Assurances demanded after 'concerning' reports about Trident missile misfire

The defence secretary says a problem with the test firing of a Trident missile from a Royal Navy submarine has no implications for Britain's ability to defend itself. ITV News' Carl Dinnen reports

Labour has called for assurances over the effectiveness of Britain's nuclear deterrent after "concerning" reports about a Trident missile test failure.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed an "anomaly occurred" during a an exercise that took place on January 30 on board the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Vanguard.

Despite the anomaly, the test "reaffirmed the effectiveness of the UK's nuclear deterrent", Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement on Wednesday.

The anomaly was "event specific" and the Trident system "remains the most reliable weapons system in the world, having successfully completed more than 190 tests," Mr Shapps said.

Mr Shapps was on board the 150-metre vessel at the time of the incident, a spokesman for the defence secretary confirmed.

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.

Mr Shapps said he could only share limited information about exactly what happened as it is a matter of national security.

But he said there remained "absolute confidence" in Britain's constant at-sea nuclear deterrent.

The operation was a routine operation which takes place when a ballistic missile submarine completes a planned maintenance period, Mr Shapps said.

The series of assessments culminates in a test fire of an unarmed Trident II D5 missile.

The Sun, which first reported the test failure, said the incident occurred during an exercise off the coast of Florida, United States, last month.

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

An anonymous source quoted by The Sun said: "It left the submarine but it just went plop, right next to them."

It is said to be the second misfiring in a row, with a test launch of a Trident missile by the Royal Navy off the coast of the US in June 2016 also reported to have been a failure.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey said: "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."

In a written statement to Parliament, Mr Shapps said: "On January 30 2024, HMS Vanguard and her crew conducted their most recent test operation.

"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.

"The Trident missile system remains the most reliable weapons system in the world, having successfully completed more than 190 tests.

"The government has absolute confidence that the UK's deterrent remains effective, dependable and formidable."

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps was on board HMS Vanguard during the Trident missile test failure. Credit: PA

The incident comes at a time of high global tension, with a war raging in the Middle East and Russia's invasion of Ukraine approaching its two-year anniversary.

A spokeswoman for the MoD 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.

The UK's nuclear deterrent remains "safe, secure and effective", she said.

HMS Vanguard is one of four of the so-called Vanguard-class nuclear submarines that first went on patrol in 1994, with one of the vessels continually at sea.

They carry the American-built Trident 2 D5 nuclear missiles, the mainstay of Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent.

A Trident missile can be fired at targets up to 4,000 miles away and at its fastest can travel at more than 13,000 miles an hour, according to the Royal Navy.

They are 13 metres long, weigh 130,000lb (58,500kg) and are ejected from the submarine by high-pressured gas before they fire as they reach the surface of the water.

Each Vanguard-class submarine can hold up to 16 intercontinental ballistic missiles, but will only carry up to eight Trident rockets and up to 40 nuclear warheads.

The V-class is due to be replaced by the bigger Dreadnought-class submarines in the 2030s.

Between £31 billion and £41 billion has been set aside for the wider programme of replacing the Vanguard-class submarines, according to figures from the House of Commons Library.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…