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The U.S.  must continue to live with the nuclear weapon  because we can’t yet live without it.   The arms control process  continues to reduce the number of nuclear war-heads held by U.S. and former Soviet (CIS) forces.  This increases the percentage of total weapons held by other nuclear nations. Concurrently, nations that do not have them now are seeking to possess nuclear weapons in order to gain instant political prestige, regional influence and a decided strategic advantage. Meanwhile, the submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on the fleet ballistic missile nuclear submarine (SSBN) quietly continues to carry out the critical role of protecting the U.S. against a nuclear threat. The changes in the nuclear posture of an increasing number of nations have begun to impact the ways the SLBM/-SSBN may be required to carry out its strategic role. A future expansion of the roles and missions for the SLBM/SSBN weapon system may be necessary.

For almost four decades the SLBM/SSBN combination has been a vital element in U.S. strategic nuclear deterrence. This surviv-able’ sea-based element of the strategic nuclear triad served to reduce the incentives that existed for any principal threat2 to conduct a nuclear first strike. As the SLBM evolved in capability, it grew to provide a credible retaliatory threat to almost’ the full range of Soviet targets. The SLBM force, in joint integrated operations with U.S. ICBM and nuclear capable bombers, provided an essential element of nuclear deterrence and a stabiliz-ing parity with the nuclear forces of the Soviet Union.

The last ten years of arms control agreements and their implementation have impacted near term and future SLBM/SSBN operational requirements.

Near term impact:

  1. The number of allowable nuclear warheads has decreased. The alert status of nuclear-capable bombers and some ‘ICBMs have been cancelled. Other ICBMs have been retired or downloaded. The net effect of these changes bas been the extension of the targeting responsibilities and shift in alert requirements to the SLBM force. Wben Phase D of START D is implemented, SLBMs will assume up to 70 percent of the targeting requirements as dictated by the current’ Single Integrated Operation Plan 94 (SlOP 94).
  1. The Phase ll implementation of START D requires a limit of 2160 SLBM operational warheads. If the U.S. maintains 18 SSBNS, the average out-loading of SLBMs would be five warheads per missile.
  1. If the effected detargeting  is considered, the SLBM’s flexibility could support a further reduction of strategic alert levels. This support is based on recent enhancement of connectivity and fire control upgrades which improved adaptive and flexible’ targeting abilities.

Future impact:

    1. The new strategic nuclear environment continues to unfold with its final form still very much uncertain. This uncer-tainty prompts many questions. What should strategic nuclear targeting cover? Should targets be hit, preemptive-ly, in response to aggressive stimulation, or after we suffer damage? How is each target to be held at risk and with what systems? The authors believe that the SSBN’s inherent survivability characteristics and the recent flexibili-ty to adaptively target and re-target suggest its utility in the support of a future SIOP.9

For the near term, the SLBM/SSBN continues to reduce the incentive of a nuclear first strike. Change in the intent of the principal threat allows the U.S. to concentrate less on offensive and more on retaliatory forces. However, this shift produces a challenge. Our credibility is being brought into question by both potential nuclear adversaries and allies on the extent of our willingness to retaliate with nuclear weapons, especially against a non-principal threat.

The longer term SLBM role in our nuclear deterrence plans may be more prominent. A recent study10 concludes that this survivable force precludes an attributable11 nuclear strike against U.S. territory. The authors argue that as the U.S. progresses towards further nuclear arms reductions, the SLBM may have additional responsibilities.

The current approach to START n levels of nuclear disarma-ment is guided by essential requirements. l) Strategic stability must be maintained while the strategic nuclear inventory and operational capabilities are reduced. 2) The existence of the U.S. must nev~r be compromised. 3) The U.S. must be prepared to stop the re-emergence of any global nuclear hegemon.

Strategic stability in this new environment has broadened. It now must be defined as maintaining stability in three inter-related essential areas12 simultaneously: crisis stability, arms control stability and deterrence stability.

