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U.S. Plans New Docking Site for Missile Upgrades

The United States in July is expected to launch construction of a $715 million docking facility for enhancing its fleet of submarine-fired ballistic missiles, the Seattle Times reported on Sunday (see GSN, March 29, 2011).

The U.S. Navy has said the second dock site, planned for Naval Base Kitsap in Washington state, would prove key to extending the service life of the nation's Trident 2 D-5 ballistic missiles through 2042.  Related operations are expected to require twice the number of days of annual dock availability possible at the base's existing berth.

The Defense Department is expected in early 2012 to deliver its environmental assessment for the dock, one of the final regulatory requirements for the four-year building effort to start.

The Bangor site at Naval Base Kitsap hosts eight of the country's 14 submarines that carry nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. Twelve of the vessels are active at all times.

Representative Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) previously said the Navy made "a very strong case" for the planned construction.

"I looked at this (wharf) very carefully. And I'm aware about the concerns about the necessity," Dicks said. "I think this is a worthy project."

The lawmaker said the project is justified despite a scheduled reduction in the number of submarines at the Bangor base. The Navy is seeking in 2029 to start construction of 12 next-generation ballistic-missile vessels,  but a number of analysts have suggested only 10 would be constructed.

It is unclear how the planned dock would dovetail with budget constrictions and anticipated reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, said Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center.

The U.S.-Russian New START treaty requires both nations by 2018 to cut their counts of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 and fielded delivery systems to 700. The Obama administration has said it hopes to achieve additional bilateral arms cuts with Moscow (see GSN, Jan. 6).

"In times of great budgetary stringency, this appropriations ought to raise eyebrows," Krepon said.

The Trident missiles are the "crown jewels" of the nation's nuclear deterrent, but the number of ballistic-missile submarines might still fall in coming decades, said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.

"The real driver is, 'How many subs are going to be operating at the base in the future?' " he said. "This has to be taken into consideration" (Kyung Song, Seattle Times, Jan. 8).

 

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