The US deployed its new W76-2 low-yield Trident submarine warhead, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) reported on January 29th.
Reportedly, the first submarine to deploy the new weapon was the USS Tennessee, at the end of 2019.
The low-yield nuclear warhead was first mentioned in February 2018, as part of the US’ Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). And it was mentioned simply as completing the W-76-1 by the end of Fiscal Year 2019.
It was described as a capability to “help counter any mistaken perception of an exploitable ‘gap’ in U.S. regional deterrence capabilities.”
The justification was that the US administration had no “prompt” and useable nuclear capability that could counter, and deter Russia from using its own tactical nuclear weapons.
According to FAS, between one or two of the 20 missiles on board the USS Tennessee and other similar submarines would be armed with the W76-2 warhead. Each warhead is estimated to have an explosive yield of approximately 5 kilotons.
The remaining 18 missiles on each submarine like the Tennessee carry either the 90-kiloton W76-1 or the 455-kiloton W88. Each missile can carry up to eight warheads under current loading configurations.
The first W76-2 (known as First Production Unit, or FPU) was completed at Pantex in February 2019.
At the time, NNSA said it was “on track to complete the W76-2 Initial Operational Capability warhead quantity and deliver the units to the U.S Navy by the end of Fiscal Year 2019”
“NNSA is fully committed to meeting the requirements of our partners at the Department of Defense,” said Dr. Charles P. Verdon, NNSA’s Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs. “The W76-2 will allow for tailored deterrence in the face of evolving threats.”
The W76-2 program is a modification of the W76-1 warhead to provide a low-yield, sea-launched ballistic missile warhead capability.
In justifying the W76-2 since the February 2018 NPR, DOD has emphasized that production and deployment could be done fast, was simple to do, and wouldn’t cost very much.
Based upon the supposed “escalate-to-deescalate” doctrine, the February 2018 NPR claims that the W76-2 is needed to “help counter any mistaken perception of an exploitable ‘gap’ in U.S. regional deterrence capabilities.”
Consultants who were involved in producing the NPR have suggested that “[Russian President] Putin may well believe that the United States would not respond with strategic warheads that could cause significant collateral damage” and “that Moscow could conceivably engage in limited nuclear first-use without undue risk…”
There is no firm evidence that a Russian nuclear decision regarding the risk involved in nuclear escalation is dependent on the yield of a US nuclear weapon. Moreover, the United States already has a large number of weapons in its nuclear arsenal that have low-yield options – about 1,000, as per FAS.
In conclusion, the new weapon and its justification are simply another example of double-faced talk. Russia and China are being accused of undertaking actions that the US and NATO themselves are undertaking.
The Washington-led establishment successively accuses both Moscow and Beijing of preparing to use low-yield nuclear weapons in any local conflict to forward their interests, or simply threaten of potential aggression, while the US appears to be the actual party actively preparing towards that specific goal.
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