Crisis stability is the maintaining of reduced incentives to conduct a first strike. This area has shifted focus from offensive forces that can launch on warning to retaliatory forces that can promptly deliver weapons. 13

Arms control stability is the condition where no nuclear nation has the incentive to develop the technological breakthrough that will result in a significant military advantage. Stability in this area is maintained by the technological diversity of the strategic forces.

Deterrence stability is the condition where no nuclear power has the ability or incentive to employ its nuclear arsenal for coercive diplomacy. What it takes to maintain or improve stability in this area is more complex and thus, the subject of current intense debate.

A recent study  suggests that to promote strategic stability the U .S. should maintain essential nuclear equivalence with the CIS. Overall strategic stability must be considered in the context of the developing strategic nuclear environment. To maintain strategic stability, the U.S . defense planners must integrate concerns of the U.S., CIS and other nuclear nations to maintain their individual strategic stability.

As the number of allowed weapons decreases, the disarmament process becomes more complex and more nations become involved. Some suggest that targeting for mutual societal wlnerability may be the most appropriate16 strategy. If adopted, this strategy would require no greater than 1000 allowable warheads. This 2/3 reduction cannot be accomplished without dramatic changes to the current U.S. strategic nuclear triad.

Without a principal threat there is no need for the U.S to threaten the first use of nuclear weapons. Some17 argue that the U.S. should set an example by declaring a no nuclear first use policy. Others, including the authors, agree but contend that before the declaration is made, a complete analysis must be conducted to ensure there is no potential non-nuclear threat capable of holding the U.S. existence hostage. This declaration should also be used as a bargaining chip to get appropriate arms reduction and first use concessions from medium level nuclear powers.

Vulnerable  first  strike  weapons  are  generally  considered destabilizing. 19 A multilateral declaration of no first use coupled with the removal of vulnerable fixed siteZ’ ICBM weapon systems should help globally de-legitimize the first use nuclear option. This step should contribute to crisis stability and complete the U.S. retirement of one leg of the triad, with an attendant large cost saving.

Before this is accomplished, disadvantages must also be considered. Going to a dyad increases the risk of a technological breakthrough that counters the residual U.S . strategic capability. It further increases the exposure to a transient gap21 in capability caused by a reliability or technical failure in one of the remaining systems. Removal of the U.S. ICBM force would also weaken our prompt nuclear response capability.

In rebuttal, with the continued absence of a principal threat, going to a strategic nuclear dyad may be acceptable. In a stable nuclear environment, characterized by reasonable levels of cooperation among medium-level nuclear nations, strategic warning should be greater than any transient gap. Further, a multi-lateral arms control process could provide sufficient incentives to all medium-level nuclear nations to maintain vice modernize their nuclear forces.

Weakening our prompt nuclear response capability, however, is viewed with some concern. Presently, several small nations are seeking nuclear weapon capabilities. Efforts by the U.S and others22 to reduce proliferation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems are currently underway. Success to date has been limited and some would argue that the means to guarantee success do not yet exist. As many small nations are vying for positions of power in the new world order, the desirability of possessing nuclear weapons as a deterrent against regional aggression and for status is high. Therefore, the potential for limited nuclear use is more probable today than it was during the Cold War. The U.S. must have a credible means, a counter~proliferation strategy and disabling capabilities, to preclude any nation from threatening to use its nuclear weapons against the U.S., its forces, vital, vita123 interests or key allies. The prompt response option must be retained so its hair trigger characteristic will require an aggressor to consider the swift, almost automatic and devastating impact of a U.S. nuclear response.

If arms control is to go beyond START n, and fixed site ICBMs are eliminated, then the SSBN and/or bomber force must assume the prompt response mission. This capability can be incorporated into the SLBM/SSBN weapon system with minimal impact. Because the new strategic environment is characterized by a reduced open ocean ASW threat, the incorporation of a continu~ ous, real~time, two-way, off~the-sbelf communications between the National Command Authority {NCA) and SSBNs is now possible. Coupling this improved connectivity with a limited number of single warhead Trident I or n missiles makes a SSBN prompt response capability possible.

