Why Did The U.S. Navy Surface 3 Submarines At The Same Time In Asia?

David Axe

Key point: America’s intent in the aftermath of the Chinese tests was to signal U.S. strength with just the right amount and kind of potential force.

Nuclear powers rarely go to war with each other, but that doesn’t mean they don’t threaten to do so.

Indeed, military posturing is an integral part of what Forrest Morgan, an analyst for the RAND Corporation, called “crisis stability.” In other words, “building and posturing forces in ways that allow a state, if confronted, to avoid war without backing down.”

Long-range heavy bombers are some of the best forces for crisis stability, Morgan wrote in a 2013 study for the U.S. Air Force. Bombers are powerful, mobile and visible — perfect for signalling strength and intent.

On the other hand, the U.S. Navy’s submarine-launched cruise missiles are less effective — even counterproductive — for crisis stability … because they’re invisible most of the time.

“SLCMs could contribute to the instability,” Morgan wrote. “[T]he opponent’s anxieties might be magnified by the ability of SSGNs [cruise missile subs] to posture in stealth nearby.”

But Morgan pointed out one instance when the Navy’s Ohio-class SSGNs actually did help stabilize a crisis back in 2010 — a feat mostly lost to history.

“In July 2010, three SSGNs surfaced nearly simultaneously in Western Pacific and Indian Ocean waters, allegedly to signal U.S. displeasure over Chinese missile tests in the East China Sea.”

Major missile tests are potentially provocative and destabilizing. America’s intent in the aftermath of the Chinese tests was to signal U.S. strength with just the right amount and kind of potential force.

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