A nuclear-armed U.S. ballistic missile submarine arrived in Scotland this week amid growing tensions with Moscow over Ukraine and Russia’s strategic arms buildup.
The submarine, the USS Wyoming, arrived at the British naval base at Faslane, Scotland, Wednesday morning for what the U.S. Strategic Command said is a routine visit.
However, ballistic missile submarine movements and port visits normally are not announced by the Navy or the Strategic Command, an indication the Wyoming’s port call is intended as strategic messaging to Moscow.
The submarine visit “demonstrates the closeness of the U.S./U.K. defense relationship and our commitment to the collective security of all NATO member states,” Stratcom said in a brief statement.
The submarine deployment followed an earlier unannounced visit by a British missile submarine to Kings Bay, Ga., the homeport of the Wyoming.
The Ohio-class strategic submarine carries 24 Trident II nuclear missiles. Missile submarines, known as boomers, are the backbone of the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal because of their stealth, maneuverability, and firepower.
A defense official said the Wyoming deployment is part of efforts to provide strategic assurance, bolstering so-called extended nuclear deterrence that U.S. nuclear forces provide for NATO.
Stratcom spokesman Maj. Matt Miller said the visit was planned for more than a year and is not a response to regional events, nor “directed at any particular potential adversary.”
“The U.S. routinely and visibly demonstrates our commitment to our allies through forward presence and operations of strategic forces, including SSBNs,” he said.
The submarine deployment also compliments exercises, training, operations, and other military cooperation between U.S. and British forces. The visit will boost the Wyoming crew’s familiarization with the region.
Naval analyst Norman Polmar said the Wyoming port call is unusual but not unprecedented.
“More British SSBNs visit Kings Bay than U.S. subs make port calls in the UK because [the British] test fire Trident missiles on our Atlantic missile range,” Polmar said. SSBN is a military acronym for a ballistic missile submarine.
The Wyoming’s visit followed the disclosure last week that Russia is building an underwater nuclear-armed drone submarine known as Kanyon. The drone is in development and is designed for strategic nuclear strikes on U.S. ports and coastal cities, according to Pentagon officials.
Russia has been building up its nuclear forces by adding 40 new long-range nuclear missiles, new submarines, and a new bomber. The buildup comes as Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, have issued threats to use nuclear weapons against NATO members over the alliance’s opposition to U.S. missile defenses, the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, and continued covert action aimed at destabilizing eastern Ukraine.
In addition to the Kanyon, Russia is fielding new attack submarines known as the Yasen-class and a new ballistic missile submarines known as the Borey-class.
Concerns over Russian nuclear threats and comments by Putin on the use of nuclear arms were raised by Defense Secretary Ash Carter in June.
“Nuclear weapons are not something that should be the subject of loose rhetoric by world leadership,” Carter said during a visit to Europe.
“We all understand the gravity of nuclear dangers,” he added. “We all understand that Russia is a long-established nuclear power. There's no need for Vladimir Putin to make that point.”
Carter said Putin’s nuclear posturing was “not appropriate behavior.”
The defense secretary said the Pentagon and NATO are adopting a “new playbook” to deter and be ready to respond to further Russian aggression.
“We are looking at NATO responses that are much more mobile, much more agile, able to respond on short time lines, because that's how events today unfold, unlike a quarter let alone a half a century ago,” he said.
Putin last year made a veiled threat to use nuclear arms in response to NATO’s opposition to the takeover of Crimea.
Then in June, in response to NATO bolstering military forces in Eastern Europe, Putin announced the addition of 40 ICBMs to Russia’s strategic forces. He said because of new NATO military deployments near Russia, “we will be forced to aim our armed forces … at those territories from where the threat comes," Putin said.
“More than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles able to overcome even the most technically advanced anti-missile defense systems will be added to the make-up of the nuclear arsenal this year," Putin said.
In response, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called the comments unwarranted “nuclear saber rattling” that was “destabilizing and dangerous.”
Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said in a speech in July that the Russian nuclear threat is increasing while the U.S. nuclear deterrence is weakening.
“On the nuclear deterrence front, we likely have more cause for concern today than at any point since the Soviet Union collapsed—with a swift kick from the policies of Ronald Reagan,” Roger said.
Russia has issued overt and direct nuclear threats to neighbors and NATO, illegally seized Crimea, violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces missile treaty, and adopted a new military doctrine emphasizing the use of nuclear arms early in a conflict against NATO and the United States, he said.