Submarines Aren’t Scary Enough to Avoid Conflict

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Key point:These submarines each can wipe out many cities. They are meant to stay hidden unless they are shown to make a deadly point.

Nuclear powers rarely go to war with each other, but that doesnt mean they dontthreatento do so.

Indeed, military posturing is an integral part of what Forrest Morgan, an analyst for the RAND Corporation, called crisis stability. In other words, building and posturing forces in ways that allow a state, if confronted, to avoid war without backing down.

Long-range heavy bombers are some of the best forces for crisis stability, Morgan wrote in a2013 studyfor the U.S. Air Force. Bombers are powerful, mobile and visible perfect forsignallingstrength and intent.

On the other hand, the U.S. Navys submarine-launched cruise missiles are less effective even counterproductive for crisis stability because theyre invisible most of the time.

SLCMs could contribute to the instability, Morgan wrote. [T]he opponents anxieties might be magnified by the ability of SSGNs [cruise missile subs] to posture in stealth nearby.

But Morgan pointed out one instance when the NavysOhio-class SSGNs actually did help stabilize a crisis back in 2010 a feat mostly lost to history.

In July 2010, three SSGNs surfaced nearly simultaneously in Western Pacific and Indian Ocean waters, allegedly to signal U.S. displeasure over Chinese missile tests in the East China Sea.

Major missile tests are potentially provocative and destabilizing. Americas intent in the aftermath of the Chinese tests was to signal U.S. strength with just the right amount and kind of potential force.

Submarines seemed to fit the bill, as if Washington were saying to Beijing, Sure, you might surprise us with your missiles. But we remember we have plenty of missiles of our own and theyre not far from you.

Greg Torodereportedon the incident for theSouth China Morning Post:

The appearance of the USSMichiganin Pusan, South Korea, the USSOhioin Subic Bay, in The Philippines and the USSFloridain the strategic Indian Ocean outpost of Diego Garcia not only reflects the trend of escalating submarine activity in East Asia, but carries another threat as well.

Between them, the three submarines can carry 462 Tomahawks, boosting by an estimated 60 per cent-plus the potential Tomahawk strike force of the entire Japanese-based Seventh Fleet the core projection of U.S. military power in East Asia.

One veteran Asian military attach, who keeps close ties with both Chinese and U.S. forces, noted that 460-odd Tomahawks is a huge amount of potential firepower in anybodys language.

It is another sign that the U.S. is determined to not just maintain its military dominance in Asia, but to be seen doing so that is a message for Beijing and for everybody else, whether you are a U.S. ally or a nation sitting on the fence.

This first appeared several years ago and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Flickr.

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