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Modernizing the U.S. Sea-based Strategic Deterrent Force and the Need for 12 Columbia-class SSBNs

  • 214 Massachusetts Avenue Northeast Washington, DC, 20002 United States (map)

Since the first submarine strategic deterrent patrol by USS George Washington (SSBN-598) in 1960, U.S. nuclear ballistic missile submarines (or SSBNs)  have provided the most survivable leg of the U.S. Strategic Nuclear Triad. U.S. SSBNs on patrol are virtually undetectable and hold adversary strategic targets constantly at risk. Today’s force of 14 Ohio-class SSBNs carry 70 percent of deployed U.S. strategic nuclear warheads, and when they retire after a 42-year service life, they will be the longest serving submarines in U.S. Naval history. The 12 planned Columbia-class submarines will provide an overdue modernization of the U.S. sea-based strategic deterrent force and will possess advanced stealth technologies to ensure they remain survivable against evolving threats into the 2080s. Strategic nuclear modernization critics have questioned the need to modernize the U.S. SSBN force and argued that a smaller number of Columbia-class SSBNs can provide a sufficient deterrent capability. Our panel of experts will explore the importance of a modern SSBN force on deterring adversaries and the impacts of reducing the number of U.S. SSBNs.