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Lieutenant Kostiuk’s paper “Won The Naval Submarine League Essay Contest while a student at the Submarine Officers Advanced Course 97030. He is currently Navigation Officer aboard USS TENNESSEE (SSBN734)(Blue).

In FY 1999, the first Tomahawk Land Attack Missile Nuclear (TLAM-N) Portable Launching System (PLS) is scheduled to be delivered to the United States Navy. This system consists of a laptop computer which will connect into the submarine’s weapon control system and permit the shooting of a TLAM-N. The TLAM-N PLS will enhance the nuclear capability of the attack submarine fleet and provide additional jobs for project developers, evaluators, and support personnel. Despite these positive aspects of the TLAM-N PLS program, the United States Navy should cancel this project and not retain a nuclear strike option on attack submarines.

One positive aspect of the TLAM-N PLS development is that it will strengthen the nuclear capability of the United States. With 350 missiles in the U.S. inventory, the TLAM-N PLS offers one more way to shoot them and thus one more deterrent option . “During the 1980s the sea-launched cruise missile became known as the ‘fourth leg’ of the triad to some strategic analysts. Given its long range and the forward deployment of U.S. naval forces, it did qualify as a strategic system.”

Additionally, the development of the TLAM-N PLS provides employment opportunities for many people. Personnel are needed to research the requirements and incorporate security into the system. Since commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment will be used, most of the technology for the TLAM-N PLS development is already available. Integration of the various components into a working system will be the most challenging task of this project. Hence, using COTS equipment will save the government a substantial amount of money on development and keep the overall cost of the project down. Once the system is delivered to the United States Navy, personnel will still be needed to maintain the system and its associated missiles. In an era of the shrinking defense budget, this funded project offers numerous employment possibilities and a rare opportunity for some of the brightest minds in the country to construct a planned operational system. In the end, the United States Navy will receive a state-of-the-art launching system using the newest technology.

Despite the favorable benefits of nuclear weapons on attack submarines for additional nuclear strike capability and employment opportunities associated with the TLAM-N PLS project, the United States does not need nuclear weapons on attack submarines. The option of conducting nuclear strikes from attack submarines should not be preserved.

One reason nuclear weapons on attack submarines is unnecessary is the effectiveness of the nuclear triad. The nuclear triad consists of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), and heavy bombers (B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Stealth). The ICBMs provide a rapid response in the form of preemptive offensive strikes or quick reaction defensive strikes. The SSBNs provide the most survivable asset of the nuclear triad due to their ability to remain hidden in the depths of the world’s oceans. Under the START II Treaty, SSBNs will be permitted to carry multiple independent reentry vehicles (MIRVed) submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). This would allow SSBNs to attack multiple targets with one missile. The B-52 and B-2 provide precision attacking capability using long range nuclear air launched cruise missiles (ALCMs). These heavy bombers can also use short range missiles or gravity bombs to conduct precision strikes. Since the TLAM-N is similar to the ACLM, this attack submarine mission provides overkill with respect to the nuclear triad. As it currently exists, the nuclear triad adequately covers the spectrum of nuclear strikes-quick reaction, multiple target, and precision. Nuclear strike capability from attack submarines should be dropped as it goes significantly above and beyond what is necessary to protect the United States’ interests.

Another reason the United States should remove the nuclear
strike ability from attack submarines is the START I and START II treaties. The United States has been deactivating and eliminating systems covered by ST ART I since it entered into force on S December 1994.3 START I requires both the United States and Russia to reduce weapons levels to 1600 strategic nuclear delivery vehicles and 6000 accountable warheads.” START n, once ratified by both the United States and Russia, will call on both sides to further “reduce its total deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 3000-3500.’ By 2003, the proposed arsenal for the United States resembles the table below.


