Nunn School Visit to Kings Bay Sub Base to Learn About US Nuclear Deterrence Capabilities

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Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay is one of only two locations that are home ports for Ohio-class Trident ballistic missile submarines, which compose one third of the US nuclear deterrence "triad." Early in November, three undergraduate students, along with Assistant Professor Margaret E. Kosal, traveled to the US Navy Base south of Savannah to participate in the “Sustaining the Triad: the Enduring Requirements of Deterrence” conference where they had to opportunity to meet with leaders in strategic deterrence and undersea warfare from the US DoD, UK, & industry and to go aboard the USS West Virginia (SSBN 736). This unique learning event for Georgia Tech students was unclassified but not open to the general public.


Nunn School of International Affairs undergrads Gillen Heisler, Shaudie Fassih, and Danny Thai attended seminars by notable speakers including former Ambassador Linton Brooks; US Congressional Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT); active duty 2, 3, and 4-star Generals and Admirals from the US Air Force, the US Navy, and the Royal Navy (UK); and others from the security policy community. The speakers’ remarks highlighted current problems and successes of American nuclear force modernization, the long-standing US-UK cooperation in nuclear submarine modernization, the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence, and the challenges of emerging threats, as well as the relationship between the public and defense community with regard to understanding defense-military budgeting and the important role of the nuclear triad for overall national security. Other than the Nunn School delegation, the conference attendees were almost exclusively from government, industry, and community partners. Notably the Georgia Tech undergrads were by far the youngest participants, in all probability by at least a decade.


When asked by what are the current approaches and thinking on means for deterring emerging technologies of concern (beyond cyber) to the U.S., outgoing US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) Commander General Robert Kehler (USAF) responded that “surprise is what keeps me up at night” and cited current uncertainty in how to assess and address emerging and disruptive technologies. Lastly, he remarked that the US strategic advantage is in people and emphasized the example of the three young Georgia Tech students as a real example of how that advantage is manifested.


Beyond the formal discussions, the students had the memorable and rare opportunity to go aboard an Ohio-class Trident ballistic missile submarine (SSBNs). Climbing down a metal ladder through the circular hatch, the students toured the submarine's operating and living areas where they asked questions of active duty Navy personnel serving on the USS West Virginia, including the sub’s Commander. The US Navy’s SSBNs, which are often referred to as “Boomers,” carry up to twenty-four Trident missiles and provide the nation with its most survivable and undetectable strategic deterrent.


INTA undergrad student Gillen Heisler reflected, “It is always insightful to hear from practitioners within the international affairs community. I’ve considered a career in national security, and this conference was a truly unique way to gain exposure to current affairs and issues in US security. I particularly enjoyed witnessing the concerns and statements of high-ranking military officials on the current state of nuclear modernization.” The students agreed that the lessons gained from the experience augmented and enriched their understanding of the nuclear triad and deterrence overall and the challenges facing those responsible for creating, implementing, and executing geostrategic policies.


One example of the panoply of innovative educational experiences offered by the Nunn School to undergraduate students, the Kings Bay trip was undertaken to complement and further advanced independent research being pursued by students under the mentorship of Dr. Kosal and as part of the recently launched Georgia Tech Initiative on Strategy, Technology & the US Military. Fassih is completing her third semester of as part of the Kosal research group focusing on assessing regional and global options to respond to secure nuclear facilities in the event of state collapse in Iran or DPRK and developing policy options for the US. Heisler is studying China's naval modernization and the influence of AirSea Battle on Sino-US relations. Thai's project is on the effect of military reduction on national security amidst the reduction of other deterrence means.


The event was hosted by The Camden Partnership and organized by Peter Huessy and his Congressional Breakfast Seminar Series sponsors ROA-AFA-NDIA.




  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Ava Roth
  • Created: 11/20/2013
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016


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