CENTCOM commander visits US ballistic missile submarine in Arabian Sea

The announcement of the visit and the submarine's location was noted as unusual by analysts.

  The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS West Virginia (SSBN 736) departs Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga. (photo credit: MC1 James Kimber/US Navy)
The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS West Virginia (SSBN 736) departs Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga.
(photo credit: MC1 James Kimber/US Navy)

US CENTCOM commander General Michael Kurilla visited the USS West Virginia nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine at an undisclosed location in international waters in the Arabian Sea on Wednesday, United States Central Command announced on Wednesday.

Kurilla was joined by Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and NAVCENT. Kurilla received a hands-on demonstration of the capabilities of the vessel during the visit.

"These submarines are the crown jewel of the nuclear triad."

US CENTCOM commander General Michael Kurilla

"These submarines are the crown jewel of the nuclear triad, and the West Virginia demonstrates the flexibility, survivability, readiness and capability of USCENTCOM nd USSTRATCOM forces at sea" said Kurilla.

The West Virginia is one of six ballistic-missile submarines stationed at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia. The submarine can carry up to 20 submarine-launched ballistic missiles with multiple warheads. The submarine is equipped with Trident D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, each of which can be armed with up to eight 475 kiloton W88 nuclear warheads which can each be aimed toward a separate target. 

US CENTCOM commander General Michael Kurilla visits the USS West Virginia, October 19, 2022 (credit: US CENTCOM)US CENTCOM commander General Michael Kurilla visits the USS West Virginia, October 19, 2022 (credit: US CENTCOM)

Each W88 warhead has a yield about 23 times larger than the "Fat Man" nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki. A blast caused by such a weapon would likely destroy most structures within a 4.9- to 6-kilometer radius and cause 3rd degree burns to people within about 8 kilometers of the blast site, according to the MIT Nuclear Weapons Education Project.

The announcement by CENTCOM was marked as unusual by analysts, as the US does not usually reveal the location of its ballistic missile submarines.

Visit comes amid heightened tensions around the world

The visit to the USS West Virginia comes amid concerns that Russia could use tactical nuclear weapons in its continuing invasion of Ukraine and as Iran continues to provide drones to Russia for it to use against Ukraine and plans to provide ballistic missiles as well.

NATO is also holding its annual nuclear deterrence exercise over north-western Europe which will continue until October 30. The exercise involves 14 countries and up to 60 aircraft, including fighter jets and surveillance and tanker aircraft. The exercise, called "Steadfast Noon," is hosted by a different NATO ally each year.

The visit also comes as China continues to up its rhetoric against Taiwan and as attempts to return to the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran remain stalled.

On Monday, Robert Malley, the US Special Representative for Iran, told CNN that attempts to revive the JCPOA nuclear deal are "not on the [US's] agenda" as they have been stalled for two months due to Iranian demands.

"Iran is making demands that have nothing to do with the JCPOA and as long as that's the case the talks will be stalled," said Malley, adding, however, that the US continues to believe that diplomacy is the best way to stop Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.