Chevaline: The Bomb, the Chancellor and Britain’s Nuclear Secrets

An interesting radio documentary from the BBC regarding Britain’s development of the Chevaline programme and the decision to keep Denis Healey out of the loop.

The Bomb, the Chancellor and Britain’s Nuclear Secrets

BBC Radio 4

Polaris A3TK Chevaline PAC and re-entry vehicle.

In the first edition of a new series, Mike investigates documents which suggest that Labour Chancellor Denis Healey was kept in the dark over plans to modernise Polaris, Britain’s nuclear weapons system in the mid-1970s.

Dubbed Chevaline, the upgrade programme was top secret and highly controversial, that would eventually cost hundreds of millions of pounds more than originally estimated. And all this at a time of economic hardship. Striving to keep his split party together on the highly sensitive issue of nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Harold Wilson restricted decision-making to a small circle of ministers.

But Thomson discovers papers which suggest that officials may have gone to extreme lengths to ensure that Chevaline was kept on track, proposing to withold key information from a sceptical Chancellor on the “need to know” basis. Was national security the real reason or were other motives at play?

Mike puts the claims to former Cabinet Ministers Tony Benn and Lord Owen, formerly David Owen, Foreign Secretary in the late 70s.

Producer: Laurence Grissell

Good grief. Healey, Benn and Owen. Those are names from the 1970s/80s for any Brit to conjure with.

Denis Healey interviewed for the programme.

Tony Benn interviewed for the programme.

David Owen interviewed for the programme.

Our Crucial Deterrent (1973)

Naval History and Heritage Command, Photographic Section, UM-23.

Debating the nuclear deterrent, British government releases “Trident Alternatives Review”

The British government has released the findings of its review into possible alternatives to replacing the Royal Navy’s Vangaurd-class SSBNs on a like-for-like basis. Alternatives discussed include dual-roled SSNs equipped with vertical launch cruise missiles carrying nuclear warheads and the F-35B joint strike fighter equipped with stand-off cruise missiles carrying nuclear warheads.

Trident Alternatives Review

This review is not a statement of government policy. For the purposes of assessing potential alternative approaches to deterrence, officials have had to develop theoretical threats, capabilities and postures as part of their methodology. The inclusion of these theoretical propositions should not be taken as an endorsement from the Government.

The report is structured in two parts. Part 1 sets out an analysis of the alternative systems and postures which might be available to the UK in mid-late 2030s and which could be expected to cost no more to procure than a like-for-like replacement of the current Trident-based submarine
deterrent. Part 2 addresses the deliverability of the shortlisted options, including detailed costs, risks and timescales associated with the various alternative systems and postures.

Polaris To Poseidon (1966)

Department of Defense PIN 24691.