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70 its battle group commander, even a ship as powerful as the Nimitz will suddenly seem terribly vulnerable in an ocean as big as the Indian when and if its Tomahawkarmed escort, such as the California, foreground, has been called away without warning to support a strategic mission.
What is Tomahawk, anyway: a strategic or a tactical weapon? Or does it fall in that grey area in between?
Traditionally, the United States has placed its strategic nuclear weapons on platforms reserved specifically for that purpose. In other words, the only mission of strategic weapons firing platforms is deterrence of nuclear war through an ability to launch strategic weapons at an enemy. Furthermore, the weapon and the platform comprise a single nuclear system that is easily recognized as such. The weapon systems in this category comprise the three legs of the strategic triad: missile-firing submarines, land-based Minuteman and Titan missiles, and long-range bombers. This triad has been present since the early 1960s and has proved its usefulness as an effective deterrent.
As it comes time to replace the aging legs of the triad, several things are evident. First of all, the replacement process is going to be very, very expensive. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger estimated the cost of the administration’s plan to upgrade the strategic arsenal at $180 billion.1 A single Trident missile submarine costs between $1 and $2 billion, and the price tag on one new bomber is in the hundreds of millions. These weapon systems have been necessarily kept on the cutting edge of technology, which has made them very expensive and therefore very noticeable in these days of budget consciousness. We Americans pay a high price indeed for strategic protection, and the question, “Is there a less expensive and equally effective way?” is a fair one.
Secondly, the strength of our principal potential enemy’s nuclear arsenal at least equals and perhaps exceeds that of our own, a situation that did not exist until recently. The trends in this area are not encouraging. The SALT process has put some useful limits on the nuclear arms race that have introduced some stability and cost savings for each side (the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty comes most readily to mind), but the future of the SALT process is very murky at this point. These two facts have caused our leaders to place a high urgency on the modernization of our strategic nuclear forces in order to avoid the uncertainties of the future, which are expressed as a “window of vulnerability” in some circles.
At the same time, nuclear strategy seems to be changing. The days of mutual assured destruction and of holding cities hostage are fading. In Presidential Directive #59, issued in Summer 1980, then- President Carter ordered that some amount of our nuclear deterrent force be shifted in targeting from countervalue (cities, industry) to counterforce (military, command and control) targets. This shift was thought necessary in order to give the U. S. President more flexibility in the event of nuclear conflict and seemed to make the idea of limited nuclear war a bit more possible.2 More thought is being given to the sequence of events that would take place after the first exchange of warheads if deterrence fails. These changes, which represent a rethinking of strategic doctrine on the U. S. side, have raised a variety of questions about the length of a nuclear war, the ways in which it could start, the meaning of the word “winner” in the context of nuclear war, the threshold between conventional and nuclear war, and many others. The one overriding question that is asked in light of these other questions is, “How should we best design our strategic forces for a future that is far from certain?”
These factors have caused our military leaders to propose alternatives to the traditional triad. Technology has of course not stood still in this vital area. Several new ideas have come to the forefront in the areas of missile defense, space systems, multiple- basing schemes, missile accuracy, and stealth technology. Although it seems the triad concept will be preserved, it will be made more flexible through the introduction of one or more new systems or technologies. Currently, the most promising of the new systems is the land-attack cruise missile. The cruise missile is an attractive strategic alternative because it can overcome most of the changes in the strategic arena mentioned above. The cruise missile is comparatively inexpensive, flexible in basing and targeting, and effective. It will help blunt the current Soviet momentum in strategic weapons because the Soviets are behind the United States in this type of technology and in defenses against it. Cruise missiles are also attractive because they do not have the speed or the punch necessary to be first-strike weapons, therefore fitting the mold of deterrence the United States likes to stress.
