Gentlemen Need No Locks
Popular culture during the Cold War treated nuclear weapons with an almost religious awe, as befitted objects that could end the world. But the fact that nukes are after all only things guarded by men was brought home when B-52s based at Minot AFB accidentally carried five nuclear armed cruise missiles to Barksdale AFB earlier of this year. Now Ultraquiet No More links to a BBC article which claims that "until less than ten years ago, the locks on RAF nuclear bombs were opened with a bicycle lock key."
That kind of claim gets your attention, so I looked up the link. The BBC wrote:
Britain is the only nuclear weapons state which does not have a fail-safe mechanism to prevent its submarines launching a nuclear attack without the right code being sent, according to tonight's Newsnight on BBC Two. ...
They say that "Britain is unique" and British Trident commanders can still launch a nuclear attack without any command from Whitehall if the worst comes to the worst. Newsnight also reveals that, until they were retired in 1998, the RAF's nuclear bombs were armed by turning a bicycle lock key. There was no other security on the bomb itself.
The British military resisted Whitehall proposals to fit bombs with Permissive Action Links or PALs – which would prevent them being armed unless the right code was sent. ...
Newsnight reveals that RAF nuclear bombs were armed by opening 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 are turned with an allen key to select high yield or low yield, air burst or ground burst and other parameters. The bomb is actually armed by inserting a cylindrical 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, although RAF crews were supposed to always work in pairs if they were near the bomb or had the keys for the bomb.
Correction. It took more than a bicycle lock. It took a coin, an allen wrench and a bicycle lock key. And that was ten years ago of course. But things weren't as bad as they seemed, there was security but it was located on a different level in system. A poster on Ultraquiet No More wrote:
... The Vanguard-class boats are a second-strike deterrent, so the patrolling boats need to be able to launch even if Britain (along with the Prime Minister, who has the launch codes) no longer exists. They still (AFAIK) use a dual-key system, so a single insane captain couldn't launch the missiles. It works like this: There's a safe on the boat, containing the trigger device and the Prime Minister's instructions in case of the destruction of Britain. Only the weapons officer and his deputy know the combination to the safe- the captain doesn't, and it's committed to memory not written down. The captain does, however, have a key without which the trigger device doesn't operate. So launching the missiles requires:The weapons officer to open the safe and connect the trigger to a control panel. The captain to turn the key in a different control panel.
I wonder how these things are handled in Pakistan?