Coronavirus got to fleet the former mistress of the seas, before the British Royal Navy, there is already a certain number of cases. And moreover, it is already threatening her underwater forces. And even worse - the only nuclear component of the British Armed Forces, that is, nuclear submarines with ballistic missiles (SSBNs) of the Wangard type, of which there are 4 pieces.
"Constant containment" of foreign missiles
Recall that all of the simple nuclear power of Britain today is about 120 combat units (BB), which are in operational readiness, and almost 40 more repair and exchange funds. British-developed blocks, most of them with a maximum power of up to 80-100 kt, but some are “vivisection victims”, during which the thermonuclear part of the charge was replaced by weight-size mock-ups (changing the centering and other characteristics of the block is more expensive) and left a nuclear fuse with a power of about 5 ct This is such an extremely dangerous (for Britain itself and for the world, in general, too) phantom-substitute for the now absent-minded lady who is now TNW. Why dangerous, it was said on this resource more than once, and regarding the recent American pseudo novelty, BB W76-2 - also where the same operation with the main US nuclear warhead - W76-1 was done and with similar goals, only the power turned out to be 6,5, XNUMX ct.
The bottom line is that the side attacked by such missiles with low-power warheads does not know what it is attacked with, and does not want to know. He will see the start of even the only SLBM, having received a trajectory forecast on his territory - with almost 100% probability he will respond with a massive nuclear missile strike. But the British, like the Americans, believe in limited escalation scenarios, and those that flow in their favor. One minus - these scenarios completely do not take into account our views on this matter and therefore are doomed to failure. But let's continue on the nuclear component of the British Armed Forces. The British are patrolling now with half-loaded missiles - 8 out of 16 launchers, and carry only 5 BB each, with about 3 of the 8 missiles carrying the aforementioned "bits" instead of normal BBs.
SLBMs "Trident-2" D5 do not belong to the British, these are missiles leased from the Americans. Initially, there were 56 of them, now there are less than 50 left. Moreover, the Americans did not transfer specific missiles to the British, and with their service, which takes place in the USA, they have the right to exchange them for others. Such is the "rental". In the entire British nuclear component, the SSBNs themselves and nuclear charges themselves, but not missiles, are actually British. Since the missiles do not belong to Britain, but to the United States, the Americans even share information with Russia that it was established on these missiles that the British really dislike it.
And they will say that there were four of us ...
The nuclear deterrence strategy of the former world superpower, over which the sun never set, is now called the Continuous At-Sea Deterrence (CASD), that is, "Permanent Deterrence at Sea". It is this: out of 4 Vengard-type SSBNs, one is always under repair (medium, overhaul), and one is always in combat service in the Bay of Biscay. The French also patrolled there, once the SSBNs of the two countries managed to collide and mutually mutilate each other. At one time, both countries, from poverty and greed, even discussed the option of duty in turn, with the joint protection and defense of the patrol area, but did not grow together.
As for the other two SSBNs, one usually prepares for a new campaign, conducting inter-passage maintenance, minor or dock repairs, the other rests after returning from patrol, or is on the way to or from the area. This system on the Vengard-type SSBNs has been operating for the entire life without any changes, and before that it was the same on the Resolutions-type SSBNs with the Polaris-A3TK SLBM. For conventional ships in the British Navy, it is customary to maintain a permanent presence in some areas to have three ships for such a task (one in the area, one moving there or back, one being repaired or resting), but for nuclear deterrence, four are needed.
Alas, my friend, now there are only two of us ...
But the other day, an article by Lucy Fisher (editor of the defense department of the Times and Sunday Times) was published in the London Times, where she reports that the Royal Navy currently uses only 2 SSBNs instead of the required 3, because one of the SSBs being repaired got stuck in the repair, and the second one already got there, and it was impossible to postpone the repair time. This situation has been going on for more than a year, which, of course, falls out of the practice of CASD that has been going on for more than 50 years (although, part of this time, Britain had bombers and other nuclear weapons). Even when one of the SSBNs suffered in a collision with a French "colleague," the British were lucky - another boat was just coming out of the repair, and the problems were resolved.
