The US government's Nuclear Posture Review calls for the development of new, small-yield, sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs), but the weapons need not necessarily be added to a submarine's weapons bay.
"It's important to know that the NPR, when it talks about the sea-launched cruise missile, does not say ‘submarine-launched cruise missile,'" General John Hyten, chief of US Strategic Command, said February 16 at an event in Washington. Which begs the question: what other marine platforms could be armed with nuclear weapons?
When pressed further, Hyten said, "we want to look at a number of options — everything from surface DDG 1000s [Zumwalt destroyers] to submarines, different types of submarines… that's what the president's budget has requested of us, to go look at those platforms, and we're going to walk down that path."
The Zumwalt program suffered a high number of technical issues and cost overruns that ultimately led to its cancellation. Instead of getting 32 ships as the original acquisition plans called for, the Navy will receive just three Zumwalt-type ships, unless Congress revives the program with fresh cash.
The US Navy's 2019 budget request states that the service decided to "refocus the primary mission of the Zumwalt-class destroyers from land attack to offensive surface strike." The 2019 budget requests $89 million for arming the ships with long-range SM-6 missiles, for use against air or sea targets up to 250 miles away.