Military Review

Ups and downs: UK nuclear forces

Ups and downs: UK nuclear forces
Red Beard - one of the first British nuclear bombs

In 1952 Great Britain conducted the first tests of its own atomic bomb and became the third nuclear power in the world. Subsequently, the British army built a full-fledged strategic nuclear force and created an arsenal of tactical weapons. However, in recent decades, strategic and tactical nuclear weapon has undergone significant reductions, as a result of which only the naval component of the strategic nuclear forces remained on duty.

Construction processes

The UK was one of the first countries in the world to tackle the subject of nuclear weapons. However, due to various reasons and factors, the first workable ammunition of this kind was assembled and tested only in 1952 - a few years after the USA and the USSR.

In the future, the British industry was engaged in the development of new strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. Various means of delivery were also created. The result of these processes was the formation of fairly large and powerful strategic nuclear forces and the widespread use of tactical systems. However, in terms of their structure and strength, the British nuclear forces lagged behind the strategic nuclear forces of the leading superpowers.

In 1958, Great Britain and the United States signed a new agreement on cooperation in the field of nuclear weapons. Thanks to him, the British army gained access to American developments, which influenced the further development of its weapons and nuclear forces. It turned out that American samples were more perfect than British ones, and London decided to buy them, incl. closing several of their projects.

Split model of tactical bomb WE.177

Thus, British enterprises launched the production of the Red Snow thermonuclear warhead, a modified version of the American Mk 28 with a variable yield from 70 kt to 1,45 Mt. In parallel, they produced their own product Green Grass with a capacity of 400 kt and a kiloton tactical charge Red Beard. At the same time, the development of the Indigo Hammer warhead was curtailed due to the purchase of an imported W44, and the Blue Peacock and Violet Mist projects were abandoned in favor of the American W45 charge.

Despite all efforts and foreign assistance, the British nuclear force remained relatively small. So, at the peak of their development in the seventies, the number of deployed warheads on strategic carriers did not exceed 500-520 units. The exact size of tactical arsenals is unknown, but in this area, too, the UK could not compete with the US or the USSR.

Delivery vehicles

In the mid-fifties, the first carriers of strategic nuclear weapons entered service with the KVVS. For this purpose, three projects of so-called long-range bombers were created at once. V-series. The Avro Vulcan aircraft became the most massive in the series - more than 130 units were built in total. Also, more than a hundred Vickers Valiant bombers and less than 90 Handley Page Victor aircraft entered service.

All three V-bombers were to carry and use existing and future nuclear and conventional bombs. In the future, it was planned to create missile weapons for them, but this program was eventually abandoned.

Avro Vulcan strategic bomber

Since the fifties, Great Britain has been working on the creation of a naval component of strategic nuclear forces, but the desired result was obtained only in the next decade. In 1967-69. The CVMF included four nuclear submarines of the Resolution type with ballistic missiles. Due to the failure of their own project, these SSBNs were armed with American Polaris medium-range missiles - 16 each.

In the late eighties, a new SSBN project called Vanguard was developed. Over the next decade, the fleet received four of these ships. In order to save money, they were again armed with a foreign missile system - this time they used Trident II intercontinental SLBMs.

In 1959, the United Kingdom adopted the American ground-based Thor IRBMs with nuclear weapons. The combat duty of such complexes continued until 1963. Foreign products made it possible to close an important niche while developing their own design.

So, since the mid-fifties, the development of the Blue Streak strategic ground-based missile system has been underway. The project faced a lot of difficulties, and its implementation was delayed. After several successes and failures in testing, in 1971 the project was closed and the topic of ground-based missiles was not returned to.

Bomber Vickers Valiant

The ground forces became the main operator of tactical nuclear systems. They had American-made 203 mm M110 and M115 guns capable of using the imported W33 projectile. In addition, at various times, the Corporal, Honest John and Lance missile systems were purchased from the United States. Later, the 155-mm W48 projectile entered service.