Because the cruise missile has these advantages, it is proposed that it be deployed on a wide range of platforms, some of which have not had a strategic mission in the past. Like many new advances, the
use of the cruise missile creates a dilemma for its users—it presents both opportunities and problems. On the strategic nuclear level, the cruise missile will certainly give the United States advantages and pose defensive problems for the Soviet Union. In the same way, the cruise missile makes the strategic arms equation even more involved, as W. Averell Har- riman, former U. S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, pointed out recently in The Washington Post:
“We are moving to deploy thousands of nucleararmed cruise missiles, by their nature difficult to count because of their small size. These missiles—unverifiable—will make existing agreements to reduce the numbers of nuclear arms obsolete and future agreements impossible. We are allowing the seduction of a momentary technological advantage to foreclose future limits on Soviet forces.”3
For the U. S. Navy, there will be a similar tradeoff of opportunities and problems in connection with its version of the cruise missile called Tomahawk. It is proposed that Tomahawk be used in both strategic and tactical, nuclear and conventional, and antiship and land-attack missions. Platforms such as attack submarines and surface ships will have a very versatile and effective weapon in Tomahawk. Again, this situation has its obvious advantages such as diversification of offensive power among platforms, long-range antishipping potential, and the ability to suppress air attack on the fleet by using this weapon against enemy air bases. The Navy’s role in strategic deterrence will also expand through the use of Tomahawk, as was announced recently by the administration in its strategic force modernization plan.
The Navy’s use of Tomahawk also has some potential problems associated with it. These problems center around the myriad uses proposed for Tomahawk, the fact that this missile has a high potential for deployment on a wide variety of platforms, and the fact that the missiles cannot be told apart as they wait for use in totally different missions. This essay will focus on these implications raised by the Tomahawk cruise missile.
Current Tomahawk Deployment Plans: It is useful to examine the current deployment plans for the Tomahawk system. The Navy plans to procure 4,000 missiles, using 2,600 launchers, to arm 150 naval combatants.4 Tomahawk is not currently scheduled for use with Navy aircraft, although this remains a future option.
Three basic versions of the missile will be deployed. The first is the antishipping version that will carry a conventional high-explosive warhead out to approximately 250 miles.5 This version will be launched from surface combatants and attack submarines and will be operational this year. The second version is a conventional land-attack derivative
with a 500- to 600-mile range and a 1,000-pound warhead.6 This version will also be carried by ships and submarines. The third version of Tomahawk is a nuclear land-attack missile with a 1,350-mile range and a payload in the area of 200 kilotons.7 This ver- ' sion will be carried on attack submarines and possibly on other ship types as well. The administration plans to put this last version on existing attack submarines for use as a “strategic reserve” to complement the current triad beginning in 1984.8 Plans exist to extend the range of the conventional land-attack version to 1,000 miles sometime in the future through the fitting of a new engine.9 .
The following chart shows platform level detail on the current deployment plans:10
Number of Missiles
armored box, later vertical
(starting with fiscal
The presence of a Tomahawk missile on a surface ship complicates the Soviets’ battle problem, as well as creating SALT verification problems, because the missile’s three versions—antiship, conventional land-attack, and nuclear land-attack—look alike.
The types of missiles to be carried could be a mix of the three types mentioned depending on the unit’s mission. The possible targets of these missiles would include enemy shipping, airfields, command and control centers, shipyards, industrial areas, other military targets, and population centers.
Tomahawk and the Strategic Tactical Threshold: One of the major problems Tomahawk presents is it is difficult to place in either the strategic or tactical weapon category. In this case, the word tactical means use on the battlefield against enemy battle units, and the word strategic means use against the enemy’s homeland, industrial base, or population in the context of all-out war. In its antishipping mode, Tomahawk is certainly tactical, and in its role as a reserve additive to the triad, it is certainly strategic. In its conventional or nuclear land-attack mode, however, Tomahawk lies between these two definitionally safe extremes in a rather grey area. International Defense Review, in its March 1979 issue, points out the danger of so-called grey-area weapons when speaking of cruise missiles:
“Grey area weapons have the inherent capability to perform theatre and intercontinental missions effectively. Some analysts believe that such weapons are eroding the distinction between strategic and tactical weapons and may eventually blur the threshold between nuclear and conventional weapons.”"
The danger in losing these two important distinctions is that there is a loss of certainty as to what the other side’s response would be if a cruise missile is fired at one of their installations that falls in the grey area between a tactical and strategic target. This is especially true of the nuclear-armed Tomahawk which, in many of its envisioned missions, would tend to erode the firebreak between tactical and strategic use of nuclear weapons as it is deployed for possible use against land targets that are not clearly either tactical or strategic. The problem becomes even more acute if nuclear Tomahawks are dispersed among many tactical platforms. We may tend to see these Tomahawks as tactical weapons because of their deployment, but our opponents may see them as strategic weapons because of their potential use against installations and territory. A miscalculation by one side or a misperception by the other can rapidly lead up the escalation ladder and involve the world in the type of war that everyone dreads and that these weapons are supposed to deter—an intercontinental nuclear exchange.
