The TRIDENT D-5 weapon system is the modernized leg of the strategic systems triad. It is an invulnerable, flexible, and supremely capable system for today’s rapidly changing world and will be durable throughout its service life. But as confident as we are in the capability of 1RIDENT to continue to deter global nuclear warfare, we must accept two principal points. Fll’St, weapon systems don’t last forever. They are overcome by the advance of technology, or they simply become less capable because of age. Our museums are full of systems and weapons of war which, although ideally suited to their missions at the time, are now well obsolete and useful only to document the past. And so, despite its nonpareil position among other legs of today’s triad, TRIDENT, too, will reach the end of its practical service life. Second, the world is changing much faster than even the most prescient of our oracles could have predicted. As this is being written, the war in the Persian Gulf is over, but stability in the region is uncertain. And other regional conflicts, absent the global power oversight of the USSR, are increasingly likely.
These two points lead to an inescapable conclusion: if the Navy is to continue in its role as this nation’s preeminent strategic deterrent force, there must be a plan for the future. It would be folly to put together any plan in a rigid fashion, hoping that all of its facets would be played out, or even that the destination would be the same as intended at the beginning. Plans are made to be changed. There is no better example of this than a plan to predict the Navy’s role in strategic defense twenty to fifty years in the future. Imagine planning, at the end of World War IT, to send men to the moon in 1969, knowing little about the advance of the technology required. Yet this is something like the magnitude of the task we face when planning lRIDENT’s successor, whose service life will begin as early as about 2010 and stretch out until around 2040 to 2060.
There are other issues which make planning now for the future necessary. In these days of tight DOD budgets, we cannot afford to produce as many big-ticket items, and so force levels measured in numbers of weapons must decline. But investment in research and development for new systems must continue. As unknowable as the future is, estimation of the direction of future policy and potential Navy roles is required to ensure our R&D effort is structured to minimize regret The industrial base of the nation requires support continuously if it is to be ready to respond to production requirements of the future. We cannot afford to allow the creative scientific and engineering power of this country to atrophy.
But a problem confronts us when we try to make these points. There are few customers for change. A few years ago, the CNO, Admiral C. A H. Trost, as the Navy’s chief long-range planner, sought to remedy the situation. Questions about the Navy’s future role in strategic deterrence prompted a study to determine the Navy’s contribution to the nation’s strategic defense after the year 2010. This date was picked to be near the first TRIDENT submarine’s end of service life (based on a 30 year estimate). In the terms of reference for the study, CNO spelled out guidelines which would allow ample room for innovative thought as the study progressed. He foresaw that the course of arms control and technological development were not clearly defined and that other considerations were even more blurred. The very definition of the word “strategic” was opened to debate, certainly not automatically to be equated to the term nuclear when applied to the armament of future forces. The notion that a future Navy strategic force could be based in platforms other than, or in addition to, submarines was suggested. Treatment of Sea-Launched Cruise Missiles (SLCM) as strategic weapons was recognized as an option. Finally, Admiral Trost suggested that the Navy’s future strategic role might encompass missions in SDI, Anti-Satellite, Satellite Reconstitution, and Theater Offense and Defense. It was not assumed that the Navy would cover all roles; there are many reasons why other services might take the lead, but Admiral Trost wanted R&D directed to give the Navy the options to participate. .
The study team had to invent an organizing principle from scratch. It turned out to be amazingly simple, but nevertheless unique, because the process finally decided upon was different from traditional methods of advance planning for system acquisition. STRATPLAN 2010, as the study became known, was rooted in an assessment of the course of national strategic policy, instead of reaction to a threat or the development of a technology which could be easily weaponized. Sensitive to allegations that some new weapons are developed before a mission is clearly defined, the team decided that future systems should be developed to accomplish predetermined missions stemming from National Policy, and not the other way around. So, from policy direction, roles and missions were developed. Using these roles and missions, and considering threats to platforms and weapons and the capabilities of the technology spectrum for the first time, operational requirements and desires for force characteristics were drawn up. Only then were concepts for system designs formulated. System design concepts ultimately were decided upon only after orderly consideration of national policy and the factors which flow from it. As it progressed, the study became a process for advance planning which could continue beyond the decision on the next system.
