Briefer: A Theater View on the Nuclear Sea-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM-N): Does Optionality Outweigh Warfighting Costs?

By John Moulton

Recent world events, new U.S. policy decisions, and budget requests have led to renewed discussion on a specific type of nuclear weapon: the Sea-Launched Cruise Missile-Nuclear (SLCM-N). The following article examines the utility of SLCM-N, considering a geographic combatant command or theater perspective, in terms of stated U.S. policy, military planning doctrine, and associated opportunity costs.

Unique in its consideration of the effect of a reintroduction of SLCM-N into a theater in a holistic manner, this analysis reveals that being able to offer a SLCM-N option to the President of the United States would actually reduce the overall number of military response options should there be an attack against the United States, a U.S. ally or partner, and the capacity for a geographic combatant commander to execute them.

It concludes that considering SLCM-N in terms of suitability, acceptability, opportunity cost, mission flexibility, and decision space indicates a potential gain for a very narrow mission set, and that this gain would be outweighed by a variety of undesirable opportunity costs when other currently nuclear weapons-capable forces are available to accomplish the same mission with fewer barriers to entry and opportunity costs.


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