Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate



In the January 1987 issue of SUBMARINE REVIEW, Lieutenants Breux, Horn and Foster made some interesting comments on a POLARIS survivability war game, played in SAC Headquarters in 1961, almost 27 years ago. Four of us who participated in that game had described it in an earlier issue of the REVIEW. I was delighted to see some younger officers respond to the description of an interesting game wherein the POLARIS system was under a “real world” attack by some leaders in the Strategic Air Command. Although I am at that wonderful age where the more I know the less I understand, I strongly suspect that the Lieutenants were giving me the needle, inferring that those of us involved in the 1961 Game were naive, amateurish in our knowledge of analysis, and of the wrong “professional background.” And they may be right in their views. A few more comments might be of interest and maybe even valuable to the Lieutenants.

The analysis of the 1961 Game, probably conducted by the Lieutenants somewhere in the vicinity of a good computer installation, was very interesting and representative of the considerable improvements that have been made in the war gaming process in the last 27 years. In 1961, although digital computers were beginning to make in-roads in the war gaming function, their use was extremely limited. Although the Strategic Air Command (SAC) was a leader in computer usage at the time, capabilities of the degree necessary to play a series of war games envisioned by the Lieutenants did not exist. We played a hand game — laborious and time consuming — and we examined only one set of conditions. The Game never should have been attempted in the first place — but the issue was real. POLARIS was a considerable threat to the manned bomber and ICBM for many reasons and its credibility had a tremendous impact on the budgets of the individual services as well as on the effectiveness of the deterrent posture in the world. So we were ordered by the authorities in power to “play a game” — and we did so, without benefit of much more than some good maps, a few adding machines, a book of probability tables, plus the talent available in the Joint Strategic Planning Staff and SAC Headquarters. We succeeded in fending off a direct attack on POLARIS. Had we had the analysis and war gaming capabilities available today, we could have undoubtedly come to better and more positive conclusions in a more definitive manner — in far less time. But the end result would have been the same the survival of POLARIS — a reinforcement of its credibility as a dominant deterrent force. So much for the past.

Today, it seems that TRIDENT is under attack in a somewhat different manner than POLARIS in 1961 — and from different antagonists. There are wishful anti-submarine warfare theorists who claim the seas will be transparent in ten or fifteen years, thereby casting doubt on the survivability of TRIDENT. And there are others who would welcome a flaw in the reliability of TRIDENT — for a variety of reasons. The more successful the system, the more it will contribute to deterrence — and thereby as an incidental result, receive a larger share of the available deterrence defense dollars.

Some of the more sensible opposition to TRIDENT comes from those who are genuinely concerned about the dangers of nuclear war, started by mistake or contrivance. They don’t like the idea that the actual launch of the missiles in a TRIDENT submarine is under the direct control of military personnel on board. They want positive control of all nuclear weapons in the bands of civil authority. They invent scenarios wherein the skipper of a TRIDENT submarine blows up the world of his own volition or with the contrivance of his crew. They don’t understand the term “special trust and confidence” and they don’t give it much credibility. In some extreme cases, they even cast aspersions on the sanity of people who would serve with such weapons systems in the first place. (Naval aviators often have the same feelings about the submarine service). They want all missiles in all Navy units, particularly those in the TRIDENT, to be equipped with the Permissive Action Link — the PAL — with the control vested in the hands of civil authority. And they have mounted an organized effort to bring about such a condition.

For example, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard held a conference on the subject in February 1986. A draft version of the minutes of that meeting can leave no doubt as to the seriousness of the action that is being mounted to place further constraints on the TRIDENT system. The impact of the installation of PALs in TRIDENT could stand some good analysis. If such installation decreases the reliability factor of the system considerably, the emphasis on its role in deterrence will be decreased accordingly, which many of us believe would not be in the best interests of peace — or the Navy’s role in the events of the future.

Possibly for their next exercise in war gaming analysis, the Lieutenants could put together a model that explores the impact of Permissive Action Link on TRIDENT effectiveness. In 1961 the survivability of POLARIS was a key issue. In 1991 it can well be the reliability of TRIDENT, in addition to the survivability of the launch platform itself. Some bright young Lieutenants may have to fight that battle and now may be a good time to get ready.

Jerry Miller

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League