Nuclear powers like Russia and China are not reducing their nuclear weapons capability. Countries like North Korea, and arguably Iran, seem focused on becoming nuclear states capable of delivering a nuclear weapon. Therefore, the United States must maintain a strategic nuclear-deterrent capability against these known threats and future unknown threats. The SSBN of the sea-based portion of the nuclear triad will carry 70 percent of the nation’s deployed warheads. It operates undetected and is capable of delivering a second strike to an enemy. This capability must be maintained. However, the margin for error to replace the aging Ohio-class SSBN seems to have evaporated, and any further delay in funding and building the Columbia-class SSBN will lead to difficulty in the Navy’s ability to meet its strategic nuclear deterrence requirements. Major cost savings of the program, like building fewer ships or a ship with fewer missile tubes, were explored and the Navy is building a cost efficient replacement SSBN. Therefore, the new administration and Congress should not delay its support for the Navy’s effort to build up the Columbia class.
Will Wiley is the U.S. Navy senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a submarine warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Navy, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
Image: Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Henry M. Jackson. Flickr/U.S. Navy