Nuclear Deliver Launchers Warheads Notes
Minuteman III (ICBM) 500 500 Silo based
Trident II D-5 (SLBM) 336 1680 24 missilca carried on 14 Ohjo class
B 52-H 66 984 24 bombers assumed to carry 20 ALCM each, 42 bombers carry 12 ALCM each
B-2A Stealth Bomber 21 336 Carries 16 bombs
STRATEGIC TOTAL 993 3500 Limited by START
TLAM-N (SLCM) 350 Non strategic force sea-launched cruise missiles, not deployed, but could be carried on 57 Los Angeles submarines

By the year 2003, the size of the TLAM-N inventory will be only one-third the size of the ALCM inventory. Although not limited by START II, the previous table shows that TLAM-N inventory accounts for 10 percent above the maximum number of warheads allowed by ST ART II. Once again, this shows that retaining nuclear strike capability from attack submarines goes above and beyond what is necessary to protect the United States’ interests. The Navy should support removing the TLAM-N from submarines. Even with the removal of the TLAM-N from attack submarines, enough nuclear weapons still exist to effectively deter nuclear war.

The accuracy of any missile is determined by the circular error probable. Circular Error Probable (CEP) is the radius of a circle in which 50 percent of the weapons launched will land. A smaller radius reflects a more accurate weapon. The following table lists CEPs for selected U.S. missiles.


MISSILE CEP (in meters)
Trident D-5 90

The conclusion that can be drawn from the above table is that these nuclear weapons have approximately the same accuracy. The United States ability to place nuclear weapons accurately on target does not diminish by the removal of the TLAM-N from attack submarines.

Another justification for TLAM-N removal from the U.S. arsenal is that the United States bas had sufficient opportunity to use the TI..AM-N as a non strategic weapon and has chosen not to use it. During both Operation Desert Storm and Libyan bombing raids, the United States resisted using the TLAM-N. Each time conventional TLAM and conventional smart bombs successfully accomplished the United State’s mission with precision accuracy and minimal loss of American lives.

Finally, TLAM-N PLS development costs budget dollars that could be better spent in other areas of the military. In September 1991, President George Bush recalled all non-SLBM sea-based nuclear weapons. Thus, 350 nuclear SLCM were put into storage and currently remain in storage.’ In the post Cold War world where nuclear weapon inventory reduction by both the United States and Russia is desired, to develop a system to launch weapons which are not deployed and have not been deployed for six years is fiscally irresponsible and against United States ideals.

In addition (to ST ART II), the Presidents (President Clinton and President Yeltsin) directed their experts to intensify their discussion of concrete steps to adapt further the nuclear forces, doctrines and operational practices on both sides to the post Cold War world and the current spirit of partnership between the United States and Russia. This could include the possibility, after ratification of ST ART II, of further reductions of and limitations on remaining nuclear forces.

The TI..AM-N PLS and nuclear weapons onboard attack submarines are diverting precious budget dollars from other defense programs. The United States is weakening its force by developing and maintaining an aspect of its defense that with the exception of practice launches may never be employed. Even if nuclear war did break out in the world, the current nuclear triad can adequately cover the entire spectrum of nuclear strikes. With the current Submarine Force having to do more with less, it would be prudent to give the submarine program this saved money and permit them to defend United States interests with the best practical assets available. The money saved by cutting this program and these weapons from our arsenal could be better spent on upgrading some other aspect of submarine warfare. For example, improving submarine fire control systems using COTS equipment to shoot TLAM conventional weapons would move submarine technology from the 1980s to the cutting edge. The world saw the effectiveness of the conventional TLAM in the Gulf War and the United States has demonstrated the willingness to use this weapon. The U.S. should put money into systems which will be utilized instead of a TLAM-N PLS that may forever remain on the shelf.

Thus, due to treaties, developmental costs, and non use, the United States should cancel the TLAM-N PLS project and eliminate nuclear weapon capability from United States attack submarines. The START I and START II Treaties limit the amount and type of nuclear weapons both the United States and Russia can possess. To try and develop a new system to maintain additional nuclear capability in a post Cold War environment of cooperation between many of the world’s most powerful nations would be a waste of resources, both time and money. Special interests must be put aside. Although some may think the development of the TLAM-N PLS is vital to the survival of the United States in the Nuclear Age, the reality is that there are sufficient number and variety of nuclear weapons to accomplish any desired task. Now is the time for the United States Navy and its Submarine Force to do what is right by advocating the cancellation of the TLAM-N PLS and the removal of nuclear weapons from attack submarines.

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