Any significant reduction of allowable weapons below the Phase II, START n will require the development of a new strategic nuclear policy. This policy must: 1) clearly state the objective of the U.S. nuclear force; 2) develop a new targeting strategy; and 3) define the roles and missions of the SLBM and bomber forces.

This can be accomplished by developing a set of strategic nuclear response,.. plans against the full range of possible nuclear threats. A new policy should contain the definition of a desirable nuclear end-state. This produces the following recommended policy goals:

  1. U.S. desire that nuclear weapons ultimately will become irrelevant as a war fighting tool.
  1. U.S. intention to dispatch only non-nuclear forces to deter regional aggressions that threaten U.S. forces, allies or vital interests.
  1. U.S. declaration of a no-first-use policy if similar statements are made by the nuclear-capable nations of the UN security council.
  1. U.S. declaration that massive destruction of societies by means of these weapons, except in retaliation for a nuclear first strike, is not legitimate. A proclamation that there use will justify other nuclear-capable powers to demand the unconditional, immediate cessation of any sovereignty rights of the user.

During the transition to this nuclear irrelevant end-state additional operation limitations on U.S. nuclear weapon use must be considered. First, U.S. retaliation with nuclear weapons will be limited to protection against unacceptable levels of damage caused by follow-on nuclear attaclcs on U.S. interests, personnel or forces. Second, the distinction between U.S. tactical and strategic nuclear weapons must be eliminated to aid in reducing the legitimacy of battlefield nuclear-capable forces.

If U.S. tactical nuclear weapons are eliminated there still would be a future role for the tactical warhead. There are an increasing number of strategic shallow to deeply-buried, hard targets that require a level of destruction beyond the capability of present conventional weapons. The alternate use of high yield strategic nuclear weapons against these targets would result in an unacceptable25 level of collateral damage. Without a technological break-through in conventional weapon yield to weight, there will be a future need for low-yield nuclear warheads to provide a measured nuclear response to first use of a nuclear weapon. A SLBM conventional strategic weapon, with its inherent high kinetic energy delivery, could be considered as an intermediate capability option for some bard target requirements. To illustrate, current conventional measured response option would not assure a timely immobilization of the aggressor’s residual nuclear capability sufficient to effectively minimize follow-on U.S. losses.

Either the low-yield nuclear device or a conventional strategic warhead can be easily adapted into SLBMs or bombers. On SLBM missiles they can adaptively target any location on the globe. Stealth characteristics, mobility, variable attack azimuth and the potential for a short time of weapon flight would compli-cate any enemy defense capability. To illustrate the importance of these new strategic SLBM warheads, the following scenario is offered. Nuclear armed bombers flying to an aggressor nation are used as a mechanism to demand immediate, unconditional surrender after a limited nuclear strike against the U.S. At the last minute, the aggressor refuses to capitulate and it is determined that the predicted bomber losses due to enemy defenses will be unacceptable. A prompt NCA order to use these new SLBM weapons can be made, allowing a timely bomber recall, to minimize U.S. personnel losses.

In conclusion, the SLBM/SSBN continues to play a vital role in maintaining a stabilized nuclear deterrence against present and future threats to U.S. security. Our present strategic policy will be overcome by changes in the world environment. These changes include a continuing need for a nuclear arms reduction process, increased importance of the nuclear arsenals of medium-level nuclear powers and nuclear proliferation to non-aligned countries. Examination of future strategic policy, in the context of this new world order, show the SLBM as remaining central to strategic defense needs of this country. If the new strategic policy adapts the concept of a dyad vice triad, the SLBM will be required to do two things: 1) assume the new role of a prompt nuclear response system, and 2) incorporate the low-yield nuclear or conventional strategic warhead capability needed for special missions requiring a U.S. measured response.

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