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Sound the klaxon and prepare to dive. The Navy is still on alert against a surprise Soviet nuclear attack, ready to retaliate at a moment’s notice.

Which is to say: Today’s Navy has yet to adjust to today’s realities. Its excessive fleet of missile-carrying submarines confronts a receding nuclear threat and Russia’s rapidly rusting anti-submarine warfare effort.

A new study by the Congressional Budget Office shows how the Navy can safely reduce the size of the Trident force and slow its tempo of operations, saving billions in the process.

The Navy currently plans a fleet of 18 Trident submarines, 12 of which would be at sea at a time. Each sub would carry 24 D-5 missiles, as accurate as any the U.S has; the eight oldest subma-rines that now carry C-4 missiles would be refitted with more accurate D-5s. To comply with Start II ceilings, each D-5 missile will be armed with four warheads instead of the eight it is capable of carrying. To keep 12 Tridents at sea without wearing out the sailors, the navy assigns two crews to a sub; one on board and the other on shore duty.

By Congressional Budget Office estimates, the total pack-age-18 subs, with 12 at sea plus onboard and onshore crews-will cost at least $46.6 billion through 2010, even more if the submarines are replaced before completing 40 years of service.

The Pentagon should pursue two of the options that the C.B.O. presents: First, reduce operating tempos by keeping 6 instead of 12 Tridents at sea at one time. That would end double crewing and reduce maintenance and training costs, saving $4.5 billion between 1994 and 2010.

Second, instead of refitting the eight oldest subs with new missiles, retire them, starting in 2001. That would yield a savings of nearly $13 billion more by 2010.

Under this arrangement, the Navy could leave seven warheads on each missile instead of reducing the number to four. It would thereby retain 1,680 warheads, almost as many as it would have under current plans-and far more than it needs to cover its shrinking list of targets.

Having fewer subs at sea makes the Trident force somewhat more vulnerable to enemy submarines, but that risk was never great when the Soviet Union existed and is considerably smaller now that it has collapsed . The Pentagon needs to save money where it can.  A good place to look is under the sea.

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