U.S. and U.K. Successfully Demonstrate Nuclear Forensics Capabilities


The United Kingdom (U.K.), in partnership with the United States (U.S.), recently concluded a successful technical engagement that demonstrated the ability of both countries to conduct forensic analysis after a nuclear weapon detonation in order to assistattribution of responsibility. The goal of both the U.K. and U.S. is to hold accountable any state, terrorist group, or other non-state actor that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or use nuclear weapons.

This U.K.-hosted bilateral research event simulated a nuclear detonation in the U.K. in order to investigate and demonstrate how new nuclear forensics tools and procedures enhance existing capabilities.  A high fidelity model of a nuclear detonation in an urban environment was used to simulate response and output from diagnostic sensors including those deployed in the US.  Material collection capabilities were also exercised and together enabled advanced laboratory anaylsis from which  analysts were able to accurately determine the yield, location, device design, and other characteristics of the simulated nuclear device.

The event was unique in that it enabled peer-review of capabilities between the U.K. and U.S., with best practices shared among participants during the demonstration, improving upon both nations’ capabilities across multiple disciplines. The event built upon work accomplished by the U.S.’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency/ USSTRATCOM Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction’s (DTRA/SCC-WMD) Mighty Saber technology demonstration in 2015.

Planning and execution for this event brought together the best post-detonation nuclear forensics experts in the U.K. Ministry of Defence and Atomic Weapons Establishment and the U.S. Department of Defense, National Nuclear Security Administration, and U.S. National Laboratories.  The event provided an opportunity to exercise U.S.-U.K. technical collaboration following a terrorist nuclear attack and demonstated both the U.K. and U.S. commitment to maintain post-detonation nuclear forensics capabilities in order to deter our adversaries while affirming our commitment to attribute responsibility of an attack.

DTRA/SCC-WMD safeguards America’s interests from weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high explosives) by controlling and reducing the threat to the United States and its allies, and providing quality tools and services for the war fighter. This Department of Defense combat support agency is located at Fort Belvoir, Va., and operates field offices worldwide.