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US Navy Missile Submarine Has Begun Its First Patrol Armed With Low Yield Nukes


The U.S. Navy has reportedly sent an Ohio class ballistic missile submarine on patrol for the first time carrying Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles armed with the new and controversial low-yield W76-2 nuclear warhead.


US Navy Missile Submarine Has Begun Its First Patrol Armed With Low Yield Nukes 925 001 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee (SSBN 734) (Picture source: U.S. Navy)


The Federation of American Scientists reported the deployment on January 20, 2020. The Ohio class ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee left its homeport at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia in late December 2019 for a deterrent patrol armed with an unknown number of Trident IIs carrying W76-2s.

The W76-2s seems superficially identical to the much more powerful W76-1 nuclear weapons carried by the same submarines. But compared to those thermonuclear whoppers, the W76-2 has a relatively "low" yield of more or less, 5 kilotons. It was developed in response to the Trump Administration's Nuclear Posture Review, which outlined the need for smaller nukes.

The submarine is said to have begun patrolling in the Atlantic late last month and is expected to return to its homeport sometime next month. A second W76-2 armed sub may be patrolling in the Pacific Ocean.

The warheads were produced by the Department of Energy over the past year. An Energy Department spokesperson confirmed to NPR in November that they had been transferred to the U.S. Navy.