Tomahawk has a great deal of use for these grey- area targets. Perhaps some examples will be useful. How would the Soviets respond to a nuclear Tomahawk attack on an airfield within the Soviet Union? There seems to be more than a chance they would consider it a strategic nuclear attack requiring a strategic response even if the attack was conducted by a destroyer firing a Tomahawk at a military target.12 The shades of grey are infinite, so how would the Soviets respond to a conventional Tomahawk attack of the same type on their territory? How would they respond to a conventional or nuclear attack by Tomahawk on a Soviet base in a client nation? Can we be sure that any of these actions would not push escalation to the point of extreme danger? Are we willing to accept higher consequences in the form of escalation for actions we may consider tactical? Could this cause us to be reluctant to use Tomahawk in.attacks against land targets?
These problems are, of course, compounded by the fact that the weapon looks the same no matter what its mission, no matter what its payload. Thus, every unit that carries Tomahawk in any of its versions must be viewed as a strategic threat whether it is or not. In its proposed form, Tomahawk can reach several very important military and industrial centers of the Soviet Union from the Pacific, Mediterranean, Baltic, and Norwegian seas. A destroyer with eight antiship Tomahawks could be considered a strategic threat because those missiles could just as easily be 200-kiloton nuclear weapons. Do we want to muddy the relative simplicity of the strategic nuclear picture in this way? Do we want to increase the Soviet paranoia about defense of their homeland with ambiguous Tomahawk missile loadouts? When the Soviets eventually obtain and deploy this type of technology, do we want to be faced with a similar problem along our long and vulnerable coasts?
Stability and clarity of purpose are of course the keys to safety in the strategic nuclear arena. Intention and perception are vitally important. “Deterrence requires stability.”13 Thought must be given to the effect various deployment plans for nuclear land-attack Tomahawks would have on the threshold between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons use to ensure overall deterrence is made more, not less, credible. It seems Tomahawk may create a great deal of strategic nuclear instability unless it is handled carefully and deployed deliberately with these considerations in mind.
Tomahawk and Strategic Anns Verification: The arms limitation process seems to have picked up momentum of late, as the theater talks are under way in Geneva and President Reagan recently announced his willingness to begin strategic arms talks with the Soviets during 1982.14 As Ambassador Har- riman’s statement at the beginning of this paper indicated, the cruise missile issue is a very pivotal one in these negotiations and represents a major stumbling block for the negotiators.
The major problems with the Tomahawk in this regard are that it is already planned for use as a strategic nuclear weapon and as a multipurpose tactical weapon, and that it is indistinguishable in form by mission. These factors make any limits on nuclear Tomahawk unverifiable using present methods, even though it is bound to be the subject of a great deal of attention in these arms talks because it represents a new technology in which one side has a decided advantage. The difficulties posed by this issue may hinder progress in other important areas of the negotiations.
President Reagan, in a recent proposal to the Soviet Union on nuclear arms control, summed up U. S. policy toward verification in the following words, “Our approach to verification will emphasize openness and creativity—rather than the secrecy and suspicion which have undermined arms control in the past.”15 The deployment of nucleararmed Tomahawks on a variety of tactically oriented surface and subsurface units does not seem to hold to the spirit of the President’s approach to verification. In its present form, the proposed deployment scheme for Tomahawk is actually a move away from
“openness and creativity” in verification because it extremely complicates the verification process.
In the SALT II negotiations, an attempt was made to address the cruise missile issue in a protocol to the treaty. This protocol remained unratified and would have expired at the end of 1981 in any case. The protocol contained range limits on air-launched and surface-launched cruise missiles and regarded B-52 bombers carrying cruise missiles as MIRVed launchers. Even though this treaty was not ratified, several precedents were set in SALT II in the areas of cruise missile range and launcher systems that could prove difficult for the United States to overcome in the next round of negotiations.
Once again, in the arms negotiation arena, Tomahawk causes us to sacrifice some stability in the strategic nuclear area for some versatility in the tactical and in-between areas. However, if the deployment of Tomahawk is managed with an eye toward arms limitations agreements, it might be easier for our arms negotiators to overcome some of the pitfalls of the cruise missile question on their way to a new, comprehensive agreement.
Tomahawk and Mission Trade-offs: With the deployment of Tomahawk, traditional tactical platforms may take on a strategic role in addition to their tactical roles in support of the triad. As has been mentioned, this is already in the works for attack submarines and may be in the offing for other types of ships as well. This new role for certain units must be weighed carefully to ensure that the mission trade-offs caused are not excessive.
