failure after a Trident launched from HMS Vengeance veered off course and self-destructed.

Mr Shapps yesterday blamed an ‘anomaly’, but said the UK’s ‘resolve and capability to use its nuclear weapons, should we ever need to do so, remains beyond doubt’.

Former British Army commander Colonel Richard Kemp (pictured) said the missile failure was 'worse than an embarrassment'

Former British Army commander Colonel Richard Kemp (pictured) said the missile failure was ‘worse than an embarrassment’

In a written statement to Parliament, the Defence Secretary said: ‘The test reaffirmed the effectiveness of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, in which the Government has absolute confidence. The submarine and crew were successfully certified and will rejoin the operational cycle as planned.

‘On this occasion, an anomaly did occur, but it was event specific and there are no implications for the reliability of the wider Trident missile systems and stockpiles. Nor are there any implications for our ability to fire our nuclear weapons, should the circumstances arise in which we need to do so.’

No 10 was unable to say when the last successful Trident missile test occurred, but the Prime Minister’s spokesman said the UK Government had ‘complete confidence’ in Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

Tory former defence minister Tobias Ellwood said he understood the problem was caused by testing equipment attached to the missile itself that prevented the firing of the rocket system, which would not have been attached if the missile was ‘fired in anger’. 

It is understood the MoD is carrying out an inquiry into the information leak.



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