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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Undersea Long-Range Missile System (ULMS)

TRIDENT originated in the Strat-X planning exercise, a paper competition conducted in 1966-67 by civilian defense officials to stimulate cost-effective designs of advanced strategic weapons. The Pentagon Strat-X study was conducted by the Institute of Defense Analysis for the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E). It established as the central criterion of judgment the cost per surv~ving reentry vehicle, and the presumption was that that system which promised the least cost per surviving RV would gain impetus for actual deployment. Then unglamorously labeled the "Underwater Long Range Missile System" (ULMS) was the major Naval strategic weapon considered in StratX. Analysts advanced ULMS as a successor to the POLARIS/POSEIDON force, then still in the process of initial deployment. Against it they pitted a very large land-based ICBM, envisaged by the Air Force as a successor to MINUTEMAN. Navy planning for missile submarines was at that time directed by the renowned Special Projects Office (SPO). Created in the 1950's to conduct the POLARIS development program, that office's success with POLARIS had given SPO and Rear Admiral Levering Smith, the new director after Vice Admiral Raborn, a reputation for competence that would be very difficult to match anywhere in the government. Although the Navy (and SPO) did not make an official submission to the Strat-X study, Smith's thinking clearly counted. Reflecting Smith's predilections and the Strat-X emphasis on minimum cost per surviving warhead, the Strat-X ULMS was to carry a large but technically undemanding missile capable of carrying a relatively large number of warheads. The boat would necessarily exceed POLARIS in size, but would use a similar sized reactor. This reduced slightly the expected top speed of the boat compared to POLARIS, but speed was not considered a design objective essential to the mission of a strategic missile submarine. Studies related to the proliferation of POSEIDON C3 led to the conclusion that a new ULMS (missile) and the new submarine concept with greater missile carrying capacity would make the ULMS (missile) more cost-effective than POSEIDON proliferation. The ULMS missile studies tended to culminate in either a 2 or 3 stage missile with a 4500 nm range and a weight in the order of 130,000 lb. Since the missile was to be encapsulated and external to the SSBN, it was size limited. This led to a new FBM missile concept approximately 80 in. in diameter and 56 ft in length. The missile was referred to as LRC3 (Long Range C3) and Lockheed's concepts included a new reentry vehicle (Mk 3A). About this time, the ULMS began to be known as the Improved Fleet Ballistic Missile (IFBM) system.

At the conclusion of Strat-X, Smith was named the Project Manager for TRIDENT, the role that SPO had played in the development of POLARIS and POSEIDON. With that mandate, the office pursued on a low-priority basis in 1967-69 various technical designs and gradually evolved its preferred design along the line of the Strat-X conception, i.e. a big boat that carried large missiles and was relatively slow. However, the speed of the boat-about nineteen to twenty knots versus POSEIDON's twenty to twenty-five knots still would be ample to cover actual operational procedures. By 1970s it seemed that budgetary restrictions may force the United States to abandon at least one of the three separate deterrents it now maintains as a hedge against technological breakthroughs. If so, the bomber and sea-based systems will be retained and the land-based Minuteman sacrificed. Should it come to a choice, the Air Force would favor its new B-1 bomber program over retention of the Minuteman.

The Navy, of course, has long championed the advantages of a sea-based over a land-based deterrent and was pressing for the adoption of its Underwater Long-Range Missile System (ULMS). ULMS might cost as much as $20 billion, however, and expansion of the Polaris-Poseidon fleet by 10 boats has been proposed as a less expensive, but also somewhat less effective, alternative.

The acceptance of the ULMS concept and the elevation of Adm. Thomas H. Moorer to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff could signal the approaching ascendancy of maritime concepts in national strategy. During the past decade, the fleet ballistic missile systems greatly enhanced the credibility and stability of the strategic deterrent; consequently, an increasing number of congressional and Government leaders would like deploy a greater part of the strategic nuclear force at sea.

Although the Polaris/Poseidon fleet could be vulnerable to improved Soviet antisubmarine warfare capabilities in 5 to 7 years, the Navy predicted that ULMS, which could be operational by the late 1970's, would withstand a counterforce attack. At the White House and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, ULMS was deemed vital. If the strategic arms limitation talks failed, ULMS would provide "a credible deterrent for the late 1970's and beyond." Even in "a strategic environment constrained by arms limitations, it may carry the major burden of deterrence."

The 1970 Military Spending Report submitted by the Military Spending Committee of Members of Congress for Peace Through Law (MCPL) recommended substantial reductions in spending for land-based strategic systems, including a cancellation of the Minuteman III program, it made a strong case for the Underwater Long-Range Missile System (ULMS). "We should proceed with ULMS as part of a decision to make a sea-based nuclear missile system the first line of deterrence." In order to accomplish this shift in emphasis, the concept of "strategic mix," which has created excessive redundancy of strategic systems, may have to be redefined. "When viewed as a successor to land-based missiles and their requisite defense systems the ULMS seems cost-effective." The Com- mittee concludes that "significant reductions can be made without in any way weakening our national security."

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Page last modified: 20-01-2018 18:13:45 ZULU