The United Kingdom will plow ahead with its new submarine-launched warhead no matter what happens this year with the planned W93 in the U.S., and the warhead replacement program has nothing to do with the Kingdom’s recent decision to increase its warhead cap, an official with the Ministry of Defence said this week.
The U.K. has only submarine-launched ballistic missiles in its nuclear arsenal and is in the early stages of replacing the modified U.S. W76-1, known as the Trident Holbrook, with a new warhead that will share some characteristics with the proposed W93: the first U.S. warhead in decades to be designed from nearly the ground up — its nuclear explosive package was tested before the ongoing American moratorium on yield-testing started in the 1990s, the U.S. has said.
“Because we share the same missile and therefore use the same aeroshell that wraps around the warheads, there is a certain amount of mutual support we can provide each other in taking those programs forward,” Angus Lapsley, director general of Strategy and International for the U.K. Ministry of Defence, said Tuesday in a webcast hosted by the Washington-based non-government group the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But you end with a U.K. warhead and an American warhead.”
Congress last year appropriated $53 million for the W93, a sum some Democrats in the House opposed. Previously known in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) budget documents as the Next Navy Warhead, the NNSA in 2020 decided to seek funding for the weapon two years sooner than most recently envisioned. A senior Pentagon acquisition official in September last year warned that withholding funding for W93 would mean the U.S. could not provide timely science and technology aid for the British warhead development.
Meanwhile, Lapsley on Wednesday also denied that the U.K.’s decision to raise its warhead cap to 260 submarine-launched ballistic-missile warheads from the previous target of 180 warheads had anything to do with the availability of warheads during the upgrades or replacements. The U.K. aims to always have a nuclear-armed submarine at sea.
“It is true of course that we face a complex program, moving from the 4 to the 4a versions of the existing warhead and then, in the decades to come, moving to a replacement warhead,” Lapsley said. “So programmatic issues are always part of the picture, but the reasons why we have raised the ceiling on our warhead stockpile are the reasons I have given.”
Earlier in the program, Lapsley had repeated the Ministry’s line that Britain was raising its warhead cap to maintain the credibility of a U.K. nuclear response to nuclear and potentially other types of threats against the Kingdom and its allies, particularly NATO.