Russian Strategic Submarine Force – Nuclear Deterrence with Uncertainty

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Lurking the depths of international waters, there are strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) waiting to carry out national-level orders to deliver nuclear destruction of adversary targets. Until that chilling moment comes, SSBNs remain five (soon to be six) nations’ most-survivable strategic deterrence delivery platforms. Their role is as much about deterring a nuclear attack as actually carrying out such a launch mission. SSBNs found their place in the Russian strategic triad early in the Cold War, yet today their operational readiness (and role as a deterrent) appears threatened – from their own nation. Building, operating and maintaining a mission-ready SSBN force is an immensely expensive commitment. First, if national leadership relies on nuclear deterrence as a maxim of their national security strategy, they need to back that with shrewd decision-making and enforce effective prioritization of scarce resources. Second, the nation must operate with sound economic principles and diverse investments for its future. Finally, building and keeping a strong technology sector with a talented workforce is paramount. Russia is failing in all of these essential criteria. In August 2009, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently identified “maintenance and development of the nuclear capability” a military budget priority, yet according to defense industry reporting, Russian defense budgets suffer roughly 40% losses due to corruption annually. This is not an atmosphere that represents stability in Russian defense leadership. Russia’s economy is extremely reliant upon gas and oil exports. Operating as a monopolistic energy provider in Eurasia does not provide enough diversity to absorb difficult economic downtur... ... middle of paper ... ...This next generation SSBN-SLBM combination is dismally more of the same for the Russian nuclear submarine program. Between 2000 and 2008, there were four Russian nuclear submarine mishaps (2 sank, 2 caught fire), killing 149 sailors, including the entire crew of the Kursk. Russia has a litany of problems it must resolve in order to restore confidence to the maritime leg of their nuclear deterrence triad with some expectation of certainty. In the meantime, the U.S. national command authority and the intelligence community must reassess our position of ongoing strategic arms talks with Russia, ensuring their current SSBN program situation is part of our negotiating calculus. Equally important, our leadership must reassess our own SSBN fleet; to include the spectrum of resources and technological edge we are committing to enable our nuclear deterrence capability.

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