Sunday, October 25, 2015

Keep the Conventional Mission Separate from the Nuclear Mission

Let's keep our sea-based nuclear deterrent separate from our navy conventional warfighting capability.

This article says that China fears our 4 cruise missile submarines. How do we maintain that fear after the Ohio class hulls must be taken out of service?

The U.S. Navy is working on developing a new ballistic missile submarine to replace the service’s current Ohio-class boomers, but should the Navy build some of those vessels as cruise missile carriers?

The Navy should consider building additional Ohio Replacement Program (OPR) submarines to serve as cruise missile carriers. Or alternatively, the Navy should design the twelve planned boomers so that those vessels can accept the current seven-shot Multiple-All-Up-Round Canisters (MACs) found on the first four Ohio-class boats that were converted into guided missile submarines (SSGNs). That should not be a huge technical challenge because the OPR is being designed to use the same Trident II D5 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) as the Ohios.

Yes, our SSGNs are fearsome weapons. We popped up 3 at once from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to Subic Bay in the Philippines to Pusan, South Korea. Which China noticed.

But we should not in any case mix cruise missiles meant for conventional missions with our strategic nuclear deterrent force by putting MACs in a replacement for our nuclear missile submarines (SSBNs).

One, missiles coming from  our SSBNs will really spook enemies who might wrongly believe we have initiated a nuclear strike. If we're lucky they wait for impact to confirm whether we've initiated nuclear war.

If they launch on warning instead, we just provoked a nuclear war.

Two, with only 12 planned SSBNs, with probably up to half at sea at any one time, why would we broadcast the location of our nuclear deterrent by launching cruise missiles? SSBNs spend their time being quiet and unseen so they don't get destroyed. They are really designed not to be used--ever. They deter nuclear war. Why make the enemy's job of destroying our nuclear weapons easier?

Three, why would we erase the line between conventional and nuclear forces? Right now, there is incentive for both sides not to target nuclear systems lest it look like one side is trying to achieve a rolling preemptive strike capability by eroding enemy nuclear forces.

If our most survivable nuclear deterrent is also a conventional force, we make the SSBNs legitimate targets in a conventional campaign.

I'm not even terribly on board building cruise missile subs as part of the Ohio replacement program. Sure, the four SSGNs in the fleet now are nice to have. But they used already built platforms that otherwise would have just been retired.

Far better to have those MACs--the Virginia Payload Module (VPM)--in our conventional warfare SSNs, as the Virginia class subs are scheduled to have; cruise missile equipped-long range bombers; and surface vessels, too.

In a network-centric naval world where we can concentrate effort without concentrating platforms, it is better to distribute  firepower than to put them in a small number of baskets.

And for God's sake, don't mix up our conventional warfighting capabilities with our nuclear deterrence capability.