23 May 2010

UK Nuke Subs on Patrol

What's life like on a Trident submarine? Here's an excerpt from a good article at The Guardian.

At any moment, one of Britain's four Trident submarines is out there, somewhere, patrolling a continent-sized patch of the Atlantic. When the 160-strong crew slip beneath the waves off Scotland's west coast, that's the last anyone sees of them for three months. Powered by a nuclear reactor, the submarines are almost silent and virtually undetectable. While on patrol, direct communication with navy bosses back home ceases, so potential enemies cannot intercept any signals. The crew are almost completely cut off from the outside world.

"Initially there is a sense of euphoria when the telephones are disconnected," says Commander Julian Ferguson, who captained HMS Vengeance on four patrols before retiring in 2006. "You think, thank God for that. You're on your own."

As captain, Ferguson knew where they were going, as did the navigator, but their superiors at base only knew the approximate area they would patrol. An aerial trails behind the submarine, to pick up radio signals from Britain if the prime minister presses the nuclear button. It also relays brief messages from the crew's families once a week; the sailors cannot reply.

If there was nuclear war and the captain was unable to communicate with base, there is a personal letter on board written by the prime minister to the captain. The contents are top secret but it is thought that the instructions include allying with the US, travelling to Australia if Europe has been destroyed and, ultimately, firing the weapons. The missiles cannot be launched by one man alone; the crew are not told what they are aiming at.

By: Brant

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