The United States is already short of ships to perform the sea control, choke point, and escort functions. To divert assets from these functions on a full- or part-time basis may not be justified. Taking submarines, cruisers, and destroyers away from previously assigned tasks to move them to a launch area to await orders may be serious enough, but considering they will be in a more exposed position without task force defense in an area closer to the enemy’s shore, the risks seem excessive for the few cruise missiles they may be able to deliver.16 Imagine the situation of a battle group commander who knows he may lose the services of several of his
While tests such as those conducted with an A-6, left, indicate its feasibility, Tomahawk is not yet scheduled for use with naval aircraft. Submarines, such as the Guitarro (SSN-665), below, can carry Tomahawks in place of torpedoes. Whether they carry nuclear land-attack Tomahawks must still be decided.
most valuable escorts or of his direct support submarine to an unknown strategic mission at an unknown time. His already difficult resource allocation problem would be made more complicated if he knows he would not be able to count on the presence of some of his most valuable ships at critical times.
There would also be a magazine loadout problem in certain ships if they were asked to be ready for too many different roles. A high utility weapon such as an antiship Tomahawk may have to be left behind to make room for a nuclear Tomahawk that has a very low probability of use. In some ships, the tradeoff would be among Harpoons, ASROCs, or antiair warfare missiles and nuclear Tomahawks. In our current fleet of attack submarines, the trade-off may even involve some of their torpedoes. This situation will be somewhat alleviated but not completely solved with the fixing of vertical launch missile systems in our ships. These weapons load trade-offs may make these ships marginally ready for any mission but not adequately ready for their primary mission.
Conclusions and Recommendations: Tomahawk is an excellent weapon for the Navy both from the
strategic and tactical viewpoints. In each of these roles, it expands our nation’s ability to deter war through strength. On the strategic side, the weapon overcomes many of the recent complicating factors that have come into the strategic picture, while on the tactical side, it gives our ships and submarines long-range offensive punch.
Tomahawk’s major problem is that it pushes us where we may not want to go in grey-area warfare— warfare that is not clearly either tactical or strategic. The deployment of Tomahawk may blur the threshold between conventional and nuclear warfare to a degree that is incompatible with strategic stability. The deployment of Tomahawk will most certainly complicate the strategic arms talks and will lead to possibly unwelcome mission trade-offs for particular units.
The Navy can use the benefits of Tomahawk to increase the nation’s security if the weapon is deployed with an effort to minimize these complications. I recommend the following steps:
► The nuclear land-attack version of Tomahawk should be deployed only on vessels that already have or will have exclusively a mission of deterrence of nuclear war. It could be deployed as a strategic reserve on existing ballistic missile submarines for use after they fire their Trident missiles in the unwelcome event of a nuclear war. These ships currently have only a limited mission after their main battery of missiles is fired; with nuclear Tomahawk on board, they could move from their initial firing positions to areas where they could deploy Tomahawks and serve as a survivable reserve. Current nuclear-powered attack submarines could be refitted with Tomahawk exclusively and serve as a strategic reserve as they reach the end of their useful lives as attack submarines. With some type of service life extension program, these ships could be adapted to the much less demanding (in terms of ship wear and tear) mission of a strategic reserve force carrying nuclear cruise missiles. Alternately, a new class of cruise- missile-firing submarines or surface ships could be built. The Los Angeles (SSN-688)-class submarines that are programmed for construction with vertical launchers would be ideal for this role. If some of these ships could be designated as cruise-missile- dedicated platforms, the number of missiles to be carried could be increased to the point where these ships could be cost-effective in this role. If at some time it were deemed necessary to take on a grey- area target with a nuclear Tomahawk, one of these ships could be called on to perform the mission.
►The antishipping and conventional land-attack versions of Tomahawk should be deployed on submarines, battleships, and surface combatants in large numbers because this weapon is very effective in these roles and may even be able to free attack aircraft for other missions. With the nuclear version of Tomahawk segregated to other types of units, the units that carry conventional Tomahawk could carry more weapons, would not be viewed as a strategic nuclear threat/target, and would be free of possible mission conflicts.
►The range of both the nuclear and conventional land-attack versions of Tomahawk should be increased to 2,500 miles. This action would give the more detectable Tomahawk units, such as surface ships and converted submarines, more sea room for protection in both the dedicated nuclear-armed and conventional roles.