The KVVS had tactical nuclear weapons in the form of several types of aerial bombs. Their carriers were Canberra medium bombers and several types of fighter-bombers. As the air fleet, the media list has changed.

In the CVMF, tactical weapons were mainly represented by nuclear depth charges like the American M101. Their carriers were surface ships of several types. In addition, such products could be used by Shackleton and Nimrod patrol aircraft.

Rapid degradation

In the early nineties, due to a sharp change in the military-political situation, London decided to reduce nuclear forces and arsenals. It was proposed to reduce the total number of weapons and reduce their range. In addition, obsolete carriers and delivery vehicles should have been decommissioned. At the same time, a replacement for the decommissioned equipment was not planned.

Victor bombers (foreground) and Canberra

In the course of such processes, by the middle of the decade, the air component of the strategic nuclear forces ceased to exist. All V-series aircraft and their weapons were written off due to complete obsolescence. The marine component was more fortunate - it was in the nineties that it switched to modern submarines with new SLBMs.

There was no place in the new plans for tactical nuclear weapons. Already in 1991-92. the ground forces and navy were left without special warheads. aviation the complexes were decommissioned after a few years. All these processes continued until 1995-97.

Thus, since the end of the nineties, all of the UK's nuclear forces have been represented by only four Wangard-class SSBNs. Each such boat carries up to 16 Trident missiles with the possibility of installing different combat equipment. The combat duty schedule ensures the regular presence of at least one or two submarines in patrol areas. According to various sources, up to 150-160 warheads are deployed on Vanguard ships. A number of weapons are in storage.

Until the mid-XNUMXs, foreign nuclear weapons were present in the UK. As part of international cooperation, US Air Force tactical bombs were stored at British bases and American fighter-bombers were on duty. In the future, this practice was abandoned, and the ammunition was taken to the United States.

Blue Streak rocket stage at the museum

Development prospects

Despite all the reductions of previous years and the fall in all key indicators, the current state of the nuclear forces is completely satisfied with the British leadership. Strategic nuclear forces in the form of four submarines capable of carrying 64 missiles provide the desired level of combat capability and also reduce costs. At the same time, part of the functions of ensuring strategic deterrence and security is actually transferred to the main ally in the face of the United States.

The UK plans to maintain this course for the foreseeable future. At the same time, measures are proposed aimed at additional optimization of processes and some increase in individual indicators. However, a radical restructuring of the nuclear forces and the restoration of lost components is not envisaged.

Plans are already in place and are being implemented to replace the Vanguard-class SSBNs. Yes, in 2016 and 2019. laid down the first two submarines of the new Dreadnougt project. Preparations are underway for the construction of two more such ships. The lead submarine will enter service in the early thirties, and the rest will follow. In parallel with this, the old Vanguards will be decommissioned. It is curious that the renewal of submarine forces does not yet provide for the replacement of missiles. The new Dreadnoughts, like their predecessors, will use the Trident SLBM.

SSBN HMS Vanguard

In March 2021, London announced plans to increase its nuclear arsenals. It was reported that there are about 180 warheads in stock, and in the medium term their number will be increased to 260. Whether this can be done, and how long such processes will take, is not yet known.

Ups and downs

In general, история British nuclear weapons looks very interesting. Great Britain was one of the first to start developing fundamentally new systems and ended up in the top three nuclear powers. However, it was not possible to use such superiority to the full extent. British strategic and tactical nuclear forces have always been the smallest and have faced various problems.

25-30 years ago, Great Britain sharply reduced its nuclear forces and abandoned the air component and the entire tactical direction. With all the minuses, such a step was considered justified economically and politically. However, the result of this reduction was an increase in dependence on a foreign partner. Whether they will do anything about this situation, and whether it will be possible to correct it, is unknown.
Photos used:
UK Department of Defense, Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Silver99
    Silver99 30 October 2022 05: 38
    All this is a false understanding of protection. No British nuke will be used without US permission. It is a great financial pleasure to maintain a nuclear force, again, the development of fundamental science and testing, which modern Britain is hardly capable of.
  2. demiurg
    demiurg 30 October 2022 06: 07
    Actually kinda weird. There are like 48 tridents, 180 warheads. And they go on a campaign with 9 missiles and 40 charges.