Of course, the situation when one of the boats is on duty and the other is urgently prepared for new patrols or put in order after the previous one also in a hurry does not benefit ships or crews. In addition, you have to spend more time on patrols. If at least one decent failure occurs on any of the remaining SSBNs - and permanent nuclear deterrence will cease for some period.
The boat, which is under maintenance and preparation, can, of course, be shot off from the pier, if the missiles are not unloaded. But it is guaranteed - only in the first strike, because there may not be enough time for the oncoming or reciprocal oncoming, and indeed Britain does not have a missile attack warning system, and whether the Americans will notify the allies is an open question. Well, the very essence of the underwater nuclear missile component is its high ability to deliver retaliatory strikes, rather than counter or counter-strike ones. Although the first / preventive strikes (in Russian terminology modestly referred to as "strikes at the appointed time") also cannot be excluded. But, in general, to remain without nuclear forces in readiness in general is a shameful situation for the country, the third in the nuclear club in terms of membership in it.
Of course, members of the Defense Committee of the House of Commons have already expressed concern that incapacitation of any of the remaining boats will require the first (publicly recognized) failure in the CASD in the last 50 years! Lord Stirrup. the former chief of the country's Defense Headquarters (the highest military authority of the kingdom), said that "Royal Navy relied too much on luck," they say, "maybe it will carry over", and this is dangerous. And former Secretary of Defense Tobias Ellwood expressed concern that underwater nuclear deterrence is "lame in two boats." A longer patrol time can also adversely affect the psychophysical state of boat crews, he said.
And then a pandemic was added. If suddenly a “plague” sailor finds himself on one of the SSBNs, either preparing for patrol, or returning, or even worse, being at sea, this can lead to quarantine for the crew, probably even if without leaving a significant number of crew members. They may interrupt patrols, although, of course, they may risk continuing the combat mission. But what this will lead to is a question. Of course, in normal submarine fleets for such cases there is a shift crew for each submarine, or at least 1-2 shift crews for a brigade or submarine division. The British abandoned the two-crew system at the time, but at the moment they should have an "extra" crew, since they have 2 ships to repair instead of one. But even there, "coronavirus" losses may occur, and the British already see the US Navy as an example of this. When 2 aircraft carriers are put out of action due to COVID, followed by the UDC (Boxer), a pair of Arly Burke-class destroyers and a number of other ships, including nuclear submarines, you’ll think about it. And in Britain, the situation with coronavirus is, frankly, bad.
In Britain, many experts and politicians are now asking questions: is the Royal Navy ready to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic in its ranks? A large shortage of coronavirus test kits in Britain (as the British themselves write) and a slow testing policy reinforce this risk.
According to Robert Forsyth, a former senior officer of the Ripals SSBN (with Polaris-A3TK missiles) and a teacher in the courses for submarine commanders, in the first week of patrolling it is quite normal for the cold and flu to cover the ship: "One or two people brought on board a cold or flu, during the first week you all got it, got sick, and then everything is fine. "But the coronavirus is cunning, and although the boats are quite young and healthy people, they may also need qualified medical assistance from narrow specialists in pulmonary infections and resuscitation specialists with the appropriate equipment. There is probably a ventilator on the SSBN, but hardly more than one, and the doctor on such a ship is not a resuscitator or a pulmonologist or infectious diseases specialist. Prime Minister Johnson (that is, disregarding, in fact, an anti-epidemic policy) on a boat can lead to disaster.
In the short term, the British Navy will need to introduce an extremely strict regime to control the spread of the virus in its ranks, especially on board SSBNs and on the coastal base of these ships. But whether it will help is an open question.
Who leads the nuclear forces while the prime minister is in intensive care?
