Trident missile nose cap lands in Bahamas-NewsCO

January 29, 2017

Media captionUS Coast Guard helicopter removes Trident missile nose cap from the beach in the Bahamas.

In late October 2016, the residents of the tiny Bahamas island of Man-O-War Cay found a mysterious object had washed up on their beach.

Taller than a person, conical in shape with a large spike at the end, it looked unmistakably like some sort of missile.

“People were curious of course, the kids were excited to see something so large on the beach,” local resident Mailin Sands told the BBC.

It had washed up right in front of the holiday home of Prof Janine Maddock, who was back in the US at the time and spied it from a CCTV camera at the top of her house.

“I got an email from a local person – saying look what’s rushed up in front of our beach,” she said.

From pictures she was sent, Prof Maddock identified it as the nose cap section of a Trident II D5 missile.

She told the BBC about the story after hearing the news of a reported misfire of a UK Trident missile last June.

Prof Maddock initially thought it may have come from the UK missile, although the US Navy confirmed the object had come from one of their tests.

Image copyright
Janine Maddock

Image caption

CCTV image of the missile nose cap on the beach

She initially hoped the islanders could keep hold of the nose cap.

“We have a local museum and I wanted to put it there with other weird stuff that washes up on our beach or I thought it could go on the top of our gazebo.

“Kids started playing on it. People were concerned about it so I contacted the navy.”

The US Navy said it was the “nose fairing of a Trident II missile from a recent US missile test” and on 7 November a US Coast Guard helicopter took it away.

Florida coast

The nose cap washing ashore may have been an unusual sight but it is not the sign of anything going wrong.

In fact, the nose cap is designed to fall off as part of the flight of the missile and does so very early on in the process.

Many Trident tests take place off the Florida coast on the Eastern Test Range, which is not far from the Bahamas.

A US defence official told the BBC: “That nose fairing, it’s not from the UK mission. It came from a US fired missile.

“When a missile flies – the fairing ejects from the missile. It is part of the process and it falls safely into the sea.

Image copyright
Lockheed Martin/ MoD Crown Copyr

Image caption

Trident II (D5) ballistic missile fired by HMS Vigilant during a test launch in the Atlantic Ocean, the week of 22 October 2012

“In the simplest of terms, they serve as protected covering for a missile and at a certain point it’s no longer needed.

“Generally speaking the nose fairing is nowhere near the location of final impact. It comes off far sooner in process.”


Analysis by BBC Defence Correspondent Jonathan Beale

Britain’s nuclear weapons system is completely reliant on the United States.

The missiles are produced and serviced by the US.

Britain has purchased the right to 58 missiles from a common pool held at the US Strategic Weapons Facility in Kings Bay, Georgia.

The US also runs everything to do with the testing – from when it’s fired off the Florida coast, to the satellites in space to follow the trajectory and all the way to the Ascension Islands where the US can monitor the missiles re-entry and splash down.


Image copyright
PA

Image caption

HMS Vanguard nuclear submarine on the River Clyde

Last element

David Russell was the Commander of the HMS Vanguard until 1994 and carried out the first Royal Navy Trident test in 1994 on the Eastern Test Range.

“Firing the missile is the last element of a very long training process. It’s called a DASO (Demonstration and Shake Down operation),” he said.

“The DASO period is one of shore-based training and equipment certification first and then at sea training and eventually the firing itself.

“From memory, it takes two to three weeks for each crew but, of course, it comes at the end of a long and intensive training period, (known as work-up), for the submarine and crew following a full refit in dock, so it is the final step in the process of becoming fully operational.”

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