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What a Successful D-5 Test Could Mean

A helpful Defense Tech reader sent this item along to me. Now, Im a bit of a dim bulb, as many of you know, and on this, I think the light was entirely out.D5-missile.jpg

Its been a long time since Ive thought much about intercontinental ballistic missiles especially nuclear-tipped ones. But a knowledgeable reader and helpful tipster - tells me this item is significant.

[From Lockheed Martin]

D5 Fleet Ballistic Missile Launched in Navy Test in the Pacific

SILVERDALE, Wash., November 29th, 2007 -- The U.S. Navy conducted a successful test launch today of a Trident II D5 Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) built by Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT). The Navy launched the unarmed missile from the submerged submarine USS HENRY M JACKSON (SSBN 730) in the Pacific Ocean.

The Trident II D5 missile now has achieved 120 consecutive successful test launches since 1989 a record unmatched by any other large ballistic missile or space launch vehicle.

The missile launch was part of the Demonstration and Shakedown Operation (DASO) to certify USS HENRY M JACKSON for deployment, following a shipyard overhaul period and conversion from Trident I C4 to Trident II D5 configuration.

First deployed in 1990, the D5 missile is currently aboard 12 Trident II Ohio-class submarines and four British Trident II Vanguard-class submarines. The three-stage, solid-propellant, inertial-guided ballistic missile can travel a nominal range of 4,000 nautical miles and carries multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles.

If youre like me, I was sort of wondering why our intrepid source sent me this story. O.K., so another successful test firing of an SLBM. Big deal, right?

Ill respect my sources privacy, but his points make a lot of sense. Heres what he told me:

The significance of the 120th successful launch of the D5 screams volumes as:

1. Successful Defense Program - that is unmatched by other industrialized competitors (for example the Russian Buluva SLBM has failed 7 of its last 10 tests). This is not a Russian hit piece. Its that this success is unmatched even among US systems.

2. Reliable strategic deterrence most countries have a mix of solid and liquid fueled ballistic inventory. So if the US has 18 Ohios, 8 on station all the time. Possibly one within range of your country with 24 tubes with 8 independent targeting warheads that are delivered from a system that is extremely reliable. Even in the mind game world - which is the only one that matters - this is quite a deterrent.

3. If you also think about the fact that the original Trident Missile design, implementation and deployment to the fleet was somewhere close to 2 years, Id say this is an example of a successful defense technology application.

So when this really makes a difference is when you combine it with a better than hokey BMD.

I am inclined to agree. Ive always believed that as the Cold War ended, we could relegate the ground-based missile leg of the strategic triad to the salvage yard of history. Missile silos were used for measurement during the cold war, they could be assessed by satellites to compile strategic accountability, as could bombers to some degree. The Soviets had them, so we had to have them.

But what good do they really do us in this strategic environment? It seems to me at least that you need to keep strategic nuclear bombers because, theyre recallable. But theyre still vulnerable but not as vulnerable as missile silos which cant move.

Sub-based missiles, however, are nearly invulnerable. Few navies in the world have the sophistication or deployment ratio to track U.S. boomers so risk of their discovery and destruction is minimal. I understand that communicating with the subs can be tough, so giving them urgent launch orders may not be as responsive as a ground-based deterrent.

But its tough to think of a scenario where America would need to launch a an all-out strategic strike in response to a nuclear attack on the U.S. particularly in conjunction with a missile defense system.

Wed love to hear our readers thoughts on this.

(Gouge: BD)

-- Christian

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