► Once deployment is segregated in platform and in mission by confining the nuclear-armed Tomahawk to strategic weapons platforms, make this point clear to both friend and foe to preclude misunderstanding. This would uncomplicate the verification issue perhaps to the point of manageability. Allies may also be relieved to know that ships that regularly operate with their forces and call in their ports are not carrying weapons which could be considered part ot the strategic nuclear equation. This last point would be beneficial in light of the recent antinuclear protests in various parts of the world.
If the Navy can resist the temptation to make all combatant platforms nuclear land-attack capable, it will be able to utilize Tomahawk effectively in both its strategic nuclear role and in its versatile conventional role without causing unacceptable ambiguity in the strategic nuclear arena. All ot these weapons, both nuclear and conventional, are designed to deter war, but if we press Tomahawk too hard into the grey area, we may be buying more instability and less utility—at our peril.
'Benjamin F. Schemmer, “Reagan Okays M-X, New Bomber Force. C3 Improvements; Defers M-X Basing,” Armed Forces Journal, November
1981. p. 32. ' . u XI
-Lynn E Davis. "Limited Nuclear Options: Deterrence and the New
American Doctrine." Adelphi Papers. #121. published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, p. I.
JW. Avercll Harriman. "The Window of Opportunity," Washington Post. 4 November 1981. p. A-25.
d“Service Sets Top Priority on 150 Offensive Ships," Aviation Week and Space Technology. 31 August 1981, p. 59.
7H. Lucas, "U. S. Cruise Missile Progress." International Defense Review. vol. II. no. 7. 1978, p. 1.039.
“Schemmer, Armed Forces Journal, p. 26.
‘'"Second-Source Contract Expected on TOMAHAWK." Aviation Week and Space Technology, 31 August 1981. p. 63.
"'"Service Sets Top Priority . . . ," Aviation Week and Space Technology, p. 59.
"“U. S. Strategic Weapons Developments and the Implications of SALT." International Defense Review, vol. 12, no. 3, 1979, p. 371. "Capt. Linton F. Brooks. USN. in remarks to a Naval War College seminar. Fall 1981.
"Harold Brown. Secretary of Defense, in a speech at the Naval War College. 20 August 1980.
"President Ronald Reagan, in a speech to the National Press Club. 18 November 1981. as reprinted in the Washington Post. 19 November 1981. pp. A-4-5.
I6"U. S. Strategic Weapons . . . ." International Defense Review, p. 370.
Lieutenant Johnson graduated from the Naval Academy in 1976 and has served as a communications officer and navigator in the USS John Young (DD-973). He is currently assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and serves as a computer forecasting specialist in the Enlisted Personnel Branch. Lieutenant Johnson has a master’s degree in international relations from the University of San Diego and is currently enrolled in the Naval War College off-campus program in Washington, D.C.
______________________________ _Short Range Bomber--------------------------------------------------
Back in the good old days, every carrier air group had an aircraft flight demonstration program, complete with flight schedule, weapons loading list, and the planned sequence of events. Once carefully rehearsed and all the bugs worked out, it needed only to have the pilots’ names plugged into the flight schedule, the planes loaded up, and the show was ready to be performed whenever the carrier was visited by a group of distinguished visitors.
The jets made high speed passes and fired missiles, the bombers dropped bombs and fired rockets, and the whole thing was most impressive. Most every air gioup also had a com mentator, usually an intelligent lieutenant junior grade with a good voice, who delivered the play-by-play over the 1-MC, according to a prepared script which explained the flight demo.
This particular carrier was running her flight demo one day otf the East Coast for the combined amazement of the tri-service student body of the National War College. Unfortunately, the commentator was stationed in Pri-Fly, just aft of the Air Boss, where he had a good view of all the activities on the flight deck, but could see nothing at all dead ahead of the ship. After all the jets were launched, he continued the commentary from the prepared script in deep, resonant tones:
“And last, but not least, we have the AD Skyraider, loaded with three 2,000-pound bombs, two 1,000-pound bombs, and four 500-pound bombs, using a running deck takeoff, rather than the stream catapult. This single-engine, single-piloted aircraft can carry a bomb load greater than that normally carried in World War II by the four-engined B-17 Flying Fortress.
At that point, the old Spad roared down the flight deck and heaved itself off the bow. Seconds later, its engine cut out, and the pilot jettisoned the whole load about 200 yards dead ahead of the ship!
Unaware of what had happened up ahead, the commentator continued in his most pearshaped tones, “But, of course, not as far!”
Captain A. H. Vito, Jr., USN (Retired)