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by the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations
(Undersea Warfare)

I feel strongly that the REVIEW’s readership needs to understand well the value and necessity of our TRIDENT SSBN Force. All of us, especially those within the Washington, D.C. arena, frequently encounter “news” reports of yet another supposed vulnerability of some part of the Strategic TRIAD.

Of greater concern to me, though, is discussion which suggests we should “offer up” a TRIDENT from the Five Year Defense Plan (FYDP) to help cut defense spending. The level of discussion has not, as of this writing, progressed beyond the initial stages, but this is only because of TRIDENTs well-earned reputation.

The fact remains that the TRIDENT program is the most reliable, cost-effective and survivable element of our Strategic TRIAD. I encourage you to use the following White Paper. In my opinion, we can do no more for our country and the deterrence of war than to understand this most important element of our defense.


TRIDENT submarines provide the most effective strategic platform in the world today and in the foreseeable future. They are unsurpassed in the vital areas of survivability, reliability, responsiveness, flexibility, endurance, lethality, cost effectiveness and connectivity. With the TRIDENT IT (D-5) missile on board, they will be the most capable and cost effective strategic weapon system in the U.S. arsenal. Those qualities which make the TRIDENTs predominant in the TRIAD are:

Survivability. TRIDENT submarines are at sea 70% of their life and their day to day suJVivability does not change for the entire duration of a patrol. They are the most suJVivable launchers of all strategic weapons. Scientific and intelligence communities assess that there is no threat to the U.S. SSBN force now or in the foreseeable future. Mobile, quiet TRIDENTs operate undetected in ocean areas over four times the area of the United States — while denying their adversaries’ ability to neutralize their at-sea effectiveness. The suJVivability of TRIDENT submarines eliminates the requirement to launch strategic weapons on warning of an enemy missile attack, and promotes crisis stability.

Reliability. U.S. SSBN systems have been proven reliable over 29-years of deterrence patrols and more than 100 TRIDENT patrols to date. Comprehensive operational test programs have thoroughly tested the TRIDENTs entire weapons system — confirming their high weapons system reliability.

Responsiveness. SSBNs effectively respond to all scenarios including: enemy strategic attack without warning; enemy nuclear missile attack during an ongoing conventional war; and strategic weapon attack during a protracted war.

Flexibility. The TRIDENT weapons system holds virtually all strategic targets at risk. This is limited only by the geography of the world’s ocean and the maximum range of the strategic missiles in use. TRIDENTs can attack designated strategic targets using a multitude of azimuths and times of flight

Endurance. TRIDENT submarines maximize alert time by using patrol cycles designed for greater at-sea/upkeep ratios and by having expanded times between shipyard overhauls. Under protracted war scenarios, contingency plans allow each submarine to operate unsupported for most of a year while still retaining a full strategic system capability.

  • Lethality. The improved accuracy and increased payload of the D-5 missile will provide the U.S. SSBN force with the ability to cover the full spectrum of strategic targets including hardened targets — and from nearly any direction. This multi-directional targeting capability greatly complicates Soviet ABM defenses.

Cost Effectiveness. TRIDENTs are the most cost effective of U.S. strategic weapons systems. They have the lowest cost per delivered warhead. They cany almost half of the U.S. strategic warheads on a day to day basis, for only about 25% of DOD’s strategic budget – and less than 10% of the Navy’s budget.

Connectivity. TRIDENTs exceptional connectivity results from a robust communications network which uses frequencies across the total spectrum of frequencies -while using multiple transmitters. An independent analysis of every patrol along with extensive JCS testing of communications have shown outstanding performance. Current systems in their entirety will provide full connectivity even in a stressed environment.

The TRIDENT system is highly dependable and the Soviets are fully aware of this capability. The United States knows it can depend on this strategic force as demonstrated by its 29 year history of 2700 deterrent patrols and our overt test firing programs. All major powers recognize that TRIDENT submarines can remain on station in a fully ready state — for days, weeks or months — and be fully ready and highly responsive to any order, be it immediate or delayed.

The force size of TRIDENT submarines requires that there be sufficient TRIDENTs to ensure adequate strategic target coverage as well as a force in being during a protracted war which can bring a war to a favorable conclusion for the United States. Building TRIDENT submarines at a rate of one per year in accordance with the Five Year Defense Plan will result in a minimum of 21 TRIDENT submarines by the time our aging POSEIDON SSBN force is retired at the turn of the century. Commitment now to a reduced force level weakens the U.S. negotiating position and provides an arms limitation agreement which is beneficial to our adversaries.

The TRIDENT weapons system is the keystone of our nation’s strategic deterrence. It is a proven mobile weapon delivery system which assures – most importantly -survivability along with accuracy and dependability and must continue as the most critical element in our nation’s strategic force modernization program.

Vice Admiral Daniel L. Cooper, USN

Naval Submarine League

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