Arming submarines with non nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles will give
America a necessary quick-strike weapon in the war on terror, the vice chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on June 7.
The proposal, part of the Defense Department's 2007 budget request, aims to
remove two nuclear missiles from each of the Navy's 14 ballistic missile
submarines, or SSBNs, and replace them with two conventionally armed Trident
missiles, said Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani at the Naval Submarine League's
The move would put about 22 such missiles into operational deployment, he said.
"It's meant to be a very niche capability," Giambastiani told about 400 retired
officers, businessmen and fellow submariners. "We're not talking a lot of
missiles here. So this really is a small, quick-strike capability.
"Why would you want it?," the vice chairman, whose career spans many submarine
assignments and commands, asked. "So that you can respond within 60 minutes or
so to something at very long ranges, very precisely, assuming you have very
Combatant commanders are looking for ways to increase operational availability
throughout the military, Giambastiani said. "That's what an SSBN is, the
ultimate operationally available platform," he said. From that perspective,
giving ballistic missile submarines a non nuclear role makes sense.
Giambastiani said he is not worried about concerns raised about what level of
authority should be required to launch the missiles or whether two-way
communication was necessary between a submerged submarine and a command
authority, because he would use the system that's already in place. He said he
sees the value in "using a command and control system that over the years has
been proven but requires the highest level of release authority."
One concern being addressed, however, is how to maneuver a potential launch so
the missile's flight path doesn't appear threatening to someone who could see it
coming and worry it was coming to hit them, he said. Precautions are being
taken, but under almost every conceivable scenario, a small launch would not
touch off alarms.
"There are some people who think if we fire one missile you're going to go to
nuclear war," he said. "Well it's just the opposite, and we've found that over a
few launches over the years."
Converting existing platforms to make them more adaptable to today's warfighting
environment can be a very cost-effective endeavor, he said. Already the Navy has
transformed two of the four oldest SSBNs into guided-missile submarines, called
SSGNs, which carry the Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile.
"SSGN, the follow-on to the Trident, is clearly one of those examples of a very
successful, quick-turn program," he said. "It's not too bad if you can introduce
it officially in the Department of Defense at the end of September 2001, put it
in the budget with the president's submission in February 2002, have it become
an effective program on the first of October 2002, and already have two
deliveries with two others to be following shortly. That's big stuff."
Giambastiani challenged the audience of submariners to continue to use that
"modular approach" to problem solving, removing one part of a well-working
machine and replacing that part with something more relevant to the current
He also said the group should continue to seek different perspectives on how to
"You never want to bring everybody in who looks like you," he said. "You want
people who come at problems from a different perspective, and submarine folks do
that exceptionally well. They're mission-oriented, goal-oriented, they're smart,
and they're useful."
Working jointly with other services - combining resources and communicating
effectively - is the way business has to be conducted now, Giambastiani said.
Since the Cold War ended, the submarine force, like the rest of the nation's
armed services has had to learn to be flexible.
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