The Trump administration’s ongoing review of U.S. nuclear strategy could call for two new submarine-launched atomic weapons. One of the new weapons, a less-destructive version of the Navy’s Trident ballistic missile, appears to be part of a risky plan for lowering the threshold for nuclear retaliation.
Experts say a lower threshold raises the likelihood of atomic apocalypse. “The new policies only increase the chances of blundering into a nuclear war,” Bruce Blair, a Princeton University nuclear scholar, told The Daily Beast.
Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review, which will succeed Obama’s 2010 nuclear review, is slated for public release in coming weeks. Some experts and policymakers have seen drafts of the review, one of whom shared details with The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity.
According to the source, the new review will direct the U.S. nuclear-weapons establishment—which includes the Defense Department and the Department of Energy—to develop a nuclear-tipped cruise missile for the Navy’s guided-missile and attack submarines, plus a new version of the Trident intercontinental ballistic missile that equips the fleet’s ballistic-missile submarines.
It’s unclear how fast Trump will want the new weapons. Designing, testing, and building a new atomic munition design can take decades and cost tens of billions of dollars.
The Pentagon’s current nuclear-modernization effort, which began under Obama and includes new bombers and submarines but no brand-new missiles or warheads, is projected to cost up to a trillion dollars over 30 years. The Pentagon completed its last totally new atomic warhead design in the early 1980s.
It’s also unclear how many new missiles the administration aims to acquire. The United States possesses around 4,000 atomic warheads, but the New START treaty with Russia limits the number of ready-to-use warheads to just 1,550. The same treaty caps the number of nuclear “delivery vehicles”—missiles, bombers, and submarines—to just 700.