You don’t hear much about the Navy’s Trident II D5 missiles, since they never seem to be having any problems. However, D5 is arguably the most important weapon in the entire U.S. military arsenal. It definitely is the most powerful — D5 can carry up to 14 nuclear warheads — and the most reliable. It also is the most survivable when deployed at sea on one of the Navy’s 14 Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines, which is hugely important because the key to successful nuclear deterrence is a resilient retaliatory capability. That’s what deters nuclear aggression — the enemy’s awareness that no matter how it executes a surprise attack, the U.S. response will bring unacceptable death and destruction. D5 is perfectly configured to evoke that perception, because each missile can direct its warheads against several widely separated targets. One D5 missile can literally destroy a small country such as North Korea, and the Navy has hundreds of them. The weapon is so well suited to its mission that although all three legs of the U.S. nuclear deterrent are being modernized, the Navy has no program to replace D5 — it will simply extend the service life of the design another 25 years. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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