By Martin Sieff, UPI, Jan 25, 2006

The U.S. Navy is converting some of its prized nuclear strategic submarines to launch precision, conventional munitions strikes against terrorist bases and similar targets.

Four ultra-stealth Ohio-class SSBNs are having their 24 Trident II D-5 nuclear ballistic missiles removed and replaced with up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles, Defense Industry Daily reported Jan. 18.

The Ohios are being converted into so-called "Tactical Tridents," designated SSGNs, with accommodation for 66-102 special forces troops, special attachments for new Advanced SEAL Delivery Systems (ASDS) or the older Seal Delivery Vehicle (SDV) "mini-subs," and a mission control center. In future, the SSGNs may also carry UUV underwater robotic vehicles and even UAVs for aerial operations, the report said. (more)


Here is yet another great example of what we, in STS, call "interpretive flexibility".  We have seen other examples of legacy, Cold War platforms such as the Trident being modified or reinterpretted to allow them to carry out new missions for which they were never designed.  The most famous is the B-52 providing close air support to special forces in Afghanistan.  I have also heard several rumors of converting a contingent of ICBMs so that they could deliver conventional, GPS-guided munitions.  The hope is that they would provide the ability to strike anywhere in the world, quickly, and with precision.

The point is that these technologies do not have to do only that which they were designed to do.  Even very specialized technological systems can exhibit a great degree of flexibility, surprising us by exceeding our expectations.