Tuesday, February 17, 2009

HMS Vanguard

The Daily Mail has published an informative and fascinating report on one of the Royal Navy's Trident-equipped nuclear submarines. What follows is an extremely condensed version:

Deep beneath the surface of the Atlantic, HMS Vanguard — one of four identical Royal Navy submarines carrying Trident nuclear missiles — is on patrol.

Moving at a fast-walking pace, she is out there right now; undetectable, untouchable and armed with more explosive power than was unleashed by all sides in the duration of World War II.

On board the Vanguard there is a safe attached to the floor of the control room. Inside that, there is an inner safe. And inside that sits a letter. It is addressed to the submarine commander and it is from the Prime Minister.

In that letter, Gordon Brown conveys the most awesome decision of his political career. He made it alone, in the first days of his premiership, and none of us is ever likely to know what he decided.

It is the Prime Minister’s answer to a grim but essential question: in the event of a nuclear attack in which Britain is largely destroyed and he is killed before he has time to react, should Britain fire back?

Vanguard was the first of Britain’s four nuclear-armed submarines to slide silently into the Faslane naval base on the east coast of Scotland when the Trident programme came into commission 14 years ago.

We can’t say where she is right now, because we don’t know. Even the Navy does not know precisely. Nor do most of her 160 or so crew. Once the boat has left base, it is up to the captain alone to decide where to patrol within the vast sector of the ocean to which he has been assigned.

Nothing prepares you for your first encounter with a ballistic submarine. It’s not so much her size — though she’s big, 150metres long — which takes your breath away. It’s the overwhelming menace which drips from her glistening grey casement. She is the most violent thing man has ever created. Yet she’s beautiful, too; a piece of perfect engineering.

Commander Lindsey... knows what his job is: to be Britain’s very last line of defence. And he has no doubt what he would do if he had to go into those safes to retrieve the Prime Minister’s letter.

‘In those circumstances we just go straight into our standard training profile: we will have had access through the outer safe, and I would then go into the inner safe open the letter and carry out those instruction as per that letter.’

Without question?

‘Without question.’

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