UK PONI Roundtable: Lessons from the 1960s (TSR2 and Polaris) for the contemporary Defence Nuclear Enterprise

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This roundtable will discuss what lessons can be learnt by industry and the MoD from Britain’s nuclear weapons programmes and policies in the 1960s. 

During this period, Polaris missiles and Resolution class submarines were procured, with Polaris later upgraded under the Chevaline programme, whilst the nuclear capable Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance 2 (TSR2) aircraft was cancelled during its flight testing programme. These decisions rested on operational and financial factors within a changing context for Britain's role in the world. In addition these developments occurred at a time of great social change, cultural energy and popular aversion to nuclear weapons - the swinging sixties. Today we are on the cusp of Brexit and there is much talk of 'Global Britain'. The emergence of Polaris and the associated transition of the UK deterrent to the Royal Navy arose largely as a consequence of a unilateral US decision to cancel the Skybolt missile which had been planned as the modernisation of the RAF-based deterrent. Currently UK plans for the nuclear deterrent are centred on Dreadnought class submarines, Trident missiles and British nuclear warheads, but do the risks of pressures from key allies, technological obsolescence and changing global circumstances remain? Arguably too often any public debate about the nature of the deterrent is mixed up with the separate question as to whether the UK should have a deterrent.

What precisely happened in 1965 to the TSR2? What were the implications for subsequent programmes by the Defence Nuclear Enterprise? And what lessons can be learnt from these programmes for today’s decisions, especially regarding the nature and role of the UK deterrent in the 21st Century.

The roundtable discussion with Bill Nuttall will focus on lessons that can be learnt from Polaris and TSR2 for the contemporary Defence Nuclear Enterprise, drawing upon insights from Professor Nuttall’s book ‘Britain and the Bomb: Technology, Culture and Cold War’ published by Whittles Publishing.



    • Sam Dudin - UK Nuclear Policy Research Fellow
    • Trevor Taylor - Professorial Research Fellow, Defence, Industries and Society.



Bill Nuttall - Bill Nuttall is a technology policy specialist, expert in nuclear issues. He is also the author of Nuclear Renaissance – technologies and policies for the future of nuclear power (2005) and many academic works on related matters. He is a Professor in the School of Engineering and Innovation at The Open University and a Fellow of Hughes Hall, a college of the University of Cambridge. 

Trevor Taylor - Trevor Taylor is Professorial Research Fellow in Defence Management at RUSI, where he heads up a research programme in Defence, Industries and Society, and is a member of the Acquisition Focus group which publishes regularly in RUSI Defence Systems. In addition, he is professor emeritus at Cranfield University, where he still teaches, and where he was head of the Department of Defence Management and Security Analysis from 1997-2009. He also works regularly for the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, where he is an adjunct faculty member.

Sam Dudin - Sam Dudin joined RUSI in February 2019 as their UK Nuclear Policy Research Fellow. His portfolio includes leading on UK PONI (Project on Nuclear Issues), the Trilateral Nuclear Dialogues, deterrence and UK nuclear weapons policy issues.

Travel bursaries:

For UK PONI members travelling from outside of London, a small travel bursary is available. To apply for a travel bursary, please email, with your name, affiliation and a couple of sentences about why attending this event would be beneficial for you.

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