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CHIPS Articles: 2015 SECNAV Innovation Award Winner: MIDN 2/C Annie McDonald

2015 SECNAV Innovation Award Winner: MIDN 2/C Annie McDonald
Study on The Nuclear Triad and Interoperable Weapons
By DON Innovation - April 29, 2016
Midshipman Second Class Annie McDonald studies Mechanical Engineering at the George Washington University, and was recognized for winning the 2015 SECNAV Innovation Award in the category of Innovation Scholarship (Midshipmen) for her essay entitled, “The Nuclear Triad and Interoperable Weapons.”

The purpose of the essay was to examine the current threats to The United States, evaluate the status of emerging nuclear powers, and establish the most efficient use of funds when considering the future of our nuclear arsenal.

The nuclear triad has allowed the U.S. to maintain weapon parity with Russia for the past 60 years; however, the technological modernization of several developing countries required us to reevaluate our nuclear priorities. The question stands: are all three components of the nuclear triad necessary?

Midshipman Annie McDonald provides evidence that geopolitical drivers indicate that the triad is still the best option the U.S. possesses to stay both technically relevant and tactically prepared. That stated, the nuclear arsenal could be improved to save money through weapon modifications and interoperability. She evaluated the Pentagon’s 3+2 Plan and offered modifications to decrease spending while increasing interoperability.

Additionally, the essay considered the ramifications of The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and how to update the arsenal without accidentally antagonizing the United States’ nuclear competitors. Finally, she considered the relevance of Anti-Ballistic Missile systems and why America must secure its status as the primacy in space missions and research.

The goal of this essay was to determine how the nuclear triad can be adjusted to lower costs based on understanding what each component brings to the fight. Strategic bombers provide power projection, and are often placed overseas as a confidence building measure between the U.S. and its allies. While this is important, the diminishing operational status of the B-52 renders the $4 billion engine refitting obsolete.

Midshipman Annie McDonald recommended other adjustments like moving from three warhead types fit for B-52s and B-2s to one, the B61-12; SLBMs and ICBMs should move from the four warhead varieties currently being used to two; W-88s and W-67s should remain onboard SSBNs for weapon redundancy, but modifying W-88s to W-78s to improve their interoperability; and sharing warheads between SLBMs and ICBMs lowers maintenance costs and required personnel training. While this last point is a joint military matter, the Navy’s dominance in nuclear security determines it to be the most affected by such changes.

The future of nuclear warfare is contingent on the U.S. Navy’s ability to remain on the cutting-edge of developing technology. By simplifying the warhead inventory, the U.S. Navy can bring increased funding and researchers to focus on the issue of the new warfighting frontier: space. Trident II Missile technology is already utilizing star positions to fine-tune the accuracy of the inertial guidance system after launch through the missile’s GPS system. ABMs can be programmed to adjust mid-flight to avoid countermeasures by enemies.

China and Russia have both expressed interest in developing their space programs with the intent of placing weapon systems on satellites. They may be far from achieving these goals technologically, but the fact that they are considering such issues means that the U.S. should allocate funds and minds to develop a plan regarding the future of nuclear and non-nuclear weapon operations from space.

The full essay can be found at:

Reprinted from the DON/SECNAV Innovation website:

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Midshipman Second Class Annie McDonald
Midshipman Second Class Annie McDonald
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