Leaving aside criticism of President Trump’s decision to leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) as insincere, the question remains: What will the U.S. do to provide capable deterrence to Russia? The answer to that lies in forces that are already in the U.S. arsenal, with minor adjustments. To that end, Lockheed Martin just signed a $560 million agreement modifying a previous contract to produce Trident II D5 missiles.
Most readers probably read the previous sentence and wanted to buy a vowel; in short, these are key missiles and part of the nuclear triad. The three parts include land-based missile silos, the nuclear bomber fleet, and nuclear submarines as part of a diversified approach that ensures the U.S. has the ability to provide a counter-strike and deterrence.
The D5 missiles are placed on Ohio-class nuclear submarines and form a critical part of that triad for numerous reasons. The repurposed Ohio-class submarines can carry a compliment of 150 Tomahawk cruise missiles that can perform land-based attacks. Since they are former nuclear submarines they are designed to launch their missiles during an incredibly short period, as little as six minutes, without reducing their stealth signature. These can be used to degrade enemy air defenses, communication arrays, and key headquarters locations before aircraft and surface ships move into the area. They are a key first-strike option that operated in Libyan and North Korean waters.
The Ohio-class submarines are even more impressive with their original purpose as being part of the triad. The remaining 14 Ohio-class subs that haven’t been repurposed carry 280 missiles that can reach hypersonic speeds with each missile containing multiple warheads. Just a single submarine carries 20 missiles, which would be enough nuclear power to obliterate a small country, and they range across the world and can’t be detected or tracked. All of this makes them a potent deterrent.
On top of that, they are reliable. As anybody who reads OpsLens on a regular basis knows, I’m not impressed with super weapons that promise the world. In most cases these weapon systems sound good on paper or make a good talking point in a blustery speech from Putin, but when used by inexperienced soldiers in combat conditions they often fail. The Russians, for example, faced a catastrophic level of failure for their new Armata super tank, and their missiles performed badly in Syria because they couldn’t test them in the desert. In a more general sense, going back as far as World War II, leaders have promised that a new technology such as the King Tiger tank or super battleship could change the course of wars, but those promises often ignored the technical limitations of a single platform and the overall strategic situation.
That is why the D5 is so impressive. It has a proven track record in combat and is rigorously tested in peace-time conditions. It is part of a proven strategy that kept the peace and won the Cold War, and sadly might be needed again with Russian violations of the INF treaty. In the event of an unthinkable nuclear war, the highly trained and experienced seamen on the submarine will be able to launch the missile with little chance of misfire.
Nuclear warfare would be so destructive it is important to have a capable deterrent in place to prevent powers from thinking they may be able to win a quick war with a devastating first strike. The Trident II D5 missile on the Ohio- class submarine is a vital and proven part of that deterrent, and these upgraded missiles will only improve that deterrent.