British nuclear forces, 2011

By Hans M. Kristensen, Robert S. Norris | September 1, 2011

Credit: "England in the UK and Europe" by Blank map of Europe (with disputed regions) derivative work Alphathon /'æɫfə.θɒn/ is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear weapons does the UK have?

Of all the nuclear weapon states, the United Kingdom has moved the furthest toward establishing a minimum nuclear deterrent, announcing its plans last year to reduce its total stockpile to no more than 180 warheads over the next 15 years. Though it is considering replacing its ballistic missile submarines, the United Kingdom may even be approaching a decision on whether and how to transition toward denuclearization. Cuts to the defense budget may increase pressure to phase out its costly submarines; on the other hand, cuts to the conventional forces might strengthen arguments to retain a nuclear deterrent, perhaps by converting to a cheaper nuclear delivery platform.

The United Kingdom has a stockpile of approximately 225 nuclear warheads, of which fewer than 160 are operationally available for deployment on four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). The SSBNs, each of which has 16 missile tubes, constitute the United Kingdom’s sole nuclear platform, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) comprise its sole nuclear delivery system…

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The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists and Robert S. Norris, a senior fellow with the FAS. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987.


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