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The logic of Dr. Alton Frye’s argument (SLCM DILEMMAS: FORESIGHT AND FOLLY; July 1990) that it is to our advantage to submit nuclear-armed SLCM to arms control limitations is severely flawed. Dr. Frye’s main point appears to be that the relative vulnerability of important U.S. assets and the relative invulnerability of Soviet ones to SLCM attack militates in favor of arms control. The truth is just the opposite. The difference in relative vulnerability between U.S. and Soviet targets militates aeainst limitations on SLCM. The reasons for this are as follows: First, the difference in the vulnerability of the two sides means that the Soviets could wreak massive damage on the U.S. with only a few nuclear armed SLCM while the U.S. would need much larger numbers to ensure the same damage level. Thus, any limit on the numbers of such systems short of a complete ban (which neither side has proposed) would be to the net benefit of the Soviet Union.

Second, even a ban on nuclear-armed SLCM would likely benefit the Soviets. The reason for this is that, since such a ban could not be comprehensively enforced or verified, the Soviets might well be capable of producing a small covert stockpile of such weapons. However, given the geographic asymmetries between the U.S. and Soviet target bases, the U.S. is relatively more vulnerable to cheating or breakout than is the Soviet Union. As a result, the Soviets might be able to do massive damage to the U.S. with undetectable numbers of illegal SLCM while the U.S. would likely need a much larger, and more detectable level, of cheating to achieve the same degree of damage against the Soviets (assuming that the U.S. was politically capable of cheating in the first place).

Third, an unverifiable ban on nuclear-armed cruise missiles (which, once again, neither side has proposed) could well leave the U.S. public with a false sense of security regarding SLCM attacks. As a result, that public might lack the will necessary to build the required defenses.

Fourth, including SLCM in arms control could result in a dramatic reduction in crisis stability. This is the case since most current proposals involve limiting the types of naval platforms on which nuclear-armed SLCM could be carried. This would significantly reduce the complexity of the targeting problem now faced by Soviet planners. A ban on SLCM would be even worse, reducing from over 200 to around 14 (aircraft carriers) the potential number of platforms which would have to be attacked in a first strike.

Finally, dramatic reductions in the numbers of nuclear armed SLCM could make it much more difficult for the U.S. to deter nuclear attacks on its naval forces. This is the case since it is easier to believe that a President would employ SLCM than central strategic systems in response to such attacks.

Dr. Frye’s second main point is that, while the requirements of verification would only be “intimidating,” “go against the grain of tradition,” “disturb operational procedures,” or simply be “a nuisance,” arms control is necessary since … failure to … regulate SLCMs jeopardized the conclusion and implementation of meaningful strategic arms reductions … ” There are at least two problems with this argument First, SLCM are not strategic weapons. Because they are carried on multi-mission platforms, they could not possibly be operationally coordinated with other forces in a SlOP-like operation. Instead, their purpose is to provide the Theater CINC with an additional nuclear asset which he might employ against force concentrations or faxed targets within his Area of Responsibility. Thus, there is not, nor should there be, any relationship between SLCM and “strategic arms reduction.” This would be the case even if limitations or a ban on SLCM could be perfectly verified.

Second, verification does not involve merely inconvenience. The verification schemes proposed thus far amount only to a very complex and intrusive set of confidence building measures which cannot “verify” that nuclear-armed SLCM are not being produced, stockpiled or deployed, but could result in a compromise of operational security. Of course, if a truly effective verification regime could be constructed, it would, of necessity, be incredibly intrusive, involving the presence of inspectors on virtually all ships at all times. Such a regime would obviously result in a massive compromise of operational security. Further, while such a compromise would exist for both sides, we have far more to lose than the Soviets do, especially when it comes to submarines.

To conclude, the real question we should ask ourselves is whether it is more responsible to rely upon our own resources to deter the Soviets from making nuclear SLCM attacks on the U.S. or its naval forces (and, indeed, from making war on us or our allies at all), or to rely instead on the good will of the Soviets not to violate a more-or-less porous arms control regime. This is not an easy question to answer. Dr. Frye’s cavalier implication that the leadership of the U.S. Navy is irresponsible if it does not select his preferred solution is hardly the way to conduct this debate. One can only hope that, in the future, Dr. Frye will limit himself to the merits of the alternatives even if, as is the case here, they do not favor him.

Michael F. Altfeld, Ph.D.
Assistant to the Director
Strategic and Theater
Nuclear Watfare Division
Office of the CNO


I am doing research on submarine operations around the Kurile Islands during WW II. Captain Oswald Colclough first had six S-hoats, which were replaced by eight fleet vessels (including GROWLER, TRITON, and TIJNA).

I would be interested in communicating with anyone who served on these vessels.

I can be contacted at P.O. Box 563, Allen Park, Michigan 48101.

Any assistance in this area would be greatly appreciated. Kevin Hutchinson


Thanks for your many phone calls and letters in response to my plea for help (October 1990 SUBMARINE REVIEW). I asked for the exact quotation from Thucydides’ History of the Pelponesian Wars which hung over the main entry of the Submarine School during WW IT. Theresa M. Cass (Archivist, NAUTILUS Memorial Submarine Force Library & Museum) sent a WW II photo of two sailors looking up at the sign.

Judging from all of your comments, many of you still find the thrust of that sign is still meaningful in your current endeavors. If your memory needs refreshing, here is the quotation:

Many thanks to all who responded.

CAPT Wdliam A. Whitman, USN(Ret.) 


Captain Stan Sirmans, USN, a submariner and member of the Naval Submarine League, is working on an article for 1HE SUBMARINE REVIEW on World War II submariners who were wounded and received Purple Hearts. No one has ever compiled a list and he is asking for any information members may have on Purple Heart awards to submariners during the war. He is also looking for a complete list of World War IT submariners who were prisoners of war. His address is 2301 S. Jefferson Davis Highway, Apt. 1228, Arlington, VA 22202. His phone number is (703) 418-2088.

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