News of the move – which follows a decision last year to increase the overall warhead stockpile – emerges ahead of tomorrow’s May 9 celebrations in Moscow, where Vladimir Putin is expected to send a “doomsday message” to the west. Britain’s continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent uses four Vanguard-class submarines, of which two are always on patrol, while a third is at operational readiness and the fourth undergoes maintenance.
Following the 2010 defence review, it was decided that each armed boat be allowed to carry a maximum of 40 warheads to be distributed unevenly among eight D5 missiles.
However, while details are classified, it is believed the V-boats have been carrying considerably fewer of both.
Last year defence secretary Ben Wallace announced a significant shift in Britain’s nuclear posture by announcing the number of nuclear warheads in Britain’s arsenal would increase by 40 per cent to 260.
Most of the warheads, which are manufactured in Britain, have a yield of 80-100 kilotons – the equivalent of TNT –five or six times greater than the “Little Boy” atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The move, announced as the Integrated Review dubbed Russia Britain’s “most acute threat”, reversed a decision which was to have seen the number of warheads reduced from 195 to 180.
But it was not until Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine that steps began to be taken to increase the nuclear payloads carried by the Trident fleet, sources have confirmed.
In a statement made just days after the February 24 invasion, the Russian leader warned that any nation that considered interfering from outside would “face consequences greater than any you have faced in history”.
He placed Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert, test fired a new Satan 2 missile which can carry 15 warheads and has a range of 11,000 miles.
Since then, prime time broadcasts on state-owned channels have continued to suggest that Russia would use nuclear weapons against countries who supported Ukraine.
Recently, Russian television presenter Dimitry Kiselyov boasted that Moscow would hit the UK with a Poseidon underwater nuclear missile which would create a tidal wave and wipe Britain off the map,
And tomorrow’s May 9 Victory Parade in Moscow will, for the first time since 2010, boast a flypast which includes the Il-80 “doomsday” command plane, which carries Russia’s top brass in the event of a nuclear war.
Though, officially, western governments view Putin’s nuclear rhetoric as hollow, the move to increase the number of warheads on the Trident fleet sends an important message to Moscow, experts said last night.
“While, three months ago we all felt confident that we understood Putin’s red lines and his likely responses, now we are not so sure.
“There is now a sense that there is no harm in flashing some teeth in private. Russia will know this is happening,” said Prof Mark Galeotti of the Council on Geostrategy think tank.
“And this message isn’t just aimed at Putin. Russia’s nuclear command system is like ours – Putin has a “cheget”, or nuclear briefcase which is carried everywhere and from which orders to his strategic command are sent.
The question is: would members of Putin’s high command blindly obey orders to launch nuclear missiles?
“An event which could see the motherland bathed in thermonuclear fire is the kind of thing that could trigger a rethink, and there are opportunities whereby some senior members could demand a triple confirmation.
“This is about making those people aware of potential jeopardy.”