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Nuclear deterrence rests on the ability of strategic assets to survive an enemy’s first strike and to retaliate, ensuring mutually assured destruction.

 

Nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) are considered to be the most survivable of all nuclear platforms due to their stealth capabilities, mobility and discretion. Placing nuclear assets underwater puts them at a safer distance from a crippling first strike. But as technology improves and the ocean battlefield becomes more complex, these advances could undermine the survivability of strategic forces around the world and make them far more vulnerable.

 

Emerging technologies like unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) add to the complexity of the battle space and disrupt the status quo. Swarms of autonomous underwater drones could be deployed to hunt ballistic-missile submarines, targeting a cornerstone of nuclear deterrence.

 

In their 2017 article ‘The new era of counterforce’, Keir A. Lieber and Daryl Press argue that for most of the nuclear age, the survivability of retaliatory forces seemed straightforward. However, improvements in counterforce technology have eroded this cornerstone of nuclear deterrence. As new technology continues to raise the potential for major shifts in the military realm, the rapid advent of these drones may reduce the credibility and effectiveness of SSBNs.

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Category: Science