The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) released 02 February 2018 called for the development of new, small-yield, sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs), but the weapons need not necessarily be added to a submarine's weapons bay. The 2018 Nuclear Policy Review is the Defense Department's fourth review of U.S. nuclear policy, posture and programs since the end of the Cold War.
The review's three corresponding outcomes comprise the reprioritization of nuclear roles, the clarification of our nuclear policy, and the recommendations for deterrence capabilities, each of which has been subject to considerable mischaracterization in much of the public commentary.
The first outcome is that the 2018 review returns deterrence of nuclear attack against the United States, its allies and its partners to the top priority of U.S. nuclear policy. Second, he said, to strengthen deterrence, the review notes that the United States will consider the use of nuclear weapons only in response to extreme circumstances that threaten its vital interests. Third, the review recommends two nuclear programs to strengthen U.S. capabilities to deter attack and assure allies: the modification of a small number of existing submarine-launched ballistic missiles to include a low-yield option, and the pursuit of a nuclear sea-launched cruise missile.
"It's important to know that the NPR, when it talks about the sea-launched cruise missile, does not say ‘submarine-launched cruise missile,'" General John Hyten, chief of US Strategic Command, said 16 February 2018 at an event in Washington. When pressed further, Hyten said, "we want to look at a number of options — everything from surface DDG 1000s [Zumwalt destroyers] to submarines, different types of submarines… that's what the president's budget has requested of us, to go look at those platforms, and we're going to walk down that path."
According to the NPR, " in the near-term, the United States will modify a small number of existing SLBM warheads to provide a low-yield option, and in the longer term, pursue a modern nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM). Unlike DCA, a low-yield SLBM warhead and SLCM will not require or rely on host nation support to provide deterrent effect. They will provide additional diversity in platforms, range, and survivability, and a valuable hedge against future nuclear “break out” scenarios.
"... for the longer term the United States will pursue a nuclear-armed SLCM, leveraging existing technologies to help ensure its cost effectiveness. SLCM will provide a needed non-strategic regional presence, an assured response capability. It also will provide an arms control compliant response to Russia’s non-compliance with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, its non-strategic nuclear arsenal, and its other destabilizing behaviors.
"In the 2010 NPR, the United States announced the retirement of its previous nuclear armed SLCM, which for decades had contributed to deterrence and the assurance of allies, particularly in Asia. We will immediately begin efforts to restore this capability by initiating a capability study leading to an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) for the rapid development of a modern SLCM."
The proposed SLCM would comply with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which the United States accused Russia of violating.
General John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), in a discussion at National Defense University on 16 February 2018 stated: " the NPR, when it talks about the sea-launched cruise missile, it does not say submarine-launched cruise missile. It says sea-launched cruise missile, because we want to look at a number of options. Everything from surface DDG-1000s, into submarines, different types of submarines, fast attack submarines, SSGNs [nuclear powered cruise missile submarine], SSBNs [strategic submarine ballistic nuclear], look across those boards and make sure we understand what it is.
"That’s what the President’s Budget has requested us to go look at those platforms, and we’re going to walk down that path.
"When we look at the other capabilities we’re talking about for defensive systems, we’re looking at multiple basing options for defense – air, ground, sea. We’re looking at a number of different options for looking at the defense side. And then from a ground-launched cruise missile capability that we’re going to explore the technology for, we’re going to walk down that. There tends to be a focus on the ground-based system, but we’re going to have a ground-based element, a sea-launched element, and we’ll look at those capabilities as an entity. We have not made any commitment to deploy any of those, at this point, we’ve just recommended that in the President’s Budget, we begin to explore those technologies."
In a separate development, the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, Section 1244) mandated a research and development program toward an explicitly INF-violating road-mobile ground-launched cruise missile.
"(a) Establishment Of A Program Of Record.—The Secretary of Defense shall establish a program of record to develop a conventional road-mobile ground-launched cruise missile system with a range of between 500 to 5,500 kilometers.
"(b) Report.—Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the congressional defense committees, the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives, and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate a report on the cost, schedule, and feasibility to modify existing and planned missile systems, including the tomahawk land attack cruise missile, the standard missile-3, the standard missile-6, and Army tactical missile system missiles for ground launch with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers in order to provide any of the capabilities identified in section 1243(d) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (Public Law 114–92; 129 Stat. 1062)."
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