United Kingdom: Nuclear Weapon, Command, Control, and Communications
Philip Reiner and Peter Hayes with Rear Admiral John Gower
The United Kingdom formally became a nuclear weapon state in 1952, with operational systems from 1955. The UK’s strategic deterrent has evolved over the past 66 years of it being a nuclear armed state. Nuclear weapon system information, particularly the detail of national command, control and associated communications systems and protocols, are among the most tightly guarded and classified secrets of any nation. The UK is no exception to this, and until the decision to release some of the protocols and procedures as part of the Cabinet Office co-operation with a BBC Radio programme in 2008, every facet of current national arrangements was classified. In this segment, Rear Admiral Gower states that the UK Nuclear Weapon Command Control and Communications (UK NC3) architecture is designed and operated to support SSBN strategic nuclear deterrence in all foreseeable circumstances from peacetime to nuclear conflict. “Through multiple paths and frequencies, fall-back and alternative systems and with dedicated and unique encryption and processes it delivers continuous availability for the Prime Minister should a decision to launch be made.” This segment goes into further detail regarding the multiple communication paths, frequencies, fall-back systems, and encryption needed to continuously enable the UK’s Prime Minister to act on a nuclear launch decision.
This podcast is accompanied by Rear Admiral John Gower’s paper “United Kingdom: Nuclear Weapons Command, Control, Communication.”
The Fourth Leg is a series of podcasts focused on one of the most complex systems in the world today – nuclear command and control – and its increasingly complicated future. Within this series we go straight to the experts, across multiple sectors, to discuss the modernization of nuclear command and control systems.
Along with colleagues from the Nautilus Institute and the Preventive Defense Project, IST recently hosted over 50 international experts at Stanford University to anticipate technical challenges that will arise from the modernization of complex nuclear command and control systems. We aim to spotlight some of the vulnerabilities within a modernized NC3 system while furthering the conversation with this series.
Keep an eye on IST, as we will begin additional podcast series in the coming months focused on how to fix the internet, AI and global stability, and other critical tech and security issues- for now, we have so much more to talk about, so let’s get started.