A new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (START) between the United States of America and Russia was due to take effect from February 5, with each nation entitled within 60 days to make short notice inspections of the other’s nuclear weapons facilities. The last time such inspections were carried out was December 2009, shortly before the START I, negotiated in 1990, expired. In the new START strategic nuclear warheads held by the USA and former Soviet Union are being cut to 1,550 each (contrasting with a limit of 6,000 in START I and 2,200 max under the 2002 Moscow Treaty). START II also aims to maintain a reduction in the delivery vehicles, too, including Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs). To ensure that the cuts can be identified each missile has a unique verification number. The US Senate ratified the new START treaty on December 22 last year, while the Russian parliament ratified it on January 26, paving the way for it to take effect this month. It is proposed that future negotiations over nuclear weapons held by the USA and Russia should include shorter-range tactical systems, including those used in Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). Despite moves such as START both nations are still investing heavily in new generation ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). In the USA the programme to replace the veteran Ohio Class SSBNs has just passed what is termed ‘Milestone A’. This was described by a briefing statement as ‘the point at which a recommendation is made and approval sought regarding starting or continuing an acquisition program [sic], i.e., proceeding to the next phase.’ For the Ohio Class replacement programme that means progressing into the Technology Development Phase, during which requirements for the new boat are established and the design is evolved, with the ultimate aim of issuing a construction contract.
Program Executive Officer for Submarines Rear Admiral Dave Johnson told this magazine: “The Navy is committed to ensuring that an affordable replacement ballistic missile submarine is designed, built, and delivered on time with the right capabilities to sustain the most survivable leg of our triad for many decades to come.” The plan is to replace the 14 Ohio Class boats as they each reach the ends of their service lives with 12 ‘Ohio replacement submarines’, with each new SSBN having 16 missile tubes. It is intended the new SSBN project will build on the success of the ongoing Virginia Class attack submarine programme, with the new US Navy ‘bombers’ carrying the Trident II (D5) Life Extension missile. Meanwhile, in Russia, government sources stressed that the new START treaty would not hinder development of the Bulava SLBM for the new Borey Class submarines, of which the first in class completed its latest series of trials at Severodvinsk at the end of last year. Three Boreys are currently being built while the first of new Yasen Class nuclear-powered attack boats, Severodvinsk, was rolled out at Sevmash in June last year. She is allegedly due to enter service in early 2011, but as with all such programmes since the end of the Cold War there have been considerable delays and that deadline is not expected to be met.