Part 1 of this article warns U.S. strategic bombers and ICBMs could be destroyed by surprise attack, leaving 4-5 U.S. ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) on daily patrol at sea as the only U.S. nuclear Triad survivors for deterrence.
However, even SSBNs may now be vulnerable.
Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBMs) are a new technology combining ballistic missiles with maneuvering warheads having electro-optical seekers to precisely target even moving vessels for destruction. China’s DF-26 and DF-21 pose long-range threats to U.S. aircraft carriers, outranging carrier aircraft, threatening to upset the balance of power in the Pacific.
Even Iran has developed ASBMs, the medium-range Khalij Fars (Persian Gulf) and short-range Fateh-110, that have been used successfully to target a ship, demonstrating an accuracy of 8 meters.
Nuclear-armed ASBMs could destroy submarines, even if the SSBN location is not known precisely. An underwater nuclear shockwave has a very large lethal radius, extending many kilometers against SSBNs.
ICBMs too could be used to destroy SSBNs with a nuclear barrage of their ocean patrol areas.
President Reagan’s White House Science Advisor, George Keyworth, in a 1984 TV interview warned: “A…warhead such as the SS-18 carries ten of, when dropped in the water…will destroy any submarine within a distance of about seven miles.” According to Keyworth, if the Soviets could roughly locate U.S. submarines, “find out approximately where they are, not track them the way we did in the Second World War, but just know approximately if they are in that 100-mile by 100-mile square…then they can be destroyed in a preemptive attack.” (George Keyworth, “Firing Line: The High Frontier Concept” PBS transcript June 22, 1984, p. 10)
My book "Nuclear Wars: Exchanges and Outcomes" (1990) calculated that Moscow, using only their SS-19 ICBMs, could destroy all U.S. SSBNs, if their at-sea locations are very roughly known, at a time when the U.S. had 36 SSBNs (not as today 14 reducing to 12 SSBNs). My calculations indicated our submarines will be most vulnerable if their locations are disclosed by launching even one missile for a limited nuclear strike — as is now planned for tactical nuclear scenarios employing the W76-2.
My report "POSEIDON: Russia’s New Doomsday Machine" (2018) warns this new Russian nuclear autonomous “torpedo” may be a secret weapon to destroy U.S., British, and French SSBNs.
Poseidon is a nuclear-powered robot submarine or torpedo, armed with a nuclear warhead described by various Russian sources as ranging from 2-200 megatons, the later by far the most powerful nuclear weapon ever built. The yield may be mission selectable.
Moscow advertises Poseidon’s mission as a doomsday machine, designed to raise radioactive tsunamis to inundate the U.S. coasts, or to destroy U.S. ports, or to trail and destroy U.S. aircraft carrier groups. None of these missions makes sense for Poseidon, as Russia can already accomplish all of them by other existing means.
The one mission making the most sense for Poseidon, not mentioned by Russia, is trailing and destroying at-sea SSBNs. Nuclear-powered, Poseidon could tail SSBNs for months or years, waiting outside ports for their target to resume patrols. Artificially Intelligent, Poseidon could be programmed to recognize the acoustic signature of its target submarine, and detonate on command.
The lethal radius of a 100-megaton warhead against submarines is over 100 kilometers.
Russia plans to deploy 32 Poseidons. Perhaps not coincidentally, enough to assign two to tail each of 12 U.S. Columbia SSBNs and 8 Poseidons to target the 8 SSBNs of allies Britain and France.
Super-EMP weapons deployed by Russia, China, and probably North Korea can generate 100-200 kilovolts/meter, far exceeding the U.S. military standard for EMP hardening. Thus, across North America, even best protected U.S. military forces — including the strategic Triad and C3I — could be paralyzed.
U.S. SSBNs at sea cannot launch without receiving an Emergency Action Message (EAM) from the president. The EAM includes an unblocking code to arm nuclear warheads. Thus, submarines cannot execute nuclear strikes without the EAM.
A Super-EMP attack could destroy satellites, land-based VLF communications, TACAMO aircraft, and other redundant means to convey EAMs to submarines on patrol, neutralizing them.
Do not deploy W76-2 warheads on U.S. ballistic missile submarines or otherwise degrade SSBN capability to survive and deter attacks on American cities.
Deploy at least 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons to reduce Russia’s preponderant advantage. Nuclearize the U.S. Navy by proliferating preferably nuclear-armed cruise missiles on attack submarines, guided missile cruisers, destroyers, and other vessels that can operate in forward areas to maximize survivability, accuracy, and time-on-target for tactical situations.
To reduce escalatory possibilities, as during the Cold War, U.S. strategic and tactical nuclear platforms should not mix capabilities and missions, but be distinct as possible.
A crash program to develop advanced new generation nuclear weapons should begin immediately.
A crash program to deploy space-based missile defenses that could initially defend U.S. SSBNs and other Triad assets, eventually shield U.S. and allied homelands and possibly render nuclear missiles obsolete, should begin immediately.
A highest-priority crash program to harden U.S. military and civilian critical infrastructures from EMP and cyber-attack should begin immediately. The potential of Russia, China, and even North Korea to possibly paralyze the U.S. Triad, including SSBNs on patrol, with an EMP “cheap shot” invites aggression.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. He served on the Congressional EMP Commission as chief of staff, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA. He is author of "Blackout Wars."