Something positive and important happened in June that deserved more notice than it got. The Navy successfully launched two Trident II (D-5) Fleet Ballistic Missiles from a submerged Ohio-class submarine, marking the 149th and 150th successful test flights of the system since design was completed in 1989. The two launches set a new global reliability record for large ballistic missiles, which further confirms the status of the Ohio fleet as the most secure and dependable leg of the nuclear triad.
The missiles are manufactured by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, which traces its role as the Navy’s prime contractor for strategic missiles back to the inception of the Polaris program in 1955. The D-5 is deployed on 14 boats in the Ohio fleet and four Vanguard-class subs operated by the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy. The missile is undergoing a series of upgrades designed to extend its service life through 2040 — not only on Ohio-class boats, but on successor submarines currently in the early stages of development.
U.S. strategy seeks to deter nuclear war by maintaining an assured retaliatory capability that would negate any advantage an enemy might seek to achieve in launching a surprise attack. The present deterrent force consists of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and long-range bombers. The sea-based leg of the nuclear force is generally recognized to be the most resilient, because when Trident boats are submerged away from their home ports, they cannot be tracked or targeted by enemies.
Over time, the U.S. will probably expand the role of active defenses in its strategic posture. However, there is no time in the foreseeable future when survivable offensive forces will not be crucial to the prevention of a nuclear exchange. The reliability of Lockheed Martin’s missile and the outstanding discipline of Navy nuclear crews thus play a central role in keeping the peace. No other military in the world has come close to matching the D-5’s record for reliability, underscoring the pace-setting quality of U.S. defense technology.
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