Thu, Feb 06, 2020 - Page 7 News List

Pentagon says submarine armed with tactical nuke


The US Department of Defense on Tuesday announced that it has deployed a submarine carrying a new long-range missile with a relatively small nuclear warhead, saying that it is in response to Russian tests of similar weapons.

The move is a significant change in US defense posture, which has raised concerns that it could elevate the risk of a nuclear war.

Critics worry that small nukes would be more likely to be used, because they cause less damage, thereby lowering the threshold for nuclear conflict.

However, the Pentagon has said that it is crucial to deterring rivals like Moscow, which might assume that, with only large, massively destructive nuclear weapons in its arsenal, the US would not respond to another country’s first use of a small, “tactical” nuclear bomb.

The deployment of the W76-2 low-yield warhead is “to address the conclusion that potential adversaries, like Russia, believe that employment of low-yield nuclear weapons will give them an advantage over the United States and its allies and partners,” US Undersecretary of Defense John Rood said in a statement.

The W76-2 has an estimated explosive yield of 5 kilotons, compared with the 455-kiloton and 90-kiloton yields of nuclear warheads already deployed on US submarines, William Arkin and Hans Kristensen wrote on the Federation of American Scientists’ Web site.

It is also smaller than the 15-kiloton and 21-kiloton atomic bombs the US dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, near the end of World War II in 1945.

Arkin and Kristensen said that the new small warheads have been deployed on the USS Tennessee patrolling the Atlantic Ocean.

In its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the Pentagon indicated that it would deploy a small nuclear weapon.

Behind the development was the US view that Moscow was developing tactical nuclear weapons in the expectation that it could use them without provoking the massive retaliation that was the basis of the classic nuclear deterrence calculus of the Cold War: “mutual assured destruction.”

US forces have had tactical nuclear weapons for many years, but they could only be dropped as bombs from aircraft or delivered by cruise missile — which Russia could more easily defend against.

A low-yield nuclear warhead on a submarine-launched ballistic missile would more likely penetrate Russian defenses and, in the Pentagon’s view, more likely make Moscow, or another adversary like China, think twice before attacking with its small nukes.

The new weapon “strengthens deterrence and provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon,” Rood said.

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