Pentagon builds new low-yield nuclear warhead for submarine launch

An unarmed Trident II D5 missile launches from the Ohio-class fleet ballistic missile submarine Maryland, on the coast of Florida. The US is looking for a low-yield warhead for the Trident.
(John Kowalski/U. S. Navy)

The Pentagon is pursuing changes to the existing Trident II D5 submarine-launched, nuclear-armed ballistic missiles as part of a broader strategic effort to engineer a new “low-yield” head – in accordance with the DoD Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).

The NPR, which last year by the Trumpet of the administration and the Pentagon, calls for the addition of a new low-yield nuclear weapons to the atmosphere of the deterrence options available to the AMERICAN commanders.

“The changes to a small number of submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) to a low return option and the pursuit of a modern nuclear-armed Sea-Launched Cruise Missile will provide for more diversity in the platforms, the range and survivability, and provide a valuable hedge against future nuclear “break-out” scenarios,” Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael told Warrior Maven.

A senior Navy official told Warrior that the adjustments relate to the manufacture of a new return body or “warhead” for the missile.

“As it currently stands, the Trident can carry the W76-1, W88. ‘If’ there was a low return option, it would be a third type of warhead on the rocket ‘could’ wear,” the official said.

Developers explain that a new, lower yield and return bodies, in accordance with the intended operational function of the Trident II D5, a, in the singular — but crucial– purpose.

“Unlike the fast attack submarines, multi-mission, the SSBN (nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine) has a goal – to make the Trident II D5. The Trident II D5 is also one purpose. While the wearing of different types of return organs (W76s & W88s), it has a single purpose – strategic nuclear deterrence with assured second strike capability. It is not tactical. It is not conventional. So the only purpose, that is the rocket, is the conduct of reentry bodies,” John Daniels, Public Affairs Officer for the Navy, Strategic Systems Programs, told Warrior Maven

For years, senior Navy and Pentagon leaders have talked about the “Sea Leg” of the nuclear triad meant to prevent catastrophic nuclear war. It hinges on what might be called a paradox; weapons of enormous destructive power – is capable of killing millions of people — are designed to keep the peace.” In fact, an Air Force 3-Star hotel in the cost of building new icbms told Warrior Maven in an earlier interview that, since the beginning of the nuclear age, there is no question of “large” power warfare, that the world saw in the second world WAR.

Therefore, this apparent contradiction is to define the existence of nuclear weapons – is the saving of lives. The submarine part of the total nuclear triad consisting of land-fired icbm’s, air-launched nuclear weapons, and sea-launched ballistic missiles — is essential at a second strike. In the case that the ground and/or air nuclear weapons were damaged or destroyed by a catastrophic first-strike nuclear attack, sea-launched nuclear-armed missiles would ensure the total destruction of the attackers. This, according to the strategic deterrence strategy only prevents nuclear war from ever starting.

TRIDENT II D5 In 2040s

Possible adjustments to engineer a low yield and an option for the Trident’s warhead would probably be too long, given the current Navy plan for the rocket.

The Navy has worked with Lockheed on a Trident II D5 life-extension program aims to ensure the weapon can serve well into the 2040s.

A new life-extended variant, called the Trident II D5LE, was installed for the first time in 2017, the armament of the fleet with an enhanced weapon, according to a Navy fact sheet. The three-stage missile can travel a nominal range of 4000 nautical miles and carry multiple independently targeted return bodies, according to the Navy and the Lockheed information.

In the past few years, the Navy is working with Lockheed on some of the most important technical upgrades to both modernize and maintain the nuclear weapon. Some of these are ongoing, and others have made sufficient progress, laying the foundation for the next phase, the continuation of the efforts, Navy officials told Warrior.

This has included work on the missile’s Mk 6 guidance system, with a specific focus on the weapon of the electronic modules, Navy developers have said.

Hans Kristensen, Nuclear Information Project of the Federation of American Scientists, told the Warrior Maven that the D5LE variant increases the precision and targeting with the help of the two stars for navigation — instead of one. “This provides more flexibility with regard to the submarine’s precise position,” Kristensen said.

Also, as mentioned by Michaels, the Pentagon, NPR also calls for a nuclear-armed Sea-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM). Cruise missiles can fly closer to the surface on more of a linear trajectory and may work in closer proximity to the attacking submarine. This, by design, can offer a lower yield, more precise nuclear strikes, they have to be ordered.

It is interesting that historians declare that the Navy’s Tomahawk-missile on a point armed with a nuclear weapon – and senior Marine leaders have specifically against the Congress of the service is exploring options to make the arm of the Virginia-class attack submarines with nuclear weapons.

Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Congress last year that the NPR plan to develop new, lower-yield nuclear weapons is specifically aimed at addressing Russia’s violation of the INF treaty. Michaels confirmed this:

“The SLCM will also provide for an arms control-compatible response to Russia’s non-compliance with the INF Treaty, its non-strategic nuclear arsenal, and other disruptive behavior,” said Michaels.

Some members of Congress have raised the question of whether the introduction of a lower yield of the nuclear weapons, can both stimulate a new arms race and reduce the threshold to a nuclear war. Senior Pentagon weapons developers have always stressed that the plan is intended to achieve the reverse effect, and function instead as a crucial new layer of necessary deterrence.

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