12. Polaris and the undetectable nuclear missile launch platform
After several years of development, the United States Navy first deployed the Polaris Missile System aboard USS George Washington in 1960. The Polaris program demanded the design of a new type of nuclear-powered submarine, capable of carrying 16 newly designed two-stage ballistic missiles, and able to launch them towards their targets while the vessel remained submerged at sea. With the success of George Washington, the United States was capable of deploying missiles from undetected launch positions, ensuring greater odds of survival of retaliatory weapons in the event of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Forty-one Polaris submarines were planned and built, each carrying sixteen missiles, and additional Polaris weapons systems were sold to the United Kingdom and Italy, though the Italian program was canceled in the mid-1960s. Forward bases to service the submarines were established in Scotland, Spain, and Guam.
Each Polaris submarine was assigned two crews, designated Blue and Gold, allowing the ships to spend more time at sea while avoiding crew fatigue. Later developments included a multi-warhead (3) version of the missile, giving it greater destructive power, with the three warheads designed to triangulate over a target. In the early 1970s a more accurate missile, Poseidon, which delivered multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRV) replaced all but the original ten Polaris submarines, which remained deployed using the older system, and by the early 1980s the Trident One system was replacing the Poseidons. The Navy’s strategic missile program became a reliable and increasingly accurate leg of the nuclear triad, and the leg which ensured the United States possessed the ability to retaliate with devastating effect in the event of an attack by the Soviet Union. Polaris and its descendants were also the chief cause of the undeclared submarine war which was conducted by the US and USSR throughout the Cold War.