As for Johnson himself, he now "develops national immunity" in a hospital bed in the intensive care unit under the ventilator. Which, incidentally, raised a new question in the British press: who, in fact, now controls the "nuclear button" of the United Kingdom? The fact is that officially only the Prime Minister of the kingdom controls the nuclear weapon. Yes, the head of state and the head of the country's armed forces is the queen (or another monarch, of course). And formally, the prime minister is obliged to consult with the queen on such an important issue. And he will do it, “if time permits”, and so he can solve this issue himself - as they say in Britain. However, it is worth noting that the “reigning, but not ruling” queen is, by and large, the same myth as the legendary British constitution, which no one has seen. For example, on the Brexit issue, the role of Queen Elizabeth turned out to be practically decisive in the matter, and it was she who intensely pushed the decision to withdraw from the EU. And I got my way. Nevertheless, she does not formally have control over the "nuclear case".
Yes and no in Britain the very concept of "nuclear suitcase." There is a set of codes for activating nuclear weapons and various plans for combat use, of course, there are communications, but as such the device itself is not. The prime minister must contact the Pindar underground command post near Whitehall in London, and specifically with the Nuclear Operations Targeting Center, or be in it, and from there the order will go to the patrolling strategic submarine. He can also be contacted from the airborne command post aboard the refurbished Airbus A330, which has been used by the prime minister since 2015. From the underground checkpoint near Whitehall, the signal will arrive in Northwood, in the Combined Task Force 345 Operations Room (Control room “Swivel Connection 345”), where two officers recognize the code signal and verify its authenticity, then the signal is again encoded and sent lower, and to the carrier of nuclear weapons. It is claimed in a number of sources that the prime minister cannot use the "National Directive on the opening of fire" (on the use of nuclear weapons) without consulting the chief of the Defense Staff, who must add his own part of the code to the prime minister’s code, and there are allegations that he himself presents the codes to the prime minister, but these statements contradict officialdom. According to him, the British cabinet welcomes the collegial decision-making principle, and the very possibility that nuclear weapons can be used in the near future should be discussed collectively by the cabinet or at least the so-called “military cabinet” (7 ministerial posts, including prime minister, secretary of defense , the head of the Foreign Office, etc.). However, the prime minister can decide on his own, and in general, even the deputy prime ministers have no right to control nuclear weapons instead of him (earlier, during the Cold War, there was a slightly different order). So it seems that while Boris Johnson was lying in a hospital bed, the British nuclear weapons turned out to be somewhat "suspended in the air" in the sense that it is not very clear who controls them. Although, most likely, he still transferred this right to someone - he has such a right.
Letters from a dead man
The British nuclear component control system itself is generally outdated, vulnerable, inflexible and does not guarantee the use of nuclear weapons at all. This is even compared with France, not to mention the comparison with the nuclear forces control systems of the USA and Russia (especially Russia) - next to these systems, which provide everything in the world, controlled from numerous super-protected duplicated control centers, mobile and air control centers, etc. ., the British management system looks a bit like the work of young technicians. That gives rise to amusing mechanisms "in case everyone slept in London," Britain was destroyed and the order was never received. This is the so-called "letters of last resort", which since 1972 every prime minister has written by hand for the commander who intervenes to patrol SSBNs. These letters, number 4, are written for the commanders of each SSBN, and are stored in 2 built-in safes in the main command post of the submarine (not in the commander’s cabin, like codes and keys for launching missiles). The letter is destroyed if the prime minister changes, and it is not opened. The new prime minister is already writing his letters.
The opening of letters is carried out only after certain verification procedures, which are usually classified. But it is known that for the SSBNs of the Resolution type in the 80s, one of the characteristic signs of the country's death was the termination of any naval radio broadcasts and signals for more than 4 hours, and for the Vengards one of the signs was the termination of broadcasting of the Air Force Radio 4". The letters include various options such as “strike a revenge”, “do not strike a revenge”, “transfer your ship to the command of allies from the United States, if there is someone else to transfer to” and even “go to Australia” or “decide for yourself” . However, it is unlikely that these letters will be required in this case, even if Mr. Johnson does not get out and does not “gain the immunity” that he promised the British. The Queen will find another Prime Minister, she will not go anywhere.