The first test of Britain’s nuclear defense system in four years, which took place in June 2016, accidentally fired an unarmed missile towards the US, the Sunday Times uncovered. The malfunction was subsequently covered up, and in the meanwhile, the British House of Commons voted to keep the missile system.
“There was a major panic at the highest level of government and the military after the first test of our nuclear deterrent in four years ended in disastrous failure,” a source told the Sunday Times.
The submarine-launched Trident II D5 missile was allegedly intended for a target off the west coast of Africa, but started veering off target after it left the water. The Sunday Times reports that the submarine was off the coast of Florida when the missile was launched.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May, elected into office after the test took place, refused to comment Sunday morning on whether she knew about the failure, saying she still had “absolute faith in our Trident missiles.”
In a July appeal to the House of Commons, May praised the Trident missile system, saying, “We cannot abandon our ultimate safeguard out of misplaced idealism.”
The missile system is only irregularly tested because it costs more than £17 million (about $21 million) to launch each time, according to The Australian. Since 2000, the system has only been tested four times before this failure, and every instance was publicized by British defense ministry.
This news comes before May’s first meeting with newly-elected US president Donald Trump, who has campaigned on breaking ties with NATO and promoting “America first.” However, the Telegraph reports that Trump is looking to maintain a close relationship with Britain, having supported Brexit and the UK’s populist movement; he reportedly sees May as the modern Margaret Thatcher to his Ronald Reagan.
The British Ministry of Defense has officially acknowledged the missile malfunction, but has not given any further information. It says the system has been “successfully tested and certified.”