When the United States first developed nuclear weapons, no one anticipated that the country would need three ways to deliver them. But, since the 1960s, U.S. nuclear weapons have been deployed by air, land, and sea. These three modes of delivery (and the vehicles that support them) are collectively known as the strategic triad. But does this three-pronged nuclear strategy still make sense? Joe Kirschbaum, a director in our Defense Capabilities and Management team, led a team that examined this issue. Listen to what they found, and read on as today’s WatchBlog examines the strategic triad. What exactly is the strategic triad? The strategic triad is made up of three types of strategic delivery vehicles that can launch nuclear weapons. They are
- Nuclear-capable heavy bombers (launched from the air),
- Intercontinental ballistic missiles or ICBMs (launched from the ground), and
- Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (launched from the sea).
(Excerpted from GAO-16-740)So, as the number of U.S. nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles decreased, DOD assessed whether the nation still needed each type of vehicle. It concluded that maintaining all three parts of the triad was necessary because each vehicle type has specific advantages for nuclear deterrence. These include
- ICBMs can be deployed promptly.
- Nuclear-capable submarines are the most survivable of the three types of vehicles.
- Nuclear-capable bomber planes can be used as a visible show of nuclear force.