JUST IN: Plans for Low-Yield Sea-Launched Nukes Moving Forward

By Yasmin Tadjdeh
USS Maryland, a Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine

Photo: Navy

Plans to acquire sea-launched cruise missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles armed with low-yield nuclear weapons are moving forward, said the undersecretary of defense for policy Dec. 4.

The controversial weapons — which many Democrats oppose — were called for in the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review that was released in February 2018.

As part of the review, the administration said there needs to be an increased focus on refurbishing the nation’s nuclear triad, which is made up of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, long-range bombers and ballistic missile submarines.

In addition, there is also a need for supplementary capabilities, said John Rood during a breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington, D.C. These include sea-launched cruise missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles both armed with low-yield nuclear weapons.

The ballistic missile effort — which utilizes an existing submarine-launched ballistic missile, the D5, and would feature an existing warhead that is modified to be low-yield — is “going well,” he noted.

As for “the submarine-launched cruise missile, we are not as advanced in the development of that,” Rood said. “That's still going through an analysis of alternatives and other work.”

The United States has had low-yield nuclear weapons in its arsenal for decades, but those systems have been air-delivered, he noted.

However, based on threats from great power competitors such as Russia and China, there is a need for more delivery options, Rood said.

The United States and countries like Russia and China have been moving in opposite directions, he said. “The United States [has been] reducing our reliance on nuclear weapons, reducing the size of our nuclear stockpile.”

At the same time, both Moscow and Beijing have been increasing their reliance on nuclear weapons, the number of systems, and the types of weapons and delivery vehicles as well, he added.

“The whole point of having a robust, capable nuclear arsenal is to deter behavior by others and aggressive action,” Rood said. “In order to restore deterrence where we thought it might be becoming weaker than we like, we have asked for these supplementary capabilities in order to send a signal that we have a variety of means that are more survivable than the existing low-yield nuclear weapons aboard aircraft," he said.

That would result in an ability across the spectrum of potential conflict to deter and, if necessary, respond to nuclear use against the United States or its allies, he added.

Critics of the weapons have said that the systems are too expensive, but Rood quoted formed Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis who said, “the nation can afford survival.”

“Nuclear deterrence is critical to our future and being able to defend against and deter potential adversaries,” he added.

Meanwhile, Rood also discussed Turkey’s removal from the F-35 joint strike fighter program, noting that there is a path forward for its re-entrance should Ankara forgo the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system, which it received over the summer.

“We've been very clear about our concerns about Turkey continuing to proceed with the S-400 integration in their forces,” he said. “Of course, these are sovereign decisions and we respect the ability of the Turkish government to make sovereign decisions about its future. Nonetheless, those sovereign decisions have consequences and we are very concerned about the continued pursuit of that.”

There have been many conversations between President Donald Trump, members of Congress and senior NATO leaders with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he noted.

“We haven't given up on the issue and it's something that we remain engaged with the Turks, with the aim of persuading them to pursue another path,” he said.

“There’s an old proverb, ‘No matter how far you've gone down a wrong road, it's never too late to turn back.’” To that end, the United States is continuing to work with Ankara in hopes of a positive outcome, he said.

Topics: Bomb and Warhead

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