The U.S. Navy's strategic submarines such as USS Alaska (SSBN-732) have patrolled the world's international waters for nearly half a century. Now they have been slated for an additional mission—deployment of strategic conventional ballistic missiles to address a diverse set of threats on short notice.
With rogue states and terrorists bent on aggression populating the global landscape, what can be done to ensure rapid worldwide target coverage, given the Navy's reduced force structure? One answer is to modify existing weapon systems that already have the mobility, range, reliability, persistence, and responsiveness needed to address these types of threats.
The Trident fleet ballistic missile is one such system. It has the basic capabilities, range, and speed needed to address the challenges of today's global security environment and can be modified to support new missions that require rapid response and precision accuracy when a nuclear response is inappropriate. Because of this, a much-needed prompt global strike capability can be added to our strategic arsenal—without the risk, expense, and time required for the development and fielding of a major new weapon system.
As part of the new U.S. strategic triad, the Trident ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) can continue their crucial peace-keeping nuclear mission while taking on an additional non-nuclear role. Most of the missile tubes on these submarines could continue to carry the nuclear Trident II D-5s, and a few tubes could carry D-5 missiles with non-nuclear warheads to be developed and fielded in the near future under the Conventional Trident Modification (CTM) program.
While complementing the deterrent role of the nuclear D-5s, the CTM program will be an evolutionary step in deterrence strategy away from complete dependence on nuclear weapons. Make no mistake though: nuclear weapons continue to have a critical place in our national security posture. They provide credible military strike options to deter a range of threats, including a potential adversary's nuclear arsenal.
The capability to carry a combination of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons will make the Trident D-5 a multi-faceted deterrent and potential first responder. Non-nuclear precision strike capability will give our national leaders and combatant commanders prompt, effective response options that minimize collateral damage on a target and the surrounding area while achieving the objective of defeating the particular threat. Aggressors will be deterred by a capability that can reach out and engage them anywhere on the globe. The conventional Trident missiles deployed on SSBNs will have the same reach, mobility, stealth, and speed as their nuclear counterparts—plus the added capability of near-GPS precision—to deter and defeat a range of threats on very short notice.