Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


Any discussion of TRIDENT in today’s world needs to include an understanding of the highest policy considerations of government It starts from how we view the Soviet Union. The Soviets have, of course, undergone dramatic changes in their society. But few of us realized how absolutely bankrupt the systems of Communism and Marxist economy were. Many of us thought that the Soviet Union, while not providing the same standard of living as we had, certainly was, to a great extent, successful in building a formidable military, successful (as the CIA and others told us) in small but continued economic growth, and successful in at least maintaining a stable social system in which to live. We read that their crime rates were lower than ours and that their security on the streets was better than ours. It seems to have been a surprise to us to see their whole system crumble. How genuinely surprised most of us were that our system truly had won! Now, the question is how to manage that success.

As we undergo the various arms control talks, we see dramatic changes in the balance between the United States and the Soviet Union. But as time goes on, we are coming to appreciate the fact that while we’ve had dramatic revolution in the Eastern bloc, with all Eastern European governments, except Albania, having been replaced by democratically elected governments, and while most European economies seem to be taking at least the initial steps necessary to develop market economies, in many ways the situation has not, since World Warn, been more unstable on the Eurasian continent We see the Soviets dealing with signtncant nationalities problems ranging from Moldavia to the Baltic States, to Adjerbijan, Armenia, in Usbekh and in Kirzakh. These nationality issues have existed since the establishment of the Soviet Union, but have been released as constraints have been removed, and we see the Soviet economic system crumbling.

People stand in lines to get their basic food stuffs for an average of ten hours every week. How long can the situation go on? While Eastern Europe certainly is on the road to recovery, there is some question that the Soviet Union is quite as well along its way. These instabilities come back to the one central feature of this presentation: that Soviet super power status has, over much of time since World War ll, and will continue for the rest of our lifetimes, to depend on strategic weapons and defenses. That is a central fact that we as a country must keep in mind as we react with our own strategic offensive and defensive forces.

The Soviet Union has continued to modernize and upgrade its strategic arsenal at a time when we have been far less resolute about our own. The Soviets have, for instance, deployed over 60 SS-24 rail- and silo-based missiles, and continue to produce this formidable system. They have deployed 200 SS-25 land mobile ICBMs, and have continued to pour research and development funds and procurement rubles into their sea-based systems. In the last year, the Soviets have built 140 modem precise intercontinental ballistic missiles as compared to 12 in the United States. And the Soviets have built two SSBNs during the last year compared to one in this country. The projected building rate for the Soviet submarine force will continue to be at least one or two SSBNs per year, while in our country the POM that was leaked to the press shows that our Navy could shut down production of submarines at the presently authorized number of eighteen. Even though the Soviets have the SS-24 and SS-25, the prospect of us building a mobile ICBM system is disappearing because of the budgetary and political realities of Washington.

We have been attempting for years to come to grips with the land based ICBM leg of our TRIAD, with options ranging across the spectrum from putting ICBMs on various vehicles to the mobile-missile shell-game of the Carter administration, to the present rail mobile MX or small ICBM. In the bomber leg of our 1RIAD, we have been successful at least to date, in protecting B-2 at some number, presently 75. The Soviets have continued to build intercontinental capable bombers and will have a formidable bomber force at the tum of the century. While they claim the BACKFIRE bomber does not have intercontinental capability, the addition of a refueling probe, coupled with their growing refueling capability, is reason to believe that their capability could be changed very quickly. In sum. the Soviet strategic forces are significant and will remain significant in the future. We. on the other hand. seem to be considerably less resolutely on the track of maintaining modernized and sufftcient nuclear forces.

Secretary Cheney said in his 1991 budget testimony. We should not expect the Soviet Union to give up the only national  instrument that makes them a super power: their substantial nuclear forces.

For us it will continue to be very difficult to come to easy decisions on the U.S. TRIAD. We are faced with uncertainty in the structure of our TRIAD just at a time when we need to rely on it in this somewhat uncertain world. The word “TRIAD” is an element of history which has come to be accepted. without argument, as a rationale for the construction of our nuclear strategic forces. Distribution of weapons is a matter of degree, as we see the numbers shifted to the SSBN leg because of survivability and cost per RV which is lower for the SSBN than for either of the other two legs of the TRIAD. As most of you know, we have put 50% of the total warheads in the TRIAD on SSBNs for 25% of the total cosl With the uncertainties facing modernization of the ICBM and bomber legs, we must conclude that greater reliance will be placed on that keystone of our deterrence; TRIDENT. With the advent of D-5 we are ready to take on that challenge.

