Why Converted Trident Submarines Will Not Unleash an Unintended Nuclear War
Headline in The Nation (Hat tip: The Sub Report) Could This Unleash an Unintended Nuclear War?
The Pentagon would spend $503 million toward converting 24 Trident missiles (now armed with nuclear warheads) into conventional warhead missiles.
Anonymous Defense officials (ed. Air Force suspected), "acknowledge a major risk is that other nations could conceivably misinterpret a conventional missile attack as a nuclear strike." Democrats, including Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), have opposed similar modifications in past years.
M.E.'s Casual Analysis:
With ICBMs there could be inherent drawbacks to conventional use, since they must inevitably flyover say Russia or China. But using land based ICBMs would give up two, critical advantages: #1- speed (shorter distances to targets); and #2- surprise (faster response from submarines on patrol in seas near potential targets).
M.E.'s Sober Analysis:
While anything is possible, countries currently capable of detecting SLBM launches (satellites required unlike silo monitoring), misinterpreting trajectories that do not intersect their shores and responding erroneously with nuclear action do not include (yet) rogue states. Those that might have mutual defense treaties with a rogue state would react to the Pentagon's conventional missile conversion plan by revising such treaties, or pausing judiciously.
Another advantage of the conversion program is that the Marines want it. DoD Defends New Sub-Launched Missiles Gen. James Cartwright, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, is expected to pitch the idea in March 16 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The conventional Trident missile would be capable of hitting a fleeting target -- such as an enemy nuclear weapon being prepared for launch or terrorist leaders in an underground facility -- without using a nuclear warhead that runs a higher risk of killing innocent civilians nearby, according to a senior defense official.
The submarine-launched missile is expected to have a flight time of just 12 to 24 minutes and could hit targets up to 6,000 miles away with an accuracy of 10 yards, said the senior official, who spoke on condition of not being named.
The Navy would modify its D-5 missile with alternative, conventional warheads: a standard “slug” to penetrate bunkered targets and a “flechette” to destroy larger, surface targets.
Super! I Support our Marines, how about you, Senator McCain?