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R.I.P.: Conventional Trident

Trident_missile_image.jpgThis month's Proceedings magazine is chock-full of techy goodness, including an in-depth essay by naval expert Norman Polmar on the recently defunct plan to put conventional warheads atop Trident D5 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles.(For the record, Congress effectively killed the conventional Trident by zeroing funding in the FY 2007 budget.)The most common criticism of this plan to arm each of the Navy's 14 boomer subs (SSBNs) with two conventional missiles -- alongside 22 nuclear missiles -- is that foreign powers might mistake the launch of a conventional missile for a nuclear one, and might respond with a nuke of their own. In short, the conventional Trident was a diplomatic nightmare.But there are other flaws, as Polmar points out in his article, which is unfortunately not available online:

Following a Trident SLBM launch, the missile's third-stage booster, weighing several thousand pounds, will fall to earth. This concern could greatly inhibit conventional SLBM launch locations with trajectories over friendly or neutral territory.
There's more:
Perhaps one-half of the Navy's 14 Trident submarines are at sea at any given time -- about seven submarines world-wide. ... The number of SSBNs available to cover such terrorist-threat areas as the Middle East and North Africa with conventional Tridents would be limited.
Polmar proposes that outfitting the Navy's 100-plus attack subs, destroyers and cruisers with faster cruise missiles would more than take the place of conventional Tridents -- and do so with fewer diplomatic complications.The Navy is already on it, moving ahead with its RATTLRS hypersonic cruise missile, which will also come in air-launched models.--David Axe
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