I m struck by Arleigh Burke’s comment I never saw a cowboy wearing three guns. To some extent, for cost and other considerations we find ourselves perhaps wearing more like two guns than three as we look to the future.

I want to present to you a few of the findings of some work that the CNO Strategic Think Tank did a couple of years ago. The work is relevant to today’s situation. You will recognize this to be uot approved by tbe Secretary or the Navy or the CNO, and is purely the effort of a small group of fellows working in the Think Tank with me.

The traditional view of the strategic submarine force has been that it is the most survivable, that it provides ensured inevitable response, but that SSBNs are less accurate than ICBMs and bombers, that SSBNs are not as alert as other forces, that communications with SSBNs are less dependable, that SSBNs are less prompt than ICBMs, and that SLBMs cost more. These views permeated official thinking about our strategic nuclear forces for over two decades. They have also driven operational planning and targeting. In part, at least, these have been accurate descriptors of our force and have been reflected in the way the nation plans for the horrible possibility that deterrence may fail.

In general, ICBMs have been considered the hard target, time-sensitive-target weapon, while SLBMs are launched against other less-time-sensitive and less hard targets. The point of this is that the attributes ascribed to the SSBNs in the past have been more than rhetoric. They have driven planning, and in tum peacetime operations, and these attributes have conditioned our thinking about strategy and force requirements as well as arms control. To the extent that these descriptors are wrong we must reflect the change across all dimensions of the strategic force. Of course the assumptions about SSBNs are very likely to change because the technical capabilities of the system have changed in a revolutionary way. Within a few years, our SSBN force will change from one currently composed of two different kinds of submarines armed with three different kinds of missiles to a smaller, allTRIDENT force armed with a single missile, the D-5. It is not too early to suggest how assumptions about the SSBN force will change as a result. For one thing, the general view about accuracy and lethality will almost certainly shift as perceptions catch up with the evolution of the SSBN system, in particular, as the hard target kill potential of D-5 is recognized. The possibility of destroying the most threatening Soviet ICBMs(SS-lBs) from any of the TRIDENT patrol areas, (which are roughly 3 times the size of the entire Eurasian continent) will give the Soviets room for thought as they consider any potential use of their offensive strategic missiles. TRIDENT D-5 with its lethality equal to or greater than PEACEKEEPER MX, and with its survivability, offers additional elements that cause it to be considered differently from ICBMs. For instance, the TRIDENT can operate from different areas around the periphery of the Soviet Union. These thousands of different missile attack profiles from essentially all directions and different reentry angles make it very difficult for the Soviet Union to devise a concentrated ABM system since ABM systems are normally focused on a given threat direction. By being able to shoot our missiles at different ranges, we are offered the ability to target not only azimuth but entry angle to allow the RVS the greatest possibility of thwarting an ABM system. In sum, the distinction which previously had been drawn between SLBMs and the other two legs of the TRIAD, in terms of accuracy and lethality will, quite simply, in the future no longer be valid.

The changes in the TRIDENT D-5 also should change perceptions about alert levels (how soon the force could be available for use). The prevailing view is that SSBNs are considerably less alert than ICBMs: that is; that a smaller portion of the total force is immediately available for use. But the improvements in range and accuracy could eliminate that perception. In the past, the submarines carrying many of the over 5,000 SLBM warheads at sea may not have been in constant communications or located within the range of assigned targets. They were therefore not considered to be alert weapons. In the past we have operated our SSBNs in areas closer to ports to allow training and routine evolutions and hence these weapons were not available as quickly because of range or accuracy limitations. In terms of force alert rates, there have been real differences in SLBMs and ICBMs. Over ninety percent of the ICBM force could be launched in less than twenty minutes from the decision to launch. But a far smaller percentage of the SLBMs could be launched in the same time on any given day under normal conditions. In a few years with an all TRIDENT D-5 force, this view will have changed. The TRIDENT submarine will stay at sea longer, have a shorter in port fitting out time, and be committed to overhaul less often. So the at sea portion of the force will be larger. Because of the greater range and accuracy of the weapons carried, there is no physical reason why all the warheads at sea could not be available to launch within just a few minutes of the NCA command. Indeed, if pushed, there is no physical reason why most of the warheads on board TRIDENT submarines lD port or at sea could not be considered alert and could not be available for launch. In effect, then, the difference in alert rates between the SLBMs and the ICBMs is a declining commodity. In the future, the assumption that SLBMs are less alert will fall from discussions of nuclear strategy.

