The Nuclear Posture Review seems to have been on the mind of more than one reporter over the holidays. Both Bryan Bender over at the Boston Globe and Paul Richter at the LA Times penned very strong articles on some of the fault lines within the ongoing Review. However, each article contains a mixup/error that requires a correction and some further explanation…
First, Richter’s piece contains the following graf:
For instance, some U.S. submarines in the Pacific carry nuclear-tipped torpedoes, which, Ferguson said, many Japanese officials like for their possible deterrent effect against a growing Chinese navy. Because nuclear weapons provide such assurance to a key ally, some U.S. officials are reluctant to cut back on the capability.” [emphasis mine].
I’m not sure what is meant by “nuclear-tipped torpedoes” but the context of the paragraph suggests that the piece may be referring to the SLCM known as the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile-Nuclear (TLAM-N). As Jeffrey noted last May, the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States erroneously asserted that the TLAM-N is deployed on some U.S. Los Angeles-class attack submarines. In reality, as a result of President George H.W. Bush’s 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs), the U.S. “cease[d] deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on surface ships, attack submarines, and land-based naval aircraft during ‘normal circumstances’”. We do however apparently retain the capability to redeploy TLAM-N on attack submarines if necessary.
Bender’s suspect graf reads as follows:
But for war planners, they [submarines] also bring more bang for the buck. Under the terms of the proposed treaty with Russia, each submarine and its 24 Trident missiles would count as only one “delivery system,’’ unlike the land-based missiles, which each count toward the total allowed.”[emphasis mine].
Either Bender or his editors messed something up here. I find it hard to believe that the Russians would agree to allow our entire strategic submarine force to count for only 12 (or 14 depending on whether the two U.S. subs in overhaul at any onetime are included) delivery vehicles. Those 24 missile tubes certainly aren’t phantoms! As one colleague put it to me earlier today, if the Russians had agreed to count them as one delivery vehicle, then the U.S. could have easily agreed to the Russian-proposed limit of 500 delivery vehicles for the New START treaty!