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Since the SALT Negotiations in the 1970s, the United States and the Soviet Union have grappled with the problem of limiting long-range sealaunched cruise missiles (SLCMs.) The SALT II agreement would have put a temporary ban on deployments of these cruise missiles with a range greater than 600 kilometers. This agreement was never ratified, however, and both sides proceeded with the development and deployment of new longrange cruise missile systems. The U.S. developed the TOMAHAWK in three versions — the nucleararmed land-attack version, the conventionallyarmed land-attack version, and the antiship missile. The Soviets on the other hand, developed and deployed numerous nuclear and conventionallyarmed antiship cruise missiles, including the new 550 kilometer ss-N-19 carried by both OSCAR-class submarines and KIROV-class battle cruisers. In addition, the USSR developed two new long-range land-attack cruise missiles exclusively for submarine use — the SS-NX-21 which is capable of being fired from a standard Soviet 21-inch torpedo tube, and the larger SS-NX-24 which currently is fitted on a single, converted YANKEE-class submarine.

At the Reykjavik Summit in October 1986, the u.s. and USSR agreed in principle that sea launched cruise missile limitations could be the subject of a separate arms control agreement. The U.S. Delegation to the Nuclear and Space Arms Talks in Geneva subsequently informed the Soviets that the United States could agree to an equal numerical limit on sea launched cruise missiles if satisfactory verification provisions could be worked out. The Soviets responded favorably, but insisted that deployments of such missiles be limited to submarines. The Soviet position rejects deployment of any long-range cruise missiles on surface combatants.

Assuming that verification difficulties can be resolved, and that the Soviets are willing to compromise on surface ship deployments, a possible arms control agreement to limit sea launched cruise missiles might look as follows:

A limit on all nuclear-armed SLCMs with a range in excess of 600 kilometers to 600 missiles.

— 300 SLCMs on submarines.
— 300 SLCMs on surface ships.

SLCM platforms limited to:
— two classes of submarine.
— two classes of surface combatant.

Acceptance of the SALT II definition of longrange would allow the Soviets to retain their large numbers of nuclear and conventionally-armed antiship cruise missiles. At the same time, the limit on “nuclear” SLCMs only would allow unconstrained deployment of U.S. conventionallyarmed antiship and land attack cruise missiles. Limiting deployments to two classes of submarine would fit both U.S. plans to deploy TOMAHAWK on LOS ANGELES and SEAWOLF-class attack submarines, and Soviet plans to deploy two new SLCMs — the ss-NX-21 and ss-NX-24 — requiring two different types of launch platforms. Limiting deployments to two classes of surface combatant, on the other band, would affect only the United States and would be a concession. The U.S. Navy currently plans to deploy sea launched cruise missiles on five classes of major surface combatants. However, we could still deploy a large number of nuclear land attack missiles on surface ships by confining deployments to our most modern surface combatants which will be fitted with the large magazine-capacity, vertical launch system.

An alternative scenario might combine an outright ban on long-range nuclear-armed cruise missiles using a lower “long-range” definition threshold, with greater freedom to mix in shorterrange cruise missiles. Such an agreement might look like this:

  • A ban on all nuclear-armed SLCMs with a range greater than 300 kilometers.
  • Freedom to deploy all types of SLCMs with a range less than 300 kilometers on any number of submarines and surface ships.

There is nothing sacred about the 600 kilometer SALT II threshold definition of long-range sea launched cruise missiles. Limiting nuclear-armed SLCMs with a range greater than only 300 kilometers would capture a number of the Soviet Navy’s antiship missiles as well as the SSNX-21 and S5-NX-2~. u.s. nuclear land attack cruise missiles also would be captured by this ban. However, the U.S. Navy would be left with a major range advantage in conventionally-armed antiship missiles — 600 kilometers for the antiship missiles vice 550 kilometers for the Soviet’s ss-N-12 and ss-N-19. The u.s. Navy also could deploy conventionally-armed land-attack TOMAHAWKS. At the same time, an agreement along these lines would permit the Soviets to retain nuclear-armed antiship cruise missiles with a range less than 300 kilometers or which the u.s. Navy has none.

In conclusion, a compromise arms control agreement providing for equitable numerical limits on u.s. and Soviet SLCMs appears feasible. However, in the author’s view, such an agreement must not be concluded unless and until effective verification provisions can be worked out. Without these, we could never be certain that the USSR had not exceeded the agreed limits. The small size of most cruise missiles and their ability, for the most part, to be fired from standard-size torpedo tubes will make verification exceedingly difficult. Nevertheless, the Soviet record of non-compliance with past arms control agreements, as documented in several Presidential reports to Congress, makes air-tight verification provisions an absolute must for any agreement on sea launched cruise missiles.

Dr. Edward J. Lacey

Naval Submarine League

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