By Adm. Cecil D. Haney
Commander, U.S. Strategic Command
Today, the nation commemorates the 4,000th strategic deterrent submarine patrol with dual ceremonies at SUBASE Kings Bay, GA and SUBASE Bangor, WA. While all U.S. submarines have nuclear propulsion, the SSBNs (Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear), nicknamed “Boomers,” are capable of carrying ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.
Since 1960, our Sailors have silently patrolled the vast waters of the earth safeguarding the security of the United States and our allies by deterring conflict with potential adversaries. The dual-coast celebration of the 4,000th patrol honors the Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, ship maintainers, shore support services, ship designers, ship builders and technical organizations that successfully teamed up over the past five decades to achieve this milestone.
Post-Cold War Relevance.
The U.S. monopoly on nuclear weapons ended when Russia detonated a nuclear device in 1949. The Russians then put the first SSBN to sea and we responded with GEORGE WASHINGTON class SSBNs. Since then, many have worked tirelessly to keep our strategic submarines, armed with sophisticated nuclear armed missiles, always at sea where only those on board know their exact location. On patrol for months at a time, our SSBNs ensure no country will ever threaten our survival without knowing with certainty we will respond at the time and place of the President’s choosing with credible, devastating combat power. While our strategic nuclear forces are a critical element of our nation’s deterrent strategy, it’s important to understand our strategy is broader than nuclear deterrence and encompasses all elements of national power. It also includes intelligence, dedicated sensors, nuclear command, control and communication (NC3), missile defense, cyberspace and space capabilities, and of course, an effective campaign to orient our capabilities to deter strategic attack and assure our allies.
Staying the Course.
The U.S. nuclear triad consists of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers and the SSBN. While each leg of our triad is unique and complementary, the SSBN is our most survivable. The SSBN force is also responsible for a majority of the nuclear weapons within the U.S. arsenal. That alone highlights the importance of the sea-based portion of our deterrent strategy. With weapons that allow us to strike from almost anywhere in the world, the stealth design of our submarines makes finding an SSBN an almost impossible task. Our regular and routine missile flight tests show that our nuclear deterrence capability works and provide reassurance to our allies and warning to our potential adversaries. The shipyards and maintenance facilities streamline and align efforts to support non-stop production work. Weapon facilities safely maintain and load our arsenal onto SSBNs. Marines provide security around the clock. The Coast Guard provides security escorts during surfaced transits into and out of port. Squadrons and support commands assist and certify the submarine crews. And finally, but most important, the SSBN Sailors man these warships continuously, operating our existing fleet and getting it right every day. Their efforts keep our SSBNs at sea where they are the most safe, secure, and effective.
Though the Cold War is long over, the need for SSBNs to patrol the seas has not waned. As the global environment becomes more challenging, our strategic forward presence will not only continue to defend the homeland, but will assure our allies and deter those who might otherwise threaten us. As we commemorate the 4,000th patrol, we celebrate the success of every class of SSBN and honor the men and women of the force who are at the ready, 24/7, supporting USSTRATCOM’s mission of strategic deterrence — protecting this Nation and our allies every day.