A failed test of the Trident nuclear deterrent was kept in secret by UK government, weeks prior to a crucial House of Commons vote on the future of the submarine-launched missile system.
There was serious malfunction in the Trident II D5 missile that caused failure after being launched from a British submarine off the coast of Florida in June, The Sunday Times reported, citing a senior naval official as saying.
Prime Minister Theresa May refused to say whether she knew about the reported malfunction of an unarmed missile when she urged MPs to support updating the Trident nuclear system.
The cause of the failure is top secret but the source suggested the missile may have veered off in the wrong direction towards the United States.
The government and the military were under panic as the first test of nuclear deterrent in four years ended with disastrous failure, the Times quoted a source as saying.
Finally Downing Street decided to conceal the failed test. If the information was revealed to public, they knew how damaging it would be to the credibility of nuclear deterrent, the source added.
The malfunction occured just weeks before the House of Commons was asked on July 18 to approve the replacement of the ageing submarines that carry Britain’s nuclear arsenal.
May took office shortly before the vote and appealed to lawmakers to approve the 41 billion (47 billion euro, $50.7 billion) project.
In a BBC interview on Sunday, she sidestepped questions about whether she knew about the malfunction when she made her statement to MPs.
“What we were talking about is whether or not we should renew Trident,” she said.
“I have absolute faith in our Trident missiles,” she continued, adding that tests take place “regularly”.
"It was a pretty catastrophic error for a missile to go in the wrong direction."Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a opponent of nuclear weapons, said.
The Royal Navy conducted a routine test launch of an unarmed missile last June from HMS Vengeance, one of Britain’s four nuclear-armed submarines, A government spokesman confirmed.
It was “part of an operation which is designed to certify the submarine and its crew”, he said.
“Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested and certified, allowing Vengeance to return into service. We have absolute confidence in our independent nuclear deterrent,” he said.
Britain is one of only three nuclear-armed NATO nations, along with the United States and France.