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U.S., U.K. to Deepen Cooperation on Warhead Designs: Report

A submarine-launched Polaris ballistic missile is test-fired in this undated photo. The United Kingdom and the United States for decades have cooperated on the development and maintenance of SLBMs, such as the Polaris, and nuclear warheads. That collaboration is expected to deepen once an updated bilateral defense pact is signed. A submarine-launched Polaris ballistic missile is test-fired in this undated photo. The United Kingdom and the United States for decades have cooperated on the development and maintenance of SLBMs, such as the Polaris, and nuclear warheads. That collaboration is expected to deepen once an updated bilateral defense pact is signed. (Lockheed Martin photo)

Official documents show the United States and United Kingdom plan to deepen their cooperation on nuclear warhead designs, the London Guardian reports.

Partially censored papers provided through an open-records request reveal the two longtime military allies' plans to increase collaboration on nuclear weapon work and the sharing of materials essential for the production and retention of warheads, the newspaper reported on Thursday.

London and Washington are expected to formalize the terms of their enhanced nuclear cooperation in the coming weeks with a quiet signing ceremony in the U.S. capital of an updated Mutual Defense Agreement, according to the Guardian. The U.K. defense ministry said it anticipates the defense pact will be reauthorized before 2014 is over.

The defense pact enables the United Kingdom to benefit from research and design work done in U.S. atomic weapon laboratories, much of which focuses on ways to ensure a reliable, safe and credible nuclear arsenal absent a return to testing. The Trident weapons deployed on both U.S. Ohio-class and British Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines have long been assumed to be jointly designed and sustained by the two countries.

A paper written in preparation for the visit of a high-ranking U.S. atomic official to the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston mentions "enhanced collaboration" on "nuclear explosive package design and certification," on "maintenance of existing stockpiles," and the "possible development of safer, more secure, warheads," the newspaper reported.

A separate document characterizes the bilateral Mutual Defense Agreement as an accord that authorizes the two nations' respective "nuclear warhead communities to collaborate on all aspects of nuclear deterrence including nuclear warhead design and manufacture."

A document prepared for senior British department heads asserts that physical "movements under the MDA do not involve nuclear weapons or devices" and thus the accord does not violate the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The papers were released to the Nuclear Information Service -- a nonprofit group that supports nuclear disarmament. Peter Burt, research manager for the organization, in an interview said the agreement was hypocritical and hurt international nonproliferation efforts.

"If Iran and North Korea had signed a similar agreement for the transfer of nuclear weapons technology, the U.K. and U.S. would be branding them pariah nations and screaming for the toughest of international sanctions to be imposed," Burt said.

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