According to the FAS, the submarine “Tennessee”, which is equipped with such missiles, left the US Navy base in Georgia for the first time at the end of 2019 in order to take over the patrol service there.
The administration of US President Donald Trump was informed at the beginning of 2018 about the newly developed warhead, which was supposed to serve to contain Russia and the tactical atomic explosive devices that he presumably had at his disposal.
According to FAS estimates, one to two of a total of 20 missiles on board the “Tennessee” submarine are equipped with new W76-2 warheads. A warhead has an explosive force of five kilotons, and a missile can carry several such warheads. The remaining warheads on the “Tennessee” are conventional and have an explosive capacity of 90 to 455 kilotons each. A missile can carry up to eight warheads of this type.
US military officials claimed that Russia was based on the “escalation to de-escalation” doctrine, which should make it possible to use tactical nuclear weapons if an attack with conventional weapons failed. The new warhead W76-2 should “counter the misconception that the containment potential of the United States has a certain deficiency that could be used”.
The FAS experts regard the concept as unproven, according to which Moscow could base its decision on a nuclear strike on the performance of American warheads. The specialists point out that the United States already has about 1,000 low-power nuclear explosive devices. It is about cruise missiles for B-52 bomb planes and flight bombs B61. At the same time, supporters of the use of submarine-based warheads of this type do not rule out the possibility that aviation forces could not overcome the Russian missile defense system, which has been perfected in recent years.
“All of this is reminiscent of the old-fashioned methods of warfare during the Cold War. In the past, every tactical nuclear weapon was justified with the argument that its small explosive power and ‘lightning-fast’ use (…) are necessary for containment. Today, the new low-power W76-2 warhead is a weapon for the United States that (…) can be used more effectively and is more effective as a containment factor, ”the article said
The authors believe that such low-performing warheads could also be used in a first nuclear strike against North Korea or Iran. As the US nuclear strategy says, the country is willing to “expand the United States’ ability to respond to nuclear or non-nuclear strategic attacks.” This would pave the way for a nuclear strike, it is said.
ls / sb