WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Navy has deployed its controversial submarine-launched low-yield nuclear warhead, the Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday, marking the event the first deployment of a new nuclear weapon added to the US WMDs arsenal in decades.
“The US Navy has fielded the W76-2 low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warhead,” John Rood, the under Secretary of Defense for Policy, said in a statement, The Hill reported.
“This supplemental capability strengthens deterrence and provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon; supports our commitment to extended deterrence; and demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario,” he added.
The US called for the low-yield warhead as part of its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. The administration argues the warhead is necessary to deter Russia. Moscow, the argument goes, might have miscalculated that the United States was unwilling to use its nuclear weapons in response to a Russian low-yield nuclear strike because the existing US weapons were too powerful.
“In the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the department identified the requirement to ‘modify a small number of submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads’ to address the conclusion that potential adversaries, like Russia, believe that employment of low-yield nuclear weapons will give them an advantage over the United States and its allies and partners,” Rood said in his statement.
The warhead is a modification of the existing W76, which is used to arm submarine-launched Trident II missiles. Critics, including arms control advocates and congressional Democrats, argue the new low-yield warhead is dangerous and unnecessary. They fear the threshold for the United States’ willingness to use nuclear weapons will be lowered.
They also argue that the United States already had a lower-yield option in its air-launched nuclear weapons. House Democrats included in their initial version of last year’s defense policy bill a ban on deploying the submarine-launched low-yield warhead, but the prohibition was taken out of the final bill signed into law during negotiations with the Senate.
In his statement, John Rood, the under Secretary of Defense for Policy, did not specify when and where the new nuclear warhead was deployed. In an interview with The Associated Press about the deployment, Rood declined to provide those details, saying they were classified.
The Federation of American Scientists, which first reported the deployment last week citing anonymous sources, said the warhead was believed to be on the USS Tennessee when it left from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia at the end of 2019 for a patrol in the Atlantic Ocean.