Dr. Sviatov is a retired Captain, P’ Rank, in the Russian Navy.
For the seeable future the United States will continue to need a reliable and flexible nuclear deterrent survivable against the most aggressive attack and highly confident, constitutional command and control. The U.S. Defense Department believes these goals can be achieved at lower force levels and is poised to begin mutual early deactivations, now that the Russian Duma has ratified the ST ART II treaty, and to negotiate further strategic nuclear reductions in a ST ART III context.
Until ST ART II enters into force, the United States will maintain 18 Ohio class ballistic missile nuclear submarines, each carrying 24 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs).
The nation’s SSBN force is a key component of the overall nuclear deterrent posture. It convinces any adversary’s leadership that seeking a nuclear advantage, or even parity, would be futile.
The final 1gm Ohio class SSBN was commissioned in 1997. The first eight submarines carry the Trident I (C-4) missile; the final ten are equipped with the Trident II (D-5) missile. The FY 1999-2000 budgets provided for continued procurement of D-5 missiles to support the conversion of four SSBNs from C-4 to D-5 missile systems. The retrofits will be accomplished during regularly scheduled submarine maintenance periods, beginning in FY 2000.
Under current plans, as ST ART II enters into force, four submarines will be removed from strategic service, leaving 14 SSBNs armed with D-5s. These UGM-96 missiles (weight 130,000 pounds; length 44 feet; diameter 83 inches), capable of carrying eight nuclear warheads with a range of more than 4000 nautical miles, will be consistent with START II limits. No new SSBNs or SLBMs are under development.
The FY 2000 budget also supports Navy planning for a life extension to the D-5 SLBM to match missile life to the recently extended Trident submarine service life of 42 years.
U.S. SLBMs at sea are maintained on continuous alert, but are not targeted at any specific country. The missiles could, however, be returned to their targeting on short notice. The United States maintains two full crews for each SSBN, with about two-thirds of operational SSBNs routinely at sea.
There is a question: what are perspectives of U.S. SSBN development in the next decade? The answer is: the United States will have on 14 Ohio class submarines 336 Trident II (D-5) SLBMs with 2,688 strategic independently targetable nuclear warheads. But what about four other Ohio class submarines and what about modernization of the 14 basic strategic subs?
In December 1997 the congressionally chartered National Defense Panel presented a report Transforming Defense: National Security in the 21st Century in which it suggested that the Navy should look closely at converting one or more of the four Trident SSBNs coming out of strategic service to alternative missions.
The United States Navy has long experience in converting some SSBNs into special forces transport submarines (SAM HOUSTON, JOHN MARSHALL, KAMEHAMEHA, JAMES K. POLK) to carry and land up to 65 troops, such as SEALs. It also has experience in using some SSNs in that role and as land attack Tomahawk cruise missile carriers, with future possibilities to use the Seawolf and Virginia class newest attack submarines in the same role. At the 16″‘ Naval Submarine League Annual Symposium and Business Meeting in June 1998, Electric Boat displayed a model and characteristics of its Trident (SSGN) Conversion Project for four Trident SSBNs which are candidates for early retirement as nuclear strategic systems.
A converted submarine would provide sustained precision land attack strike capability in support of Navy/Marine Corps expeditionary forces engaged in hostile actions with an enemy ashore. It can be a survivable stealth platform that supports, delivers, and retrieves covert special warfare forces well into the 21st century.
As an existing, proven stealth submarine, the Trident SSGN would be capable of launching up to 132 land attack missiles from her 22 missile tubes (two of the tubes would be modified as lockout-lockin chambers for special operations personnel). In addition, some of her 25 torpedo tube-launched weapons can also be anti-land cruise missiles. As presented in this project, each Trident tube can hold six conventional anti-land cruise missiles in Vertical Launch System (VLS) canisters. She would be able to also clandestinely deploy up to 102 Special Operations Forces with their organic swimmer delivery systems.
At a cost of $1.4 billion for the conversion of the four Trident (SSBN) submarines, including refueling, it is a very affordable answer to the Navy’s need to move toward smal1-signature ships capable of providing long range, precision fire power. The SSGN requires no supporting escort or logistic train, can remain on station for long periods during crises, and can be withdrawn without anyone having had knowledge of its presence. Sometimes the U.S. leadership cou1d use her as a deterrent even without her deployment into an area.
Such are pros for conversion of four Ohio class submarines to SSGNs. What are cons?
Number One: The United States has a lot of cruise missile launchers in its existing Anned Forces: 93 B-1, 21 B-2, and 76 B52 bombers, each equipped to carry up to 20 cruise missiles. The majority of the U.S. Navy’s cruisers, destroyers, and attack submarines can carry and launch more than 5,000 anti-land cruise missiles, including more than 1000 from submarines. In addition, there are huge anti-land Navy and Air Force conventional missiles and bomb strike capabilities of the United States and its allies.
Number Two: As always, some alternatives exist to the Ohio class SSGN. One of them is an improved Seawolf class (submerged displacement some 9,500 tons) with eight 533 mm torpedo tubes and 50 inside the pressure-bun weapons and 16 outside the pressure-hull VLS which would allow the loading of up to 66 cruise missiles. Another one is an improved Arleigh Burke class (Flight IIA) destroyer with up to 96 VLS for cruise missiles.
