The U.S. Navy is starting the process to find a '21st-century successor' to the Trident strategic missile submarine, defense officials have announced. The thing is - and here's where it could get really interesting - the United States could very well be completely redefining what its strategic deterrence needs are starting this year.
Tridents are nuclear-powered, Ohio-class submarines. At 560 feet long and 42 feet wide, they are the largest submarines in the Navy’s inventory. The first, the USS Ohio, was commissioned in 1981. The USS Wyoming finished its 38th patrol Feb. 11, marking the 1000th completed patrol of a Trident since the Ohio embarked on its initial patrol in October 1982. The Wyoming was commissioned in July 1996 and began its first patrol in August 1997. Clearly the older versions are getting up there in years.
The 14 nuclear-missile carrying Trident submarines provide more than half of America’s strategic deterrent capability, according to DOD. In 2006, the USS Ohio was converted into a guided-missile submarine, as were three others from the class to provide covert, special forces-friendly platforms.
Still, the Pentagon is about to start its Quadrennial Defense Review, as well as a Nuclear Posture Review. Besides giving President Barack Obama and his new administration the chance to genuinely recraft the U.S. military to their own vision, the reviews come as debate has increased in Washington over the nature of nuclear deterrence in the era of global antiterrorism and counterinsurgency conflicts, irregular warfare like cyber and post-Cold War assumptions (e.g., Russia and China aren't as much enemies as the USSR). Indeed, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted last week that today's threats are much more diverse and involve ‘a much broader spectrum of conflict against a much broader number of enemies, to include those that are not nation-states.'
Not surprisngly, those outside the Pentagon are not content to just sit back and await the new findings, which won't come until much later this year, at least. Meantime, electrons everywhere are falling victim to tomes of outside evaluations, including:
What deterrence means in the age of suicide bombers, religious movements, non-kinetic acts of hostility and existing nuclear weapons, and how nuclear weapons falls into them, seems far from being figured out -'and we're at least eight years into it. I think we're in for a heckuva debate, and one that could go down in the annals of great military history and political science.