British and French Strategic Forces

Response Options to Soviet Ballistic Missile Defense

by James C. Wendt

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Both the British and the French have developed independent nuclear forces that represent potentially serious retaliatory threats to the Soviet Union. This paper briefly reviews the rationale for having these nuclear forces, current and potential strategic postures, and targeting capabilities and possibilities. Over the next 10 to 15 years, both the British and the French are scheduled to greatly expand and modernize their strategic forces. However, during this same period, the Soviets might deploy some form of ballistic missile defense that would reduce their effectiveness. This possibility is examined, and the British and French response options (cruise missiles, change of targeting, defense suppression, decoys and penetration aids, and increased attack size) are considered. The author concludes that the British could probably substantially increase the size of their threat by increasing the number of reentry vehicles carried by their missiles. The French do not have the flexibility to increase their threat size as quickly, but they are known to be concentrating on developing decoys and penetration aids. In view of these response options, providing an effective defense would be a formidable task for the Soviets.

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