    For that matter, isn't it easier to make the next generation of nuclear submarines smaller in displacement, under 10-12 missiles?
  3. fa2998
    fa2998 30 October 2022 07: 27
    The English bombers "series V" are interesting in their own way, so to speak "original". Moreover, they were developed almost together. hi
    1. Alf
      Alf 30 October 2022 21: 31
      Quote: fa2998
      The English bombers "series V" are interesting in their own way, so to speak "original". Moreover, they were developed almost together. hi

      Beautiful, infectious. By the way, one of the few in which camouflage is applied from below.
  4. Thrifty
    Thrifty 30 October 2022 07: 32
    Kirill, they have a certain amount of old bombs and missiles in storage, delivery vehicles are not a problem. Any heavy bomber can be a carrier. In addition, it is not known what was there with nuclear shells of 155 mm caliber, which was also clearly in storage. So what they have is enough. The modernization of bombs and missiles will be carried out jointly with the United States, this is not a problem at all.
    1. Illanatol
      Illanatol 30 October 2022 08: 36
      And how many heavy bombers did the Britons have left?
      Enough to die with dignity in the event of a nuclear conflict: "still, we fought back a little."
      Great Britain has long been out of the question as an independent nuclear power. So, an appendage of the United States, as in many other things.
      1. Ruby
        Ruby 30 October 2022 22: 01
        The last Vulkan was written off in the mid-80s. They don't have bombers.
  5. Mikhail Ivanov_6
    Mikhail Ivanov_6 30 October 2022 09: 01
    England has long claimed to become an Atoll.
    1. Skif
      Skif 30 October 2022 19: 27
      Ouch! I'm not good at geography at all. Is an atoll an island with a big hole in the middle? And along the edge of a narrow strip of beach of melted sand?
  6. tralflot1832
    tralflot1832 30 October 2022 09: 21
    The author could have shown the colonial essence of England. The first tests of nuclear devices were carried out "friendly" off the coast of Australia. And the first thermonuclear ones, again in a friendly manner about Christmas (Christmas), Vika writes that he is in the Pacific Ocean. But something did not find him there. There is an Australian 550 km from Indonesia. A riddle.
    1. tralflot1832
      tralflot1832 30 October 2022 10: 14
      I found it, so England is no stranger to their London, they have already bombed with thermonuclear. They didn’t “hit”, there was an explosion 50 km away.
  7. PPD
    PPD 30 October 2022 09: 48
    in order to save money, they were again armed with a foreign missile system - this time they used Trident intercontinental SLBMs

    It's funny, especially if you remember how Britain tried to educate its colony that got lost 300 years ago. wassat
    It seems that this is how earthly glory passes ... laughing
    Oh times..
    1. SincerityX
      SincerityX 1 November 2022 13: 55
      Yeah, and it’s also worth remembering that it was the ships of Peter I that didn’t let her “educate”. American elites don't remember the good for long.
  8. Bingo
    Bingo 30 October 2022 12: 52
    As far as I remember, it also said that with 4 boats there are missiles for two, I don’t know if it’s true or not ... In general, wild game - lease carriers from the United States. Where they will fly, if they fly at all, is known only in the USA
  9. spech
    spech 30 October 2022 14: 56
    Here is more interesting

    The text of your comment is too short and in the opinion of the site administration does not carry useful information.
  10. merkava-2bet
    merkava-2bet 30 October 2022 16: 36
    Some kind of poor article, on a very important both historically and technical side. I am spoiled by the works of Bongo (Sergey Linnik), the scrupulousness and meticulousness of materials, as well as cycles. But I’m interested in reading about Soviet nuclear weapons, especially 70-80s, aviation bombs, so far I have not found real photos of such bombs on the Internet, especially strategic ones.
    1. Alf
      Alf 30 October 2022 21: 35
      Quote: merkava-2bet
      Until now, I have not found real photos of such bombs on the Internet, especially strategic ones.

