Leadership: Tridents Against Terror


June 19, 2006: The U.S. Department of Defense is trying, without much success, to get Congress to put half a billion dollars to build several dozen conventional warheads for its Trident, submarine launched ballistic missiles. The twelve American ballistic missile subs (SSBNs) would have two of their 24 missiles equipped with conventional, rather than nuclear, warheads. That would enable your $31 million Trident missile, equipped with its new, $14 million conventional warhead, to deliver the equivalent of a 2,000 pound JDAM anywhere on the planet, within 60 minutes. There are two problems with this. First, is there really enough potential need to justify spending that kind of money? Second, you have to set up a "hot line" to nations that have ballistic missiles aimed at us (Russia, definitely, probably China, and maybe France) to quickly warn them that the SSBN missile launch, their early warning systems just picked up, is not the beginning of a attack on them. Without this hot-line treatment, those other nuclear powers might let their paranoia get the best of them, and fire their own nukes at us.

The U.S. Navy is touting the non-nuclear Trident warhead as a useful tool in the war on terror. So far, they have not made an interesting case. Note that hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on SSBNs over the last half century, and none of these ships has ever fired any kind of shot in anger. For that we can all be grateful, but it does appear that the SSBN guys are getting a bit antsy.


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