In the wake of February’s release of the Department of Defense’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the Navy must undertake tough reflections on its nuclear identity. Specifically, the NPR recommends augmenting the nuclear arsenal with low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) as well as nuclear-armed submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs). To understand the potential impact of these and other tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) requires a look at their history—to evaluate how the United States has attempted to use technological developments to offset adversaries’ perceived advantages—and knowledge of how TNWs repeatedly have challenged the critical balance between nuclear and conventional forces. An understanding of how potential adversaries can use TNWs disruptively can help identify ways the United States can enhance its own TNW capabilities to improve both deterrence-by-denial and management of the ladder of escalation. Before developing new TNWs, however, the Navy must comprehend fully the consequences of such a course.
Tactical Nuclear Weapons Are Back
By Lieutenant (J.G.) Andrea Howard, U.S. Navy
The United States and the Navy need to make changes to confront the threat.