      Do you have access to the first form? laughing
      As the nightmare of the Democrats Lavrenty Palych used to say - For what purpose are you interested? laughing
      1. merkava-2bet
        merkava-2bet 30 October 2022 22: 53
        Purely historically, is curiosity already punishable?
        1. Alf
          Alf 30 October 2022 23: 08
          Quote: merkava-2bet
          Purely historically, is curiosity already punishable?

          What if you are going to sell drawings of a vigorous loaf to your enemies?
        2. SincerityX
          SincerityX 1 November 2022 14: 01
          Weird question. We read the nickname of a comrade "Merkava 2", yeah, a tank of a NATO country. Everything becomes clear. The answer is, there are bombs, thermonuclear ones too, but we will not show them to you. laughing
          But the most powerful weapon in Russia is by no means thermonuclear. Moreover, not even nuclear. There are munitions that can cover large areas without contaminating the area. wink And they have a fairly wide range. winked
          1. merkava-2bet
            merkava-2bet 1 November 2022 17: 52
            We read the nickname of a comrade "Merkava 2", yeah, a tank of a NATO country

            Israel has never been a NATO country, study the material before your opus.
            Tank Merkava-2, this is the tank on which I served and fought, that's my nickname.
            There are munitions that can cover large areas without contaminating the area. wink And their quite wide nomenclature. winked

            Wow, conspiracy theories and mysticism have gone, develop your thoughts, I love these topics, especially on weapons.
  11. bovi
    bovi 31 October 2022 08: 53
    The question remains after reading: what caused the reduction? It seems to me that "money in a colony without columns was not enough", but suddenly I'm wrong. And if it is, yes, the reason, then doesn't it seem to us that "this is the end"? It is not at all surprising that Britain has rolled out into the background under the globalists ...
    So this is what Ryabov is not able to write about: how are they going to get out now? the topic of "American" nuclear submarines in Australia seems to me some kind of scheme for "renovating the British fleet" at the expense of a "stupid hegemon" - isn't it too ambitious? What is the real role of Britain in the AUCS? To what extent is the AUKS the Mi5 project or who in the USA decided to put the "white man" outside the mainland states on the re-consolidation?
  12. Illanatol
    Illanatol 31 October 2022 09: 22
    Quote: tralflot1832
    The first tests of nuclear devices were carried out "friendly" off the coast of Australia

    The first, not the first ... were also on the territory of Australia itself. And the local natives were used as guinea pigs. However, their own soldiers were also driven through the epicenter.
    Gentlemen or...
  13. koralevviktor
    koralevviktor 31 October 2022 10: 57
    In England, weapons appeared much earlier, it was just that the test happened later. Without the help of the States, they would not have succeeded. It was thanks to the receipt of intelligence from Britain that it was possible to create such a weapon for the Soviet Union.
    1. Alexey RA
      Alexey RA 31 October 2022 15: 16
      Quote: koralevviktor
      In England, weapons appeared much earlier, it was just that the test happened later. Without the help of the States, they would not have succeeded.

      And the Yankees, without British developments on the Tube Alloys project, could have dragged out their Manhattan project right up to a Congressional commission on waste of money. smile
      1. koralevviktor
        koralevviktor 31 October 2022 16: 46
        For the British, in general, all projects up to the strikes were failures. If you want to dig into history, you will find a lot of interesting things there. Many nuclear power plants built in Britain were pre-accident, only the intervention of the United States saved them from man-made disasters on the island. This indicates that they had a complete out with technology.
  14. PilotS37
    PilotS37 31 October 2022 23: 56
    "Necessity for FICTION is cunning!"
  15. PilotS37
    PilotS37 1 November 2022 00: 00
    In the future, it was planned to create missile weapons for them, but this program was eventually abandoned.

    Well, how! What about Blue Steel?
    Garbage, of course, complete (like the rest of the United Kingdom), but it was!