- Currently the British deploy Trident submarines to patrol and deter extreme threats to its national security.
- The deployment periods of Britain’s Trident nuclear-armed submarines have become longer than ever before. They now patrol for more than 150 days.
- Extended patrols have given rise to drug abuse and harassment among sailors.
Recently, the British Navy deployed Britain’s Trident nuclear-armed submarines at sea once more. Each sub has now been underwater for five months, a record-breaking period. In response, a former Royal Navy Commander has warned of the possible safety hazards resulting from more extended patrols.
Trident is an operational system of four Vanguard-class submarines. They are armed with Trident II D-5 ballistic nuclear missiles. The Ministry of Defence’s purpose behind the Trident program is to “deter extreme threats to our national security and way of life.”
The Ferret, an investigative journalism site, reported that two Trident submarines patrolled for 157 days. The information is based on monitoring data from the campaign group Nukewatch.
Why are long patrols a safety hazard?
In a blog post Rob Forsyth, a Commander of Polaris nuclear submarines in the 1970s, said, “with patrols now lasting 150 days or more, the most significant challenge is crew discipline.”Read More: Japanese Submarine her 80-man Crew Still Entombed
“The great danger is that this routine, week after week, leads to boredom, complacency, and an inevitable drop-off in standards. As a result, personal relationships are tested to the limit.” Forsyth added.
In 2021, a male sailor was sentenced to nine months because he forced a female colleague to give him oral sex whilst on duty. The military court established that the sailor drank five hours before harassing the woman.
After several whistle-blowers reported abuse and bullying, Admiral Ben Key, Head of the Royal Navy, ordered an investigation. The allegations included sexual assault and harassment of women working on submarines.
However, the problem is not limited to sexual misconduct. In 2017, many sailors were dismissed from duty after they tested positive for using cocaine.
According to Forsyth, recent media reports of drugs and inappropriate sexual behaviour are due to the psychological challenges of long deployments.Read More: USS Johnston the Deepest Shipwreck Ever Found
“When they take place in a nuclear-weapon-responsible environment, it gives rise to a new level of concern. So sufficient to question whether these very long patrols threaten nuclear weapon safety,” Forsyth wrote in the blog.
Why have patrols become longer?
Currently, the Royal Navy is operating the continuous at-sea deterrent (CASD). The program ensures that one of four nuclear-armed submarines is always on patrol. As a result, they are ready to strike in the unlikely event that the UK faces a nuclear attack or other extreme military crisis.
Before, undersea patrols lasted only three months, but these have now been extended. Experts believe this is because one Trident submarine, HMS Vanguard, was being refitted for seven years after the discovery of a leak in a test reactor.
HMS Vanguard did not return to service until July 2022. The absence reduced the number of available submarines to three, which was the bare minimum. When one was on patrol, the second prepared to go out, while the third recovered after returning.
Even worse, in November 2022, another Trident sub, HMS Victorious, went off duty because an electrical fire broke out onboard. As a result, the Navy returned the submarine to the Faslane base in Scotland. Although the boat is back at sea it is yet to be on patrol.
The Royal Navy has not commented on the length of Trident submarine patrols. However, they have acknowledged a patrol that lasted more than 140 days. While defence sources recognize the harm caused by extended periods of patrols, for now they continue.
A spokesperson for the Royal Navy added:
“Investigations are ongoing into allegations about sexual misconduct in the submarine service. However, Investigation will not affect the operation of the deterrent. We refute any suggestion that its operation is anything other than robust.”
More on the Trident Programme
Trident covers the development and operation of atomic weapons in the United Kingdom. The program also manages the means of delivery of nuclear weapons.Read More:U-Boat “Packed With Gold” Famed Treasure Hunter Has Left Clues
The Royal Navy operates Trident at Clyde Naval Base on the west coast of Scotland. At least one submarine is always on patrol to provide continuous at-sea deterrence.
Each submarine carries eight missiles and forty warheads. The missiles are manufactured in the United States, while the warheads are British.