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Now Aboard US Subs: a Nuclear Policy 'Landmark'

'Low-yield' long-range missile is first major addition to strategic nuclear arsenal in recent decades
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 4, 2020 9:05 AM CST
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In this Jan. 9, 2008, photo, the USS Wyoming approaches Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia. The Pentagon's top policy official tells the AP that the United States for the first time has deployed a submarine-launched weapon that the Trump administration says will make nuclear war less likely.   (Lt. Rebecca Rebarich/US Navy via AP)

(Newser) – The US military has deployed a new addition to its nuclear arsenal—a long-range missile armed with a nuclear warhead of reduced destructive power. The so-called low-yield missile has been fitted atop an undisclosed number of Trident ballistic missiles carried aboard the Navy's Ohio-class submarines. The debut deployment aboard long-range submarines, known as boomers, is a landmark in US nuclear weapons policy. The W76-2 is the first major addition to the strategic nuclear arsenal in recent decades and is a departure from the Obama administration's policy of lessening dependence on nukes in pursuit of a nuclear-free world. In confirming the missile deployment to the AP, the Pentagon's top policy official said the weapon makes Americans safer by making nuclear war less likely. Critics, including some Democrats in Congress, call it a dangerous excess that increases the risk of war.

The essence of critics' argument against the low-yield weapon is that it makes the world less safe because it offers decision-makers another option for using a nuclear weapon in a conflict that could then escalate to a full-blown nuclear war. They also contend lower-yield air-launched nuclear weapons already in the US arsenal make the W76-2 redundant. Undersecretary of defense for policy John Rood, however, counters that the submarine-launched missile is important because it can more reliably penetrate air defenses than could an airplane armed with nukes. "This supplemental capability strengthens deterrence and provides the [US with] a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon," said Rood. He added the US will continue its stated policy of using nuclear weapons only in "extraordinary circumstances." Much more on the weapon here.

(Read more nuclear missiles stories.)

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