In the October 1989 Submarine Review article on “TRRDENTS,” Dr. Jon Boyes and Captain William Rube note that a U.S.-Soviet START agreement, as currently envisioned, would limit each side to 6,000 strategic warheads. They make a convincing case that the majority of these warheads — 3,456 — should be allocated to the SLBM leg of the Triad and be deployed on 18 TRIDENT SSBNs (eight warheads per missile or 192 warheads per submarine). Boyes and Rube further note that 18 TRIDENT submarines would be “a minimum” and would represent “a dangerously low number” since a greater Soviet ASW effort could be focused upon each submarine at sea.
In my view, the actual situation under START could be even more pressing for the U.S. submarine force. In addition to the overall 6,000 warhead limit, the START agreement probably will incorporate a sublimit of 4,900 warheads on ballistic missiles. (The other 1,100 START-accountable warheads would consist of several hundred bombers and more numerous air-launched cruise missiles.) The U.S. ICBM force presently accounts for roughly 2,500 warheads. Boyes and Rube postulate a START ICBM force of 100 Peacekeepers (ten warheads each) and up to 500 small ICBMs (a single warhead weapon) for a total of 1,500 ICBM warheads. However, this assumes that the 950 currently deployed MINUTEMAN ITs and ills would be eliminated and their silo launch facilities destroyed. More likely, in my view, would be the elimination of the 450 single-warhead MINUTEMAN lls and, perhaps, half of the 500 three-warhead MINUTEMAN IIIs. The retention of 250 MINUTEMAN IIIs would account for another 750 warheads, for a total of 2,250.
Such an ICBM force posture would permit the U.S. submarine force to deploy no more than 2,650 SLBM warheads. Under this scheme, only 13 of the 24 launch-tube OHIO-class TRIDENT SSBNs could be deployed– fewer by five than the “minimum” 18 suggested by Boyes and Rube.
Several options would be available to increase the number of U.S. SSBNs under this approach. One would be to download missiles from the TRIDENT submarines. If each OHIO-class SSBN carried only 20 missiles vice 24 (160 warheads), 16 TRIDENTs could be deployed. If only 18 missiles were carried (144 warheads), the “minimum” 18 1RIDENT SSBNs could be deployed. Another option would be to deploy a mix of OHIO-class units with older 16 launchtube LAFAYEI’I’E-. MADISON-. and FRANKLIN-class submarines. A hybrid approach would involve an SSBN force of downloaded OHIO’s and older 16 tube units. Yet another approach, suggested by Boyes and Rube, would be to craft a set of START counting rules that would facilitate deployment of a number of TRIDENT missiles with fewer than eight warheads.
None of these options is optimum from an operational or force structuring perspective. Nevertheless, a START agreement limiting both sides to 4,900 ballistic missile warheads is very much in the offing, and a means to maximize the number of U.S. SSBNs within the treaty regime should be sought.