The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) recommendations of the Secretary of Defense were approved by the President on 15 September 1994, nearly 11 months and 50,000 man-hours after its start in October 1993. This effort was conducted totally within the Department of Defense although the input of other interested departments (State and Energy) and several experts was sought. All of the CINCs, Services, Joint Staff, Defense Agencies and Office of the Secretary of Defense provided personnel for the six working groups that developed and reviewed the options for those recommendations. The goal was to look out 25 years; make decisions that would define our posture for the next 10 years and cast a shadow for the following 15 years.
The NPR had two major effects on the Navy. First, it selected an SSBN force of 14 Trident submarines, all carrying the D-5 missile and operating from two bases. Second, it directed that the capability to carry non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNF, i.e. those weapons not included in the START treaties) be eliminated from the carrier and surface warship Navy, but that TLAM/N capability be maintained on SSNs. (Note that in the Presidential Nuclear Initiative of September 1991, President Bush directed that all NSNF weapons be removed from our ships and maintained in storage so that only our SSBN’s carry nuclear weapons on a day-to-day basis.) The NPR further directed that all TLAM/Ns be configured for submarine launch.
The Navy was not prepared for this outcome, as their current POM submission had been for only 10 D-5 Tridents, a change from the previous budget for 10 D-5 and 8 C-4. The Navy had made no budgetary plans for the first 8 C-4 Trident submarines or for a second Trident support base, and thus had about a $2B shortfall. The NSNF decision was, on the other hand, what the Navy was hoping for so that money could be saved on the specifications for the F-18 E/F (no nuclear capability) and on surface ship nuclear weapons handling and fire control systems. These savings are less than $50M per year, and so do not help in solving the monetary shortfall resultant from the Trident decision.
Why was the Navy caught unaware? They might have been led astray by the early opinions that the nuclear forces might be a cash cow. This was further fueled by those who wanted to work on START III, and believed that further reductions were inevitable. Blindly reading the START II provisions and using back-of-the-envelope math can lead to a conclusion that the less than 1750 sublimit on SLBM warheads could be met by as few as nine (9 X 8 X 24 = 1728), but more likely 10 submarines carrying 7 reentry vehicles (RVs) or 18 with 4 RVs. Or maybe they wanted to avoid the annual battle for Trident missile procurement funds . Undoubtedly, some or all of this rationale played in the Navy’s budget decision. In any case, it would appear that in the Navy budget process, there are few submarine advocates.
Why then did the NPR select the 14 D-5 Trident option? It was best summarized by Secretary Perry in his lead and hedge explanation. The only potential adversary who has the capability to destroy the United States is Russia. Russia’s future is anything but predictable and they have not yet ratified START II and have prevented START I from entering into force until Ukraine agrees to become a non-nuclear state. During the NPR deliberations, it was no sure thing that the other three nuclear republics of the former Soviet Union (Belorussia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine) would sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear powers. Discussions . with the Russians at all levels revealed that although they were interested in deeper reductions, they were looking into the future since they had neither the capability nor the money to decrease forces much faster. Therefore, although the U.S. must continue to demonstrate our leadership toward meeting the limits of the START treaties, no irreversible changes or inactivations should be accomplished lightly.
So first, the new force level had to have the ability to counter a Russian slowdown in their inactivations or dismantlements from their present levels near the higher START I limit as well as have the flexibility to go lower in the future. The 10 Trident Submarine Force loaded at seven RVs had less than one-fourth the hedge capability of 14 ships loaded at five RVs.
Second, the security of the Trident force had to be protected. No one can ever be sure that in the heat of battle the President will believe he has adequate credible indication of an incoming nuclear attack. In today’s less threatening environment with no bombers on alert, the only survivable force is the Trident force. Keeping that force in two oceans only makes sense, much the same reason that we built a submarine base in Bangor, Washington for the first Trident submarines.
Third, the security of the Trident force is further enhanced by the ocean area in which it can operate, or in layman’s terms, the range of its missiles. After all, getting our SSBNs out of the area north of the Greenland-Iceland-Faroes Gap and the Mediterranean was part of the genesis of the Trident missile and its backfit onto the earlier SSBNs. It general, the range of any missile is determined by the weight of its payload. Therefore, again the ocean patrol area available to the 14 Trident force is significantly larger than that of the 10 Trident force. As a side issue, target coverage for an Atlantic based Trident force of the southeast extremities of Russia is extremely problematic for the more fully loaded Trident missile.
Fourth, as we look at the decreasing target base in Russia as the arms control regimes enter into effect and their forces are downsized, clearly the mean distance between targets increases. This means in targeting our MIRVed systems, such as Trident, the larger the footprint and the more footprints we have, the more efficient our SIOP can be. A 14 SSBN Trident force was found to be significantly more effective than a 10 ship force. There are no extra weapons in today’s reduced forces . Inefficiencies will result in non-coverage of SIOP targets and hence, a SIOP with more risk should deterrence fail.
For all the reasons above, the 14 SSBN option won out over the 10. The almost universal view of either the 10 D-5/4 C-4 or the 10 D-5/8 C-4 SSBN option was that they were only intermediate steps to 10 D-5 Trident platforms. Also, for many of the same reasons given in the preceding paragraphs, an 18 D-5 Trident force is more attractive than the 14. However, the additional cost of C-4 to D-5 conversions and the additional missile procurement made this less attractive. The true knee of the curve for 0-5 is 5 RVs and the marginal improvement from 5 to 4 is less than 6 to 5 or 7 to 6.
In the NSNF decision, the attack submarine force was left as one of only two nuclear capable forces, the USAF attack aircraft being the other. Obtaining basing rights for USAF nuclear capable aircraft in a crisis in some parts of the world may not be easy. Therefore, the attack submarine will have a unique role if the nation elects to not use a strategic weapon for a non-strategic mission. There is clearly a price to pay here in the administration, people and systems, and certified capability, materiel and fire control, that must be maintained for any nuclear delivery system. An SSN loaded TLAM/N is the only remaining Navy NSNF system and hedges the issue that the USAF does not have guaranteed worldwide NSNF delivery capability.
The end result of the NPR, in minds of many people, was more hedge than lead. These are uncertain times and we can only hope that the democratization of Russia works. With neither new nuclear delivery nor nuclear weapons systems under development, every present system is truly a national treasure not to be surrendered too easily. The United States can ill afford either the cost or time to replace them if any present trends reverse. Further steps forward in the arms control arena must hopefully await a more clear definition of what Russia will be and the mutual achievement of START II levels. Because of the NPR, the Submarine Force will truly be leading strategically (Trident) and hedging tactically (TLAM/N).
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