President’s Plan Weakens at Least One Leg of Nuclear Triad

Brian Slattery /

According to the U.S. Navy, America’s nuclear deterrent triad will be limping on one of its legs for over a decade because of the President’s fiscal year 2013 budget request.

The Navy will fall below its 12-boat nuclear-armed submarine requirement for 14 years because the Obama Administration’s plans to delay a replacement for the aging Ohio-class submarine by two years.

The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine (known as SSBN) has fulfilled the Navy’s leg of the nuclear triad for the past 30 years. According to the Navy, the SSBN is America’s “only day-to-day assured nuclear response capability.” Furthermore, the SSBN fleet’s combination of mobility and stealth make it a particularly effective platform and an excellent nuclear deterrent. However, the first Ohio will retire in 2027. Delaying its replacement will create an unacceptable gap in the SSBN fleet that will last 14 years starting in the 2030s, according to Navy officials.

The obvious problem with this is that the Navy is not meeting its own fleet requirements. If 12 subs is the requirement, how will the fleet cover the same area with less? Navy officials and outside analysts alike should be seeking answers to this. Furthermore, with fewer vessels performing the same amount of work, what will be the effect on maintenance? Aging and overworked ships inevitably have more mechanical issues and require more repair work.

The Administration claims that the delay is necessary “to reduce risk in an acquisition effort that appeared to be moving too quickly from development into production.” This quote illustrates the fundamental disconnect the Obama Administration has between political goals and actual national security concerns. Defense officials should always strive to reduce risk in new programs. However, the notion that those efforts should come at the cost of increasing risk to national security is counterintuitive to the purpose of a defense force. The government must find a way to protect America’s security and interests, first and foremost. Other decisions should follow that basic requirement, not hinder it.

But the triad has two other legs it can lean on, right?

Wrong. The Air Force is currently flying a geriatric strategic bomber fleet. The U.S. plans to begin replacing other deterrent systems in 2030; by then, intercontinental ballistic missiles will be 60 years old. With the slide in nuclear-armed submarines, will these aging assets take on a bigger deterrent role? What are the implications of putting more miles on planes that are already past their initial service lives? How does the President plan to maintain a ballistic missile arsenal that is older than he is?

President Obama’s defense budget request is rife with similar shortsighted “savings” efforts. Meanwhile, entitlement spending continues to consume ever larger portions of the federal budget unaddressed. Rather than slashing defense to appear fiscally responsible, the President should request funding that adequately addresses threats to national security