It seems that another direction of future U.S. SSBNs development is more organic and perspective. Generally speaking, it is relevant not only to SLBMs but also to ICBMs. That direction is about the use of strategic ballistic missiles not only with nuclear but also with very accurate and effective conventional warheads for providing not only nuclear but also conventional strategic deterrence and war waging capabilities.
Existing U.S. Ohio class SSBNs, by virtue of their missiles’ range and patrol posture, can deter and destroy a potential aggressor in every region of the world and they are highly survivable. They are also extremely flexible, capable of rapidly retargeting their missiles using secure and reliable communication links.
But in comparison with a strategic bomber and an aircraft carrier’s tactical air capability. they have one very significant deficiency: they could not be used for deterring and waging a major conventional war. In this respect one can raise a question: why does not the U.S. Navy use the design philosophy of the Air Force’s strategic bombers’ or it own tactical aircraft as regards the Ohio class strategic submarines/ that is, in addition to nuclear Trident missiles, why not develop and, if necessary. deploy conventional versions of these missiles?
The underwater Ohio class battleship has a huge strategic weapons payload (up to 1,500 tons) which is many times more than on a strategic bomber and comparable with that of an aircraft carrier. With one conventional super powerful warhead with a deep penetrator or eight conventional independently targetable warheads, the Trident D-5 conventional strategic missile could be a very efficient conventional strategic deterrent and war waging instrument. Using such conventional super long range missiles, SSBNs can effectively participate in deterring and destroying any potential major aggressor in any point of the globe instantaneously. And such missiles could be used not only against land but also against sea-stationary and -moving targets.
Several years ago, the distinguished American statesman and scholar, Paul H. Nitze. in a big Washington Post article, strongly recommended for the United States a concept of strategic conventional deterrence in addition to strategic nuclear deterrence.
Another strategic mission could be conceived for such an underwater battleship. She can be used in an ABM or anti-satellite role and also for launching satellites.
The United States Navy has also considered a Trident D-5 missile in a configuration for carrying a conventional high explosive warhead. This concept has been suggested by the Navy’s Strategic Systems Project Office as a means of striking time sensitive, heavily defended, high value targets.
One very important question arises relating to this idea. Should it be implemented as arming an Ohio class submarine with only conventional D-5 Trident missiles or all such submarines could get both nuclear and conventional capabilities? Both options are available, but it seems that the latter option with mixed nuclear and conventional strategic payload is more productive. For a potential, especially regional, aggressor strategic instantaneous conventional deterrence might be much more convincing than a nuclear capability.
It is very important that arming Ohio class submarines with conventional D-5 Tridents does not require much modification and changing of their operational and organizational procedures. The main job would be to create two models of conventional D-5s: one with a super powerful warhead, and for example, with eight smaller MIRVed warheads. It would be a very cost effective program.
In a recent very sensible USNIP’s article Trident Can Fire More Than Nukes, Captain James H. Patton, Jr. strongly argued for arming SSBNs not only with nuclear but with conventional warheads with the same D-5 boosters.
With such SSBN conventional deterrence and warfighting capabilities, the President of the United States will not necessarily ask “where are my aircraft carriers?” His underwater battleships will be always on patrol and able to strike conventionally at any targets in the globe instantaneously.
Of course, this idea also has its cons. One can say that U.S. strategic bombing B-ls and especially B-2s have such capabilities. That’s correct. But not so instantaneously, with not such big payload and with some vulnerability from a sophisticated enemy’s anti-aircraft defense.
One more pro. It seems that by providing SSBNs with not only war preventing but also conventional war waging capabilities their crews will get some kind of additional sense of usefulness in real contemporary military conflicts, and that will be a supplemental booster in their professional careers.
And one last pro. The Soviets in the 1970s created their SLBM
R-27K (a version of SS-N-6) with nuclear and conventional warheads for Project 667A (Yankee I) SSBN, which was able to strike not only land but also moving sea targets with terminal homing, using the submarine’s fire control system, and space satellites for target acquisition. They tested that system on a specially built Project 605 diesel submarine and planned to implement it on some Project 667A SSBNs.
Until recently the Russians were building in Severodvinsk their new Project 885 YURY DOLGORUKY SSBN. It was possible that she would have had not only nuclear but also conventional RSM52U (SS-NX-28) SLBMs. But in August 1998 Commander in Chief of the Russian Navy, Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kutoedov, announced that the SLBM’s development had been canceled and a new smaller SLBM will be developed for YURY DOLGORUKY on the base of the solid fueled ICBM Topol-M. As a result, the new Russian SSBN delivery date was shifted from 2004 to 2010. But a possibility of arming that new Russian SSBN with not only nuclear but also conventional strategic warheads remains.
In conclusion, it seems that the above mentioned proposals of the U.S. Navy’s Strategic Systems Project Office is absolutely correct. In the beginning of the next century the U.S. can create such a missile without any difficulties and on one of the four SSBNs which will be converted from C-4 to D-5 SLBMs such a nuclear/conventional missile complex could be installed.