In the April 1988 issue of The SUBMARINE REVIEW, I wrote that the United States and the Soviet Union had agreed in principle that longrange, land-attack sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) could be the subject of an arms control agreement independent of, but related to a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The principle remaining impediment to suoh an agreement is effective verification. The u.s. negotiating position is steadfast and clear: there can be no arms control limits on SLCMs without air-tight verification provisions. But such provisions are virtually impossible of achievement.
At best, verification of compliance with any arms control limits on SLCMs would be exceedingly difficult. Unless a complete ban on ~ SLCMs of ~ types and ~ ranges were agreed to, verification would have to be implemented in two stages: first, verification of overall missile deployments, and second, verification of specific missile capabilities. Confidence in an arms control agreement limiting SLCMs would require that both stages be carried out fully and flawlessly.
Limiting would require the outset, verify that
SLCMs to an equal aggregate level a precise numerical accounting. At therefore, the U.S. would need to the USSR did not exceed the Treaty agreed deployment level. However, it is doubtful whether this could be accomplished. This is due in large part to the small size of the USSR’s SS-tl-21 cruise missile and its ability to be launched from standard Soviet torpedo tubes. It is impossible to determine with National Technical Means of verification whether a given torpedo tube on a given submarine contains a land-attack SLCM, a torpedo, an anti-ship missile, or is empty. Moreover, even with intrusive, periodic on-site inspection of Soviet submarines, the u.s. could not be positive that the USSR was not exceeding the SLCH limit. Unless every submarine in the Soviet fleet were inspected simultaneously something the Soviet Navy surely would not permit, and that would be logistically almost impossible even if it did — it would not be certain that they were not above the aggregate limit. Even if such a feat could be accomplished, the u.s. could not know whether excess SLCMs in violation of the agreement were hidden ashore or on nearby support vessels.
A total ban on all SLCMs would ameliorate the problem of numerical accounting somewhat, but would by no means remove it. Under such a highly doubtful scheme, the U.S. would merely need to detect a single SLCM of any kind anywhere in the Soviet Union or aboard a Soviet submarine or other naval vessel to consider the ban violated. The prospects of detecting that SLCM in the face of a concerted Soviet concealment effort, however, would be exceedingly slim.
If the problem of numerical accounting could somehow be resolved, the u.s. would still face the problem of verifying SLCM characteristics. Specifically, the u.s. would need a means to verify that non-accountable SLCMs do not meet the threshold of accountability in terms of range and payload.
The U.S. and Soviet negotiators have agreed that only long-range SLCMs should be limited. However, “long-range” should mean greater than 600 kilometers. How then is the u.s. to verify that a given Soviet SLCM model does not have long-range capability? Conventional wisdom holds that we could verify SLCM range by observing flight test activity. However, there is nothing to prevent the Soviets from concealing a SLCM’s true range capability by testing it to less than full range. Indeed, the Soviets already have several modern antiship SLCMs that are credited by the United States with ranges very close to the 600 kilometer SALT II threshold (i.e., the SS-N-21 and SS-N-19). Perhaps we have already been deceived! If so, the Soviets could readily deploy land-attack variants of these missiles as they did in the 1960s with the ss-N-3. If not, they could readily develop such missiles with the necessary attendant deceptive testing.
As for the payload question, although it is conceivable that conventionally-armed SLCMs could be included in a U.S. Soviet SLCM agreement, it is probable that SLCM limits will only be applied to systems fitted with nuclear warheads. It would then be necessary to verify that “nonaccountable” SLCMs were in fact non-accountable -i.e., not armed with nuclear warheads. As with the verification of aggregate limits, this could not be accomplished by national technical means alone. On-site inspection would be necessary. This would involve u.s. inspectors physically examining cruise missiles aboard Soviet submarines, and Soviet inspectors doing the same on U.S. submarines. Not only would the Soviets be certain to reject such a proposition, the u.s. Navy certainly should reject it! Under no circumstances would it make military or political sense to grant the Soviets direct access to our most sensitive submarine technologies. Even if the u.s. did, and the Soviets reciprocated, the U;S. would still be unable to verify that SLCMs armed with conventional warheads when inspected would not be refitted with nuclear warheads at a later time.
In sum then, the verification problem appears to be insoluble. The u.s. will never be able to assure with absolute certainty that the Soviets are not exceeding agreed SLCM limitations. Moreover, the Soviet record of non-compliance with past arms control agreements — SALT I, ABM Treaty, Limited Test Ban Treaty, Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention — does not inspire confidence in this regard.
Dr. Edward J. Lacey