What about the differences in promptness? That is to say, bow long will it take SLBMs to destroy a target compared to an ICBM? As long as SSBNs bad to operate relatively close to the Soviet Union to be in range of the target, plannen generally drew an important distinction between how soon targets could be destroyed by SLBMs and ICBMs. The difference was due primarily to how long the plannen thought it would take for the launch message to bum its way through jamming and nuclear effects and pass through the relay systems n~ary to get it to the forward deployed submarine. With longer ranged missiles the SSBN is able to operate effectively closer to the United States and further from Soviet jamming. Additionally, communications coverage from NEACP, SAC airborne command post, and TACAMO has become much more effective in difficult communications environments, either stressed by jamming or other effects. The result is that, in the future, our submarines will be able to operate effectively within communications range of a reliable transmitter, and receipt of launch commands will not only be more reliable but faster. The end product of these changes should be a major shift in perception regarding the promptness of SLBMs and ICBMs. The Strategic Think Tank came to the conclusion that the difference in promptness was truly marginal.

Then there is the crucial matter of cost. When constructed, the TRIDENT was generally considered a very expensive, if not the most expensive part of the TRIAD. In part, this was because it was compared to MINUTEMAN missiles and B-52s both of which had already been bought. Now TRIDENT has matured and its costs are likely to be compared with new landbased systems whose modernization will be relatively expensive. Since total acquisition costs for small ICBM or rail mobile MX and 82 are somewhat uncertain, it is difficult to make a valid comparison. But it is fair to say that, if one were to compare alternate ways of getting 500 modernized survivable nuclear warheads into the strategic inventory, TRIDENT would be far the least expensive way: certainly no more expensive than to procure and deploy 50 MXs on rails or to procure the 30 82 bombers necessary to do so, or the 500 small ICBMs; cheaper than the latter two by factors of two to five. Operating support costs would vary, of course, but the days in which those costs were dramatically higher for SSBNs are gone. In the future the cost debates will start on very different assumptions than they have in the past. In the future, shifts in perceptions about SSBNs wt11 not be driven simply from technical improvements. The shift will also come from the way in which these new capabilities interact with how we deploy our general purpose forces. That is, there is a profoundly important synergism between the inherent capabilities of the SSBN force and the maritime strategic context under which it will be employed. The way we plan to deploy our forces changes the Soviet view of the correlation of nuclear forces not only by narrowing their options, but by expanding ours and enhancing the potency of the SSBN force.

Seen geopolitically, the forward operations of maritime forces create what could be called U.S. strategic “bastions” out of the worlds oceans. These are roughly analogous to the Soviet strategic bastions, but only in the sense that they are the area in which it would be very difficult for an opponent’s forces to conduct combined arms ASW. Unlike the Soviet bastions, ours would be vast, encompassing virtually all of the world’s oceans. For any submariner, it becomes apparent that to enter a bastion is a very difficult chore. For the Soviet to enter our “bastion” for instance, he must travel through some of the world’s most capable ASW forces in the Norwegian Sea, go through a plethora of faxed and mobile ASW systems in the North Atlantic, and finally enter the broad ocean areas where he is more wlnerable than we are, and where our surveillance is poised to detect any intruder. It is also apparent that, with our SSBN operating modes, we will always be in a situation to avoid rather than encounter him, given any alerting information. The vastness of these bastions, coupled with the capacity of U.S. and allied navies to deny them to Soviet surface ships, aircraft, and submarines in a conflict, enhances the survivability, endurance, lethality, and availability of the SSBNs in several ways. It makes access to a plethora of ports a reality and replenishment at sea safe. It allows the SSBN to challenge Soviet planners with an almost infinite number of potential attack profiles, and it limits the capacity of the Soviet Union to make use of any as of yet unforseen technical breakthroughs in their ability to detect or track the SSBNs on patrol. Indeed, based on a series of calculations of what difference the maritime strategy makes to the survivability of U.S. SSBNs, I have become convinced of the following: if you will give me the assumptions that SSBNs are and will be as quiet as Soviet SSNs and that U.S. surveillance is equal to Soviet surveillance, then I would offer the somewhat startling conclusion that there could Dever be a forcewide threat from Soviet ASW forces in our bastions. Like all analytically derived conclusions, this one depends on the assumptions, but I think these assumptions are conservative, and they give the benefit of the doubt in every instance to the Soviets. The conclusion, sweeping as it is, means the much touted but Dot yet ldeDtlfted Soviet ASW breakthrough is considerably further from reality than now understood by general audiences.