The end of the first year of SlRATPLAN 2010 saw the development of the planning process completed, with separate panels working to address National Policy, Operational Requirements and Force Characteristics, Advanced Technology, and Concept Development for the traditional strategic deterrent roles of Offensive Strike and Secure Reserve. Several key insights and findings from this Phase I surfaced. First, future force structure is likely to be driven by national policy, arms control, and the rascal and political situation, instead of by threat and the input of advanced technology. Of course, new threats and the development of new technology will influence the final character of future forces, but their inputs come only after missions are defined by national policy. Second, force characteristics of survivability, lethality, flexibility, and reliability exemplified by the SSBN/SLBM combination continue to be the answer for traditional strategic deterrent roles. No other platform and weapon combination was convincingly strong enough in all of the characteristics, despite the development of over one hundred concept options, many of which centered around other platform and weapon types. Third, the TRIDENT weapon system was found to be a durable concept throughout its service life, within the predicted spectrum of national strategic policy. And fourth, based on the nominal time required to design a new system, including research and development of the required technologies, now is the time to begin looking at the technologies and missions of the next generation SSBN.
The Phase I finding that the submarine and ballistic missile were the most desirable naval platform and weapon system for traditional strategic deterrent roles narrowed the focus to just a few tradeoffs. These center on cost and survivability as the primary factors affecting decision-making. FIScal pressure to build less expensive platforms begs a look at submarines of different sizes. In additiion, because arms control development of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile with fewer warheads than the D-5, and because a lower ceiling on total missile numbers may lead to fewer missiles per SSBN, the next generation system might be made up of a smaller SSBN carrying smaller missiles. It remains to be seen whether a new concept of this type will be more affordable, but intuitively it seems so.
Three other primary roles not addressed in Phase I have become the focus of the second phase of work: Theater Support, Strategic Defense and Space Control. Theater Support, comprised of Theater Offense and Defense, is defined as the use of naval assets in regional theaters of operations for coastal and deep strike, and for defense against Tactical/Theater Ballistic Missiles (TffBM). The Navy’s role in Strategic Defense could be as an adjunct to SDIO space-based and landbased systems for defense of the U.S. against Soviet attack, as well as part of a national strategy of Global Protection Against Limited Strike (GP ALS). Space Control roles of anti-satellite (ASAT) and Cli reconstitution finish off the effort.
Even though Phase IT is only about one-third complete, some key findings are becoming obvious. First, instead of just one platform type and delivery vehicle, a mix of platforms and systems may be required. Surface ships and air platforms could become important. And conventional and exotic weapon types appear to have some usefulness. Second, application of naval forces to these new missions is no more than the extension of traditional naval missions into the future, albeit with new names assigned. Finally, if these future missions become national imperatives, maintaining this countris technological superiority will be essential. Careful planning for the future and investing in research and development now is the first step in keeping the edge.
STRATPLAN 2010 is a process in place for planning the Navy’s strategic weapon system future. It is well on the way toward recommending design concepts for a successor to TRIDENT. New missions in space, strategic defense, and theater support may require new platforms and weapon systems. Evaluation is just beginning in this area. Integration of efforts dealing with traditional strategic deterrence and these new missions will lead to a strategy for R&D investment applicable to the period beginning with POM-94. Implementation of this strategy, based on national strategic policy, will lead to an affordable reinforcement of the nation’s technological base and industrial capacity.
Captain E. M. Archer, USN(Ret.)
Rear Admiral Wreford G. Chapple, USN(Ret.)
CDR Richard G. Colquhoun, USN(Ret.)
Rear Admiral Edward M. Peebles, USN(Rd.)
Rear Admiral Donald Whitmire, USN(Ret.)