New "survivable" nuclear weapons that have been described as “a dangerous solution in search of a problem” have been deployed for the first time by the US military.
The US Defence Department announced overnight that the warheads had been deployed to the USS Tennessee on active service in the Atlantic Ocean.
A modern Trident missile, of the type carried on many US and Royal Navy boats, usually carries nuclear warheads with the explosive power of up to 100 kilotons of TNT.
But Kate Hudson, from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, told Daily Star Online that she believes the US Navy's new W76-2 low-yield ballistic missile warheads will make a nuclear conflict more likely.
The precise killing power of the new "survivable" weapons is classified. However defence experts expect them to have yields in the region of 5 to 6 kilotons – that’s broadly a quarter of the power of the weapon that obliterated Hiroshima in August 1945.
"This supplemental capability strengthens deterrence and provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon," John Rood, the undersecretary of defence for policy, said in a statement.
He added that the new weapon "supports our commitment to extended deterrence; and demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario.”
But critics have said that by lowering the power of nuclear weapons, the Pentagon has made the threat of a nuclear exchange more likely.
"The administration's decision to deploy the W76-2 warhead remains a misguided and dangerous one. The deployment of this warhead does nothing to make Americans safer," Democratic Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
"President Trump now has a more usable nuclear weapon that is a dangerous solution in search of a problem," added Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association advocacy group.
Ms Hudson, general secretary of CND, told Daily Star Online: “Donald Trump famously asked a foreign policy expert in 2016, why can’t the US use nuclear weapons? This marriage of an unpredictable and belligerent president to these new so-called ‘usable’ nuclear weapons is a marriage made in hell.
"Nuclear weapons have conventionally been promoted as a ‘deterrent’. One state’s nuclear weapons, so the argument goes, deter other states from using their nuclear weapons because both sides will bear huge costs if they are used."
She added: "Trump’s new low-yield 'usable' weapons move away from this approach and he has increased the number of circumstances in which nuclear weapons could be used.
"His new policy says nuclear weapons could be used against a group that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or employ nuclear devices, as well as against significant non-nuclear strategic attacks, including attacks on civilian population or infrastructure."
“So low-yield nuclear weapons make nuclear use far more likely. If they are used, they will almost inevitably trigger escalation to high-yield nukes. Millions of people could perish.”
The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) says the W76-2 is intended to “expand the range of credible US options for responding to nuclear or non-nuclear strategic attack.”
The inclusion of the words ‘non-nuclear strategic attack’ in the NPR explicitly target the new weapon at Iran as much as Russia – suggesting that the city-killing missile could be used in response to a large-scale non-nuclear strike.