For decades its nuclear capability has anchored U.S. defense policy and held nuclear-armed potential enemies at risk. Adding conventional weapons to the SSBN's payload would increase its deterrent effect against lower-scale conventional threats.
After the terrorist attacks of 11 September, the U.S. response against forces in Afghanistan has been swift. Victory over the Taliban is certain, but deterrence, rather than retaliation, remains our nation's preferred military option. To deter the full scope of direct attacks against the United States, the mission and capabilities of our strategic forces must be broadened.
The "ready shooter" best suited for an expanded deterrence and counterstrike mission is the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), the powerful sea-- based component of our strategic triad. While maintaining the nuclear capability that anchors U.S. defense policy, we should broaden the SSBN's missile payload to include a mix of nuclear and nonnuclear weapons. Such a force with a broader range of counterstrike weapons could improve deterrence for all direct attacks against the United States.