Submarine Missions: Nuclear Deterrence

American Cold War policy relied heavily on nuclear deterrence: preventing attack by threatening the attacker with nuclear annihilation in retaliation. To be credible, such a policy required certainty that retaliatory forces could survive. By the 1960s, the United States largely relied on three distinct forces to deter nuclear attack; each had its own form of protection, and each alone could deliver devastating destruction. These forces came to be known as the Strategic Triad:

  1. A fleet of long-range bombers, some of which were always airborne.
  2. An arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in underground silos.
  3. A force of sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) carried on submarines.
The Department of Defense estimates the price of Cold War U.S. offensive strategic forces at $1.26 trillion (in constant 1996 dollars), but explicitly omits many indirect costs. Adding estimates of $150 billion for research and development and $570 billion for overhead and support functions would bring the total price of Cold War strategic nuclear deterrence to almost $2 trillion.

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