- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

When U.S. special forces pinpointed the whereabouts of the elusive Abu Musab Zarqawi, U.S. warplanes were available immediately to attack the Zarqawi safe house with precision weapons. But what if the location of Zarqawi had been confirmed with comparable certainty in an area not immediately accessible to U.S. warplanes or Navy ships with cruise missiles?

What if U.S. intelligence had told the American president that only a one- or two-hour window of opportunity was available to attack this high-valued target and it was located beyond the range of U.S. military forces? With no conventional weapons options available, a U.S. strike would have been almost inconceivable. The inability of the president to act could have had expensive consequences.

It doesn’t have to be. In fact, the Department of Defense has developed an easily affordable, quickly deployable scheme to close this gap in readiness, a gap which is likely to widen.

The Navy has 14 Trident submarines armed with ballistic missiles. Each sub carries 24 Trident II ballistic missiles with a range exceeding 4,000 miles. Originally deployed with eight independently targetable nuclear warheads, each Trident missile is scheduled to carry four warheads once the latest START nuclear arms reduction treaty comes into force. Notable for its simplicity, the Pentagon plan would place four independently targetable non-nuclear warheads on each of two Trident II missiles on every Trident submarine. Each sub could attack up to eight targets with conventional weapons. Replacing nuclear warheads with conventional warheads on two missiles need not reduce the nuclear capability of the submarine because additional nuclear warheads could easily be added to the remaining 22 nuclear-armed missiles.

Trident II ballistic missiles are extraordinarily accurate. Gen. James E. Cartwright, who heads the U.S. Strategic Command, told the New York Times that the Trident II, launched from thousands of miles away, could deliver its conventional warheads within five yards of their targets. Moreover, the Trident II missile could carry out its conventional attack within an hour of a presidential command. The maneuvering areas and the missile range of deployed Trident submarines combine to effectively place the entire globe within range.

If Congress approves the Pentagon’s fiscal 2007 request for $127 million for this program, initial operational capability could be reached within two years. Full operational capability could be achieved within four years at a cost of $500 million. Congress should act promptly.

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