The British Royal Navy was forced to abort a secret operation and recall one of its $3.5 billion strategic nuclear submarines, the Vanguard Class ship HMS Victorious, after a fire broke out onboard . Vanguard Class ships are among the most heavily armed in the world in terms of nuclear weapons payload, with the Victorious reportedly fully armed with a complement of 16 intercontinental range ballistic missiles – each of which can carry up to eight warheads for a total of up to 128 warheads per ship. Damage caused by the fire fire included the destruction of an electrical converter, forcing the ship to surface in the north Atlantic to flush out toxic fumes before making an unscheduled return to Scotland for repairs. A Royal Navy spokesman refused to comment on the details of the incident, but claimed that Britain’s “continuous at-sea [nuclear] deterrent is unaffected.”
Although the fire onboard the HMS Victorious occurred in late September, it was only reported in early November. The incident follows reports that the first ship of the Vanguard Class, the HMS Vanguard, would remain in dry dock for the foreseeable future as new technical issues continued to be discovered. The submarine has been in deep maintenance for over seven years since 2015 at a cost of over $600,000. It also follows whistleblower reports that staff working at Royal Naval Armaments Depot Coulport, where nuclear weapons for the submarines are stored, had been evacuated due to a “serious radiation breach.” A prior report in early 2020 by the found that mismanagement of nuclear weapons infrastructure for the submarine fleet had cost the British Armed Forces $1.75 billion. Britain’s submarine fleet has generally faced less controversy and fewer scandals in terms of cost and performance than its surface fleet, with assets such as the Type 45 Class destroyers having become notorious for their very poor performance and reliability records. Reports of issues with the submarine fleet have nevertheless been increasingly frequently in recent years.