The United States Navy is set to add nuclear warheads to its Virginia-class attack submarines as part of new plans in the administration of US President Donald Trump.
“While Virginia-class submarines can use conventional deterrence to keep adversaries in check, a sub-launched cruise missile with a nuclear warhead would be incorporated into Virginias and give national command authority additional escalation control,” Rear Admiral John Tammen, the director of Undersea Warfare Division, told US Congress on Monday.
The new add-on would amount to a mission expansion for the Virginia submarines, which can already fire Tomahawk missiles and torpedoes.
Nuclear weapons can currently be fired from the Ohio class and the emerging Columbia-class and the new decision comes as art of Trump’s recent Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).
The Pentagon policy statement released in February aims to revamp US nuclear arsenal and develop new low-yield atomic weapons.
The new thinking, which came largely to counter Russia, effectively ends Obama-era efforts to reduce the size and scope of the US arsenal and minimize the role of nuclear weapons in defense planning.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in an introductory note that the changes reflect a need to “look reality in the eye” and “see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.”
Low-yield nuclear weapons known as “tactical” nukes can be as destructive as the bombs the US dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.