The Pentagon has begun equipping intercontinental ballistic missiles Trident II (D5), which are in service with strategic nuclear missile-based submarines, with new small-power nuclear warheads W76-2, reported the Federation of American Scientists.
According to its data, the first of such Ohio class Ohio - Tennessee SSBNs, equipped with 1-2 missiles with new W76-2 warheads, at the end of December 2019 was already on duty in the Atlantic from the base of strategic submarines Kings Bay.
According to experts, it is expected that one or two of the 20 Trident II (D5) missiles in service with each of the 14 U.S. SSBNs will be equipped with W76-2 warheads. In this case, such a missile will carry one or more warheads.
The power of each warhead is about 5-6 kilotons, which is one-third of the power of the American bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The remaining 18 missiles on each SSBN will still be equipped with W76-1 warheads with 90 kiloton capacity and W88 with 455 kiloton capacity. Each of these missiles can carry up to eight warheads as standard equipment.
The administration of the U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans to create new small-capacity nuclear warheads back in early 2018. As part of the new U.S. nuclear strategy, the first small-capacity nuclear warhead W76-2 was produced in February 2019 at the Pantex facility in Texas to re-equip part of the Trident II (D5) intercontinental ballistic missiles for SSBNs.
As the U.S. National Nuclear Safety Administration earlier reported, the first batch of new small-capacity W76-2 warheads produced from the more powerful W76-1 should have entered the U.S. Navy by the end of September last year.
The number of produced warheads is not officially disclosed. It was only noted that it would be small. According to available data, about 20 such warheads could have been produced by September last year. Last fiscal year $65 million was allocated for their creation. This fiscal year, the department received another $60 million.
The Pentagon also plans to create low-power nuclear warheads for sea-based cruise missiles, which will be installed on attack submarines and surface ships.
The Pentagon argues the need to deploy low-power (tactical) nuclear weapons because they will "more effectively deter Russia" and prevent it from "using its large tactical nuclear weapons potential.
The Donald Trump administration believes that small-capacity weapons will make a full-scale nuclear war less likely by providing the US with a more flexible deterrent. According to Washington, this would allegedly prevent the enemy, Russia in particular, from using tactical weapons in the hope that the US will not use its powerful strategic nuclear weapons in response to a limited nuclear attack.
As noted in the U.S. nuclear strategy adopted in 2018, the presence of low-power nuclear weapons "will ensure that potential adversaries cannot take advantage of limited nuclear escalation, making the use of nuclear weapons less likely.