Case Study

Deterrence Leadership

Washington, D.C.

The Navy plays an essential role in nuclear deterrence through its sea-based ballistic missile submarine force. To sustain that role, Navy leadership seeks a common understanding of nuclear history, deterrence theory, and nuclear triad responsibilities across the Service and with key stakeholders.

Over a decade ago, as it began considering recapitalization of the sea-based nuclear deterrent, the Navy sought to build consensus among senior leadership on the Navy’s role in the nuclear triad within the context of historical deterrence practice and the demands of a future security environment.

Knowing of SPA’s expertise in applying deterrence principles and practice to submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the Navy partnered with SPA to design a foundational seminar for senior leaders. The resulting seminar, “Nuclear Deterrence and the Navy,” focuses on explaining the Navy’s role in deterrence and has since been presented throughout the Navy and across the Defense Department and Congress. The seminar covers the following topics:

  • Strategic Nuclear Deterrence Principles and Foundations
  • Nuclear History
  • Nuclear Weapons over Time
  • Arms Control
  • Cold War, Unipolar, Global War on Terror

Leveraging our subject matter expertise on nuclear deterrence and submarine operations, SPA has made significant contributions to Defense and Congressional leadership’s understanding of the Navy’s deterrent mission, its history, and the future application of deterrence principles as the mission evolves in today’s strategic environment.

Deterrence Highlights

Shaping Leadership Perspective

Since 2009, SPA has presented the “Nuclear Deterrence and the Navy” seminar on behalf of the Navy to over 1,500 attendees, including a former Deputy Secretary of Defense, Flag Officers, members of the Senior Executive Service, and Congressional staff. These engagements informed the 2010 and 2018 Nuclear Posture Reviews and shaped senior leader perspectives during recapitalization debates.

Timely, Practical Training

SSBN Commanding Officers (CO) and Executive Officers (XO) are integral to the Navy’s nuclear deterrence mission. SPA formalized and refined a Prospective CO and XO training program, currently delivered 3–4 times a year, with the goal of enhancing understanding of the nuclear deterrence mission by those most responsible for its daily execution.

Informing Modernization Choices

Applying our expertise in deterrence and submarine operations, we provided supporting analysis to the Navy to frame and evaluate key choices and trade-offs that helped shape the COLUMBIA SSBN. We analyzed policy and strategy demands, the realities of submarine operations and maintenance cycles, and the opportunities for technology insertion. SPA’s analysis enabled the Navy to make highly informed decisions across the range of possibilities.

Thought Leadership on Deterrence

Key government stakeholders regularly call upon SPA for insight when making decisions on deterrence. We bring our multidisciplinary deterrence expertise to bear, supporting the Navy, Office of Secretary of Defense, U.S. Strategic Command, and the U.S. Air Force. We provide timely analysis on future force development, identify innovative approaches to force application, and shape command and control structures in response to the demands of future operating environments.

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