Newsnight has discovered that until the early days of the Blair government the RAF’s nuclear bombs were armed by turning a bicycle lock key. There was no other security on the Bomb itself.
While American and Russian weapons were protected by tamper-proof combination locks which could only be released if the correct code was transmitted, Britain relied on a simpler technology.
Simple being the operative word. Simpleminded.
Permissive Action Links — PALs were introduced in the 1960s in America to prevent a mad General or pilot launching a nuclear war off their own bat – the Dr Strangelove scenario…The correct code had to be transmitted by the US Chiefs of Staff and dialled into the Bomb before it could be armed otherwise it would not detonate…
Papers at the National Archive show that as early as 1966 an attempt was made to impose PAL security on British nuclear weapons…The Royal Navy argued that officers of the Royal Navy as the Senior Service could be trusted…
Neither the Navy nor the RAF installed PAL protection on their nuclear weapons…
To arm the weapons you just open a panel held by two captive screws – like a battery cover on a radio – using a thumbnail or a coin.
Inside are the arming switch and a series of dials which you can turn with an Allen key to select high yield or low yield, air burst or groundburst and other parameters.
The Bomb is actually armed by inserting a bicycle lock key into the arming switch and turning it through 90 degrees. There is no code which needs to be entered or dual key system to prevent a rogue individual from arming the Bomb.
I honestly think the sort of class society outlook demonstrated by phrases like “the Senior Service could be trusted” infected the whole of British society. Maybe it still does. Tory electioneering seems to have learned a bit from Clinton and Bush – how to tell more believable lies. But, when I read Conservative position statements about gutting the NHS or education – it feels as if nothing has changed.
I left the last English company I worked for because – as I stated in my letter of resignation – they had learned nothing of the level of quality control brought to the world marketplace by the Japanese and Germans. Tightening fittings by hand and relying on how it felt – versus proper measuring instruments – was still the norm in the early 80’s.
Bicycle locks were OK for bicycles. Not nuclear weapons.