U.S. diverting strategic nuke subs to Pacific to keep China in check.
The United States is strengthening its strategic nuclear capacity in the Pacific by diverting its strategic nuclear submarines from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and upgrading nuclear warheads, in an apparent move to keep China and North Korea in check, U.S. Congress sources and nuclear experts said Sunday.
The change in balance of the submarine fleet reflects a shift in the U.S. nuclear deployment strategy away from competing with Cold War rival Russia to demonstrating deterrence against China over flash points in Asia such as tensions across the Taiwan Strait and on the Korean Peninsula.
In the Defense Department's annual report to Congress in July, the United States expressed wariness over China's rapidly growing military power.
The report noted that China's Dongfeng-31 intercontinental ballistic missiles, which can threaten the U.S. homeland, will become mobile by next year and its submarine-launched ballistic missiles upgraded.
The United States had eight Ohio-class strategic missile submarines in the Pacific and 10 in the Atlantic in 1997. The number in the Pacific has since been halved with four of the Trident-missile-fitted submarines converted into conventionally armed cruise missile submarines.
However, sources in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Congress said that by the end of this year, four Ohio-class submarines in the Atlantic will have been diverted from the Atlantic side to a Navy base in Bangor in the state of Washington on the Pacific coast.
In addition, the U.S. military is planning to send another submarine from the Atlantic for deployment at the base, the sources said.
While the newest U.S. Trident II missile has a range of more than 7,400 kilometers, it would not reach Asia from the Atlantic.
If the plan is realized, a record number of nine Ohio-class submarines will be deployed in the Pacific, while five will be on the Atlantic side based in Kings Bay, Georgia.
Hans Kristensen, a nuclear program consultant at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, said the U.S. military is planning to upgrade the W76 nuclear warheads equipped on the Ohio-class submarines so they can explode close to ground in order to destroy an enemy's underground headquarters.
Each Ohio-class submarine is equipped with 24 Trident missile launchers and each missile can carry up to eight nuclear warheads. Currently, about 2,000 nuclear missiles are fitted on the 14 submarines in the Pacific and the Atlantic.
U.S. strategic missile submarines were introduced in the early 1960s as the principal strategic deterrent for the United States during the Cold War period to prevent direct attacks from the Soviet Union so that the nation can survive even if the enemy launches a nuclear first-strike.
Even after former U.S. President George Bush decided in 1991 to remove strategic nuclear arms from aircraft and offensive submarines, Ohio-class submarines with strategic nuclear missiles continued to be deployed.
The administration of President Bill Clinton decided in the 1990s to reduce the number in the fleet from 18 to 14 but kept the deployment focus on Russia.