United Kingdom: Nuclear Weapons Command, Control, Communications
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 its 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 program in 2008, every facet of current national arrangements was classified.
In this essay, 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 essay 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 paper is accompanied by a Fourth Leg podcast: United Kingdom: Nuclear Weapon, Command, Control, and Communications