An SSK Trident Solution
Realizing I said earlier we probably don’t need a conventional powered fleet ballistic missile submarine any time soon, the following proposal was too hard to resist. I came across this idea while browsing through my tattered copy of National Defense, by James Fallows. This 1981 book at the time had a profound impact on the Military Reform Movement, though sadly did very little to reform the Pentagon, as we see the same budget troubles brought on by over-ambitious and too complicated weapons programs coming back to haunt us (one reviewer said in 2003 “NOTHING HAS CHANGED since this book was published in 1981“) . Sadly, there is no restored economy we can count on to save us so we have to return to good ole common sense reform. Here is one such timely approach within the book concerning the nuclear deterrent:
Since the ultimate propose of the submarine is to survive, it makes sense to reverse the thinking that has given us the Trident and move instead toward a diversified fleet that includes smaller, cheaper, harder-to-find, more numerous submarines. A more dramatic solution, proposed by Richard Garwin of IBM and Sidney Drell of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, is the “shallow undersea mobile” system, or SUM. This would be a fleet of small submarines, each of which would carry two MX-type missile in capsules mounted on its hull. The submarines would be powered by batteries or fuel cells, and therefore would be even quieter than nuclear subs. They would require a crew of only fifteen or twenty men. Because the range of the MX missile is so long, the small submarines would need to travel no farther than a few hundred miles off the east and west coasts, instead of going into the open sea. They would operate a large enough operating area to prevent the Soviet Union from simply “barraging” the coastline with nuclear weapons and destroying the submarines, but the subs would still be close enough to shore to have good communications, with virtually no “dead time” as they travel to their stations. The submarines with its missiles could be as small as 1100 tons, as compared to the 18,500 tons for the Trident. According to Garwin and Drell, the German Navy has operated a fleet of 500 tons submarines for 10 years.
Interesting that the German subs were brought up, since recently the Bundesmarine discarded six thinking them not useful enough for the costs. But giant warships are “economical”, so we are told, also vanishing quickly and increasingly unaffordable. Naturally with MX now dead, we would return to the Trident alternative, especially with its latest version so much more capable than the first gen from the 1980s.