Pentagon arms subs with tactical nukes strengthening deterrence

by WorldTribune Staff, February 9, 2020

The United States has deployed its first new nuclear weapon in decades, the Pentagon has confirmed.

The new weapon, the W76-2, is a low-yield variant of the nuclear warhead traditionally used on the Trident missile.

An unarmed Trident II D5 missile launches from the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Nebraska off the coast of California. / U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ronald Gutridge

Navy officials confirmed the submarine-launched warhead has been deployed, saying it is a key component of the Trump administration’s strategy of deterrence.

The first U.S. warship to field the new weapon was reportedly the USS Tennessee, which deployed from Kings Bay Submarine Base in Georgia at the end of 2019.

The U.S. Defense Department said the W76-2 low-yield weapon, outlined in the administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, proves that the U.S. is maintaining an undeniable nuclear edge over Russia and all other rivals.

“In the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the department identified the requirement to ‘modify a small number of submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads’ to address the conclusion that potential adversaries, like Russia, believe that employment of low-yield nuclear weapons will give them an advantage over the United States and its allies and partners,” Undersecretary of Defense John C. Rood said in a statement.

“This supplemental capability strengthens deterrence and provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon; supports our commitment to extended deterrence; and demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario,” Rood said.

House Democrats tried to block the missile’s deployment in the 2020 defense authorization bill, but they were stopped by the White House and the Republican-controlled Senate.

“There is no such thing as a low-yield nuclear weapon,” tweeted Rep. Ruben Gallego, Arizona Democrat. “Either it’s a nuclear weapon or not. There is no use of this weapon that does not lead [to] nuclear war.”

Writing for Defense News, analyst Aaron Mehta noted that “Proponents of the system believe the U.S. needs another low-yield nuclear option in order to credibly counter Russia, which has invested heavily in a variety of nuclear systems in the last decade. Defense officials believe Moscow would potentially use a smaller nuclear weapon in order to deter America from entering or extending a conflict, under the “escalate to deescalate” doctrine; if the U.S. only has larger strategic weapons to retaliate with, it may hesitate, the thinking goes.”

Mehta added: “Opponents of the weapon question whether that doctrine is realistic, and also argue that no nuclear system can truly be non-strategic. Specific to the W76-2, members of the nonproliferation community have raised concerns that having a low-yield and high-yield warhead launched on the same submarine-launched missile creates a situation where an adversary doesn’t know which system is being used and therefore reacts as if the larger warhead has been launched.”


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