November 15, 2007: Until the early days of the Tony Blair administration, British nuclear weapons could be armed with bicycle locks. The article also mentions some of the security precautions in place with American and Russian nuclear weapons in comparison.
This is slightly less alarming than it sounds because the weapons in question were the 1960s era WE177s … tactical freefall bombs that had been de-issued during the stand-down at the end of the Cold War and were awaiting dismantling. The main strategic deterrent - Trident - being somewhat more secure.
However this does (partially) illustrate the point that the British strategic deterrent is not fitted with Permissive Action Locks like the US strategic deterrent is (it doesn't fully illustrate it because this article is about WE177s not Trident) - a fact which makes a nonsense of the argument put forward by "anti-nuclear" activists in the UK that our strategic assets are under American control: even Northwood doesn't have the ability to prohibit an ICBM launch, let alone anywhere in the US. This makes a lot of sense given that the British command infrastructure was smaller and a lot nearer WarPac … and thus more vulnerable to being destroyed in a first strike. Fitting permissive action links could potentially have prevented the Trident boats fulfilling their primary purpose of retributive strike.
Game and Story Use
- As an extreme example of I Am Not Making This Up, this can probably only used in silly campaigns, as otherwise the players will accuse the game master of making this stuff up.
- Of course the lack of permissive locks on UK ICBMs means that it is … theoretically at least … a lot easier for a Royal Navy boat to perform a rogue launch.