It was revealed last week that a Trident missile test failed just a few days prior to a vote in Parliament about Trident renewal. However, news of this failure was suppressed by Theresa May and her government. They’ve tried to spin it since then that they kept it secret, not for fairly obvious political reasons, but on grounds of “national security”. Well this is a complete lie and worrying too as it hints about how the current government works and no doubt how it will handle Brexit negotiations.
Firstly, keeping the results of this test secret from the other nuclear armed states would be virtually impossible. They have early warning satellites, spy satellites, subs (often sent out to shadow nuclear missile carrying subs and report on their activities) and long range radar systems, all of which allows them to track missile launches like this. On some occasions the other powers will have been told in advance about such test, as a launch might endanger any space based assets they have passing overhead….or a test might be mistaken for a sneak attempt at a first strike (potentially prompting a retaliatory strike).
So the other nuclear powers would have been watching and observed the results of this test. And this is largely the point of testing missiles like this. Testing a trident missile is the equivalent of the UK walking in front of the other nuclear powers and performing a Haka. It reminds them that the UK has a fully functional nuclear deterrent. There is in short, not much point in testing such a missile (and wasting tens of millions of tax payers money) if the other states aren’t watching.
So the other powers saw the missile test and saw it fail. This not that an unusual occurrence. Even the best rockets are only about 92% reliable (meaning 1 in 12 of them will fail). This is the whole reason why a Trident sub carries more than one of them. So by itself this was a little embarrassing, but its happened before.
But the other powers know that the UK isn’t North Korea (granted the Tories seem to want to turn it into NK with brexit, but we’re not there yet). They would have waited for the press release from the MoD and tried to read what they could out of it to try and figure out what went wrong…..only they were greeted by silence. Why, they will have thought, are the British being silent? They know we saw the missile fail, why keep it a secret?…..Unless of course there’s something they are trying to hide? i.e. that the trident isn’t quite as reliable as claimed!
Keep in mind that while the other powers will be in a position to observe live missile tests, they won’t know what’s going on in the labs and engineering firms that build the missiles. Its possible that individual parts of the missile have repeatedly failed tests, but by luck the live firings of the assembled missile have always worked. Only now these problems have escalated to the point where the entire missile is failing in flight.
Case in point, Orbital (a new space start up) and their Antares rocket. For years there were rumours that they were seeing failures and burn outs of the rocket’s Russian built engines during ground tests and inspections. But any time they launched, everything seemed to work- Until in 2014 when a rocket blew up on the pad (or more precisely it blew up the pad!). As a result Orbital have essentially gone back to the drawing board and switched to a new engine. SpaceX too has had problems with the use of LOx in combination with composites, but any issues in testing never carried over to endanger a launch – Until a few months ago when a rocket exploded on the pad.
Now I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with the Trident missile. But my point is, that by trying to suppress news of this rocket failure it may have created the impression that there is. In short Theresa May wasn’t protecting UK security, she was undermining it for selfish political reasons. It raises the risk that the other major powers would have seen the test failure, put two and two together and decided it equalled five. And if a shooting war broke out in the mean time, they might actually take action they otherwise won’t consider.
And it gets worse. The supposed reason for this failure was to do with the GPS guidance system of the rocket. GPS signals can be interfered with. This is why most ICBM’s have a backup guidance system that relies on alternative principles (inertial, celestial, etc.) that should step in if the primary guidance failed. We must consider the possibility that the missile went of course because one of the other powers was at the time jamming GPS signals and the backup guidance failed. By failing to report anything for several weeks this would have sent the message to that other state that the British were still scratching their heads clueless as to what had happened. And that in the event of a shooting war, Trident was little more that 20 billion worth of useless hardware.
So let us be clear, Theresa May was quite happy to undermine British security just because she was scared of a confrontation with Jeremy Corbyn on an issue where she was already guaranteed a majority. Frankly if she can handle Corbyn, waving a ban the bomb petition (while wearing one of his dodgy tracksuits), how does she propose to handle Putin, the Chinese or the Europeans during Brexit? And her reaction to Trump banning UK citizens from the US? Silence because she’s afraid of the big bad bully with the mad hair. I mean how spineless is she! If Brexit mean brexit, it means the UK becoming the 51st state of Trump land.
This episode also implies that the government will suppress important information and keep it from Parliament during Brexit negotiations. We’ll only find out when its too late to change anything. If there weren’t enough reasons for MP’s to vote against this article 50 bill, this is clearly another.
And of course, ironically enough, the suppression of this test failure also creates a compelling case against trident renewal, probably more so than it would, if the incident had been reported earlier.