The US State Department keeps inundating the world community with its "reports" on arms control and forthright statements about the possible use of American nuclear weapons. Under Donald Trump's administration the number of grounds for their use hit record high: up to fourteen different options. All of them are listed in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review of the United States, which is an open part of the country's current nuclear doctrine.
April 23 this year (April 24 Moscow time), under the title "Strengthening nuclear deterrence and reducing nuclear intervention risks: an additional low-yield submarine warhead", the American diplomatic department published another study in a previously announced series of materials under the umbrella title "Arms Control and International Security Research". (Analysis of the first report in this section titled "New Arms Control Approach of the United States..." was published on the Inforos website on April 29 this year).
In the new report, the "additional low-yield submarine warhead" refers to the W 76-2 nuclear warhead that the US strategic nuclear force began to install on the Trident II (D5) intercontinental SLBMs of the Ohio-class nuclear submarines. The first carrier of this kind to get the W 76-2 warheads was the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine "Tennessee" with the tail number SSBN-734, which, according to Britain's The Guardian, was already equipped with such warheads when it took to combat patrolling in the Atlantic Ocean late last year. In February this year, official Washington confirmed this fact. "Tennessee" is assigned to the Georgia-located King's Bay strategic submarine base.
The first W 76-2 nuclear warhead was manufactured in February 2019. Given that their overall number may exceed 50 pieces, all of the 14 Ohio-class SSBNs available in the US START arsenal can be equipped with such warheads with a capacity of up to 5 kilotons. Their use is stipulated in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review.
The US strategic nuclear force is supposed to use the W 76-2 against Russia and China, in certain "local" conflicts, as well as for "symmetric response to an outside nuclear attack with low-yield nuclear warheads".
In particular, their use against Russia is justified by the need to counter a certain Russian "escalation for de-escalation" nuclear strategy, which is nonexistent in its nuclear doctrine. Using W 76-2 is also justified by the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons by Moscow and Beijing (TNW). Washington's argument to this effect is all too strange, since the TNW of Russia and China is located in their territories all the way through, while that of the United States is stored on two continents. Moreover, on the European one it has been there for over 70 years.
Naturally, Moscow cannot ignore the American side's having begun and planning to deploy W 76-2 warheads on strategic nuclear carriers. The fact that such warheads have less power than existing ICBMs and US SSBNs does not change their strategic purpose because of their being delivered by strategic carriers as represented by SSBNs that are associated not with the TNW, but with START. Specifically, under the Russian-American agreements to limit and cut strategic nuclear weapons, such systems comprise nuclear warheads of any capacity that can be delivered to ocean-spanning distances, that is 5 500 kilometers and beyond.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has adamantly and decisively responded to the US State Department's report advocating the deployment of W 76-2 nuclear warheads, and going further back – to their installation on US SSBNs. Moscow said any launch of a nuclear-armed SSBN would be perceived as a nuclear attack. Additionally, in compliance with the Russian military doctrine with its "nuclear" section, doing so will lay the groundwork for a retaliatory use of nuclear weapons by the Russian side.
The US State Department hurried to respond to this kind of Moscow's reaction, but, as often happens, distorted the Russian Foreign Ministry's statement, crediting it with ghost words about a nuclear retaliation in response to the mere installation of the W 76-2 on US SSBNs. The Department's allegation that the latter do not belong to forward-based means is also false. They do, unambiguously.
Installing the W 76-2 warheads on American strategic missile submarines, as well as including statements about their use under various artificial pretexts in the US nuclear strategy, is a destabilizing factor that undermines strategic stability and dramatically reduces Washington's nuclear intervention threshold.
These are really formidable circumstances. They can hardly be ignored in military posture programs of the Russian Federation and during the in-depth development of the Russian stance as regards a new START-3prolongation.