The relationship between the deployment of maritime forces and strategic connectivity is worth noting also. Some assessments of the last few years have concluded that connectivity from the NCA to our SSBNs is as good as any other leg of the 1RIAD. But I would offer that it may be better with SSBNs than with either ICBMs or bombers. In a protracted conflict where fiXed site command and control communications nodes are destroyed, surviving nuclear forces may have to depend on mobile communications to relay launch commands. We have at sea a mobile ground wave relay capability which is generated by the deployment of the fleet in a conflict. This communication net potential inherent in the several hundred ships at sea in the fleet and available to the TRIDENT D-5 system is most important. In the kind of situations where indepth communications may be the only way of reaching the strategic nuclear forces, the SSBNs may be the only force remaining, and the ships at sea may be a principal link to that force.

To summarize, I believe that, over the next several years, the technical capability of our new SSBN systems in the form of TRIDENT D-5, in conjunction with the growing recognition of how the maritime strategy complements the SSBN force, will generate a major transformation in the assumptions regarding strategic nuclear forces. The old assumptions will be replaced with what turns out to be the antithesis of a mind set that bas dominated strategic nuclear thinking for three decades. I would also offer that continued Soviet technical improvement and the ability to simultaneously threaten current ICBMs and bombers, coupled with our own fiscal constraints make it difficult to cope with that development We may find that an increasing burden of deterrence bas to be transferred to the SSBN force. Likewise, arms reductions coupled with strategic defenses and f1SC81 constraints could raise broad interest, not only in making the fewer strategic nuclear assets remaining after an agreement more survivable, but in exploring how these assets could be used differently. Perhaps as contnbutors not only to strategic offenses but to strategic defenses as well In other words, it is a fact that these issues will coincide over the next several years and could result in the nation asking our SSBN force to do more of the things than it has done in the past, and to do the things we have done differently.

As we decrease in arms control negotiations the number of strategic offensive missiles on both sides, it is important to consider which factors destabilize most those remaining few weapons. The factor that seems to be at the top of that list is lack or survivability. If we eventually reach a START I and a START ll, or even a Sf ART ill treaty we will wind up with total numbers of strategic missiles significantly less than we will have after START I. When we have only a few weapons remaining it is important that they be survivable. The situation becomes extremely unstable and our deterrent equation breaks down when one side can effectively target a large percentage of those weapons. It becomes more of a likelihood that a Soviet leader under stress could conceive of a first strike against those weapons. So survivability becomes an increasingly important element of our strategic offensive forces. For these reasons, the survivability of the TRIDENT submarine force is a national family jewel. The way we operate our submarines, the way we administer them and the way we assess their operational survivability are important elements of our deterrence, have paid strong dividends in the past, and will pay stronger dividends in the future.

In closing I would like to offer what I think are the 21st Century imperatives for strategic offensive forces. They are: survivability, operational Oexibility, targeting Oexibility, cost effectiveness, and room for growth. We have not developed detailed projections of how these phenomena will interact over the next decade, but in thinking about it for the better part of the year, the Strategic Think Tank came to the conclusion that these 21st Century imperatives are the basics for thinking about nuclear forces for the next century. I’m convinced that the SSBN force will be recognized as best capable of meeting these standards. It will be increasingly seen as the force that ties the nation’s nuclear policies and strategies together. In short it is the true keystone of deterrence.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League