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Twenty years from now, how many nuclear warheads on strategic submarines will the United States need? That’s not an abstract question. The country is engaged in a costly, ambitious modernization of its nuclear weapons complex and development of a new generation of delivery systems — new strategic submarines, bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles that will be operating more than 50 years from now.
But shouldn’t the questions be more basic, such as who is the enemy and how many subs would be needed to deter that enemy?
There will be at least four or five warheads on each of the 16 ICBMs carried on each of the new subs. Their destructive power will be eight to more than 20 times that of the atomic bomb that all but destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.
That bomb killed 45,000 men, women and children instantly. Another 19,000 died during the next four months, according to a 1946 study by the Manhattan Engineer District, which built the bomb. The majority of those killed were civilians, though Hiroshima was picked because planners saw it as a military target with army barracks and defense factories. But the bomb — its 12.5 kiloton explosive power [equal to 12,500 tons of TNT], its heat effects and radiation — went well beyond those military targets. Today’s nuclear weapons are 100 kilotons and above.
It’s agreed that nuclear weapons don’t deter terrorist groups. And if history is any guide, the more the United States and other nuclear-armed countries modernize their weapons, the more tempting it is for other countries to want nuclear arsenals.
So how many warheads does the United States need over the next 40 years to deter others? Keeping reading >>