In the cold depths of the north Atlantic ocean, the USS Tennessee is slicing through the darkness carrying a new nuclear weapon that not only raises new fears for potential enemies, but also for anti-nuclear activists, who say the threat of a Third World War just got greater.
According to the Federation of American Scientists, the Trident sub left port in Georgia at the end of last year, carrying a low-yield nuclear warhead (the W76-2) with a third of the explosive power of the atomic bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima, The Guardian reported.
Commissioned by US President Donald Trump two years ago, it is the first submarine to go on patrol with the W76-2 warhead.
It has an explosive yield of five kilotons, a third of the power of the “Little Boy” bomb dropped on Hiroshima and considerably lower than the 90- and 455-kiloton warheads on other US submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
The Trump administration’s nuclear posture review (NPR) in February 2018, portrays this warhead as a counter to a perceived Russian threat to use its own “tactical” nuclear weapons to win a quick victory on the battlefield, the report said.
Advocates of W76-2 argued that the US had no effective deterrent against Russian tactical weapons because Moscow assumed Washington would not risk using the overwhelming power of its intercontinental ballistic missiles in response, for fear of escalating from a regional conflict to a civilian-destroying war, the report said.
Critics of the warhead say it accelerates a drift towards thinking of nuclear weapons as a means to fight and win wars, rather than as purely a deterrent of last resort. And the fielding of a tactical nuclear weapon, they warn, gives US political and military leaders a dangerous new option, the report said.
Those fears may be justified, considering the US came close to nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when jingoistic members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Gen. Curtis LeMay, wanted to bomb the island nation to oblivion, despite threats from the then Soviet Union.
Only the heroic actions of President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy saved the world from imminent destruction.
Hans Kristensen, the director of the nuclear information project at FAS, said the report is based on briefings from concerned officials inside the project, the report said.
“This is a very rapid mind quick turnaround for a nuclear weapon, and that’s obviously because it was a fairly simple adjustment of an existing warhead,” he added. “They have argued that this is to deter Russia, but it also has clear implications or potential use against other adversaries.”
“Certainly the low-yield collateral effect that would come from this weapon would be very beneficial to a military officer who was going to advise to the president whether we should cross the nuclear threshold.”