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British UGM-27 Polaris missile on display at Imperial War Museum London

The Polaris Sales Agreement was an agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom which began the UK Polaris programme. The agreement formally arranged for the Polaris missile system to be provided to the UK to maintain its independent nuclear deterrent.[1] The arrangement had been set up in principle as a result of the Nassau Agreement. The agreement was amended in 1982 to provide the Trident missile system to the UK.

The United Kingdom had been planning to buy the air-launched Skybolt missile but the USA decided to cancel the Skybolt program in 1962 as they no longer needed the missile. The British bought the Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile instead.

The Nassau Agreement was signed on December 18, 1962 resulting in the signing of the Polaris Sales Agreement on April 6, 1963. The United States would supply the United Kingdom with Polaris missiles, launch tubes, and the fire control system. The UK would make the warheads and submarines. In return, the U.S. was given certain assurances by the United Kingdom regarding the use of the missile, however the U.S. does not have any veto on the use of British nuclear weapons.[2] The British Polaris submarines were the Resolution-class ballistic missile submarines, the first of which entered service in 1968. The Polaris system underwent a British-designed life extension programme called Chevaline that reduced the number of warheads and added defensive measures.


Trident II D5 Missile launch

The Polaris Sales Agreement was used as the model for the UK's purchase of the Trident weapon system to replace Polaris in British service.[3] The arrangements were almost identical to that for Polaris, the United Kingdom procured the Trident system from America and fitted them to their own submarines, the Vanguard-class. HMS Vanguard entered operational service in December 1994.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had written to President Carter on July 10, 1980 to request that he approve supply of Trident I missiles.[4] However in 1982 Thatcher wrote to President Reagan to request the United Kingdom be allowed to procure the Trident II (Trident D5) system, the procurement of which had been accelerated by the US Navy. This was agreed in March 1982.[5][6]

Under the Polaris Sales Agreement, the United Kingdom paid a 5% levy on the cost of equipment supplied in recognition of US research and development costs already incurred. The R&D contribution to Trident comprised payments amounting to $116M with no on-going R&D levy. U.S. suppliers are paid via the U.S. based Polaris Trust Fund.[3]


  1. Vice-Admiral Sir Ian McGeoch (1975). "The British Polaris Project" (PDF). University of Edinburgh (MPhil). Retrieved 2008-07-30. [dead link]
  2. "Your Freedom of Information Request About the UK Nuclear Deterrent". Directorate of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Policy. Archived from the original on 2005-12-25. Retrieved 2011-12-11. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ministry of Defence and Property Services Agency: Control and Management of the Trident Programme. National Audit Office. 29 June 1987. Part 4. ISBN 0-10-202788-9. 
  4. White Paper Cmnd 7979 July 1980 - The British Strategic Nuclear Force
  5. White Paper Cmnd 8517 March 1982
  6. Reagan letter to Thatcher

See also

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