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US nuclear sub could threaten China's area-denial strategy for Taiwan invasion

Each sub could launch Desert Storm-esque payload at Chinese coast within 6 minutes

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A Trident II missile blasts skyward after being launched from an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine. (Twitter, Lucas Tomlinson photo)

A Trident II missile blasts skyward after being launched from an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine. (Twitter, Lucas Tomlinson photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — An Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nevada, docked at the U.S. naval base in Guam on Saturday (Jan. 15), making an extremely rare public appearance that has piqued the attention of analysts.

The ballistic missile sub, colloquially called a “boomer,” is one of the U.S. Navy’s most powerful assets and is loaded with 20 Trident ballistic missiles and dozens of nuclear warheads, according to CNN. "The port visit strengthens cooperation between the United States and allies in the region, demonstrating US capability, flexibility, readiness, and continuing commitment to Indo-Pacific regional security and stability," a US Navy statement said.

Since boomers are nuclear-powered, they can reportedly stay submerged for months at a time and very rarely surface in such a public way. They are said to have been photographed very rarely outside the continental U.S., per a Eurasian Times report.

This has led many analysts to view the surfacing as a clear show of American strength — a signal the U.S. has the firepower to counter any new systems its rivals may deploy in the Western Pacific. It comes as a timely warning to China and North Korea, both of which have recently conducted ballistic tests, including, reportedly, hypersonic missiles.

Beyond the optics, the presence of the Nevada enables the U.S. to “learn how to hunt (sumarines) of other actors in the region” says Alessio Patalano, an academic at King’s College London. China’s Type 094 ballistic missile subs are twice as loud as Boomers, making them easier to find and follow, according to analysts quoted by CNN.

China’s development of its anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) or “defense bubble” strategy aims to “dissuade, deter, or, if required, defeat third-party intervention against a large-scale, theater-wide campaign” per a Pentagon paper on the subject. If the People's Liberation Army launched an amphibious attack on Taiwan, this strategy is intended to block other countries from coming to Taiwan’s aid.

Yet if there is one weapons system the U.S. has that could “kick down” the proverbial A2/AD “door,” as some analysts put it, is the Ohio-class subs. These vessels can launch 154 Tomohawk land-attack cruise missiles in less than six minutes, per a National Interest report.

This is more than half the total number of missiles launched during the entirety of Operation Desert Storm, which pushed Iraq out of Kuwait in the first Gulf War. This immense volley could potentially take out air defense targets, command centers, and many key assets the PLA needs to keep the access-denial door shut, per National Interest.

This is why having boomers within range of the Chinese coastline is so significant for Taiwan’s defense. Besides the Nevada, the U.S. navy has 14 other such vessels.