Are SLBM targets preset, or is a missile sub capable of targeting them?

…It just kind of occurred to me that a ballistic missile submarine’s launch orders would come over an ELF radio system, which might make it a little hard to program 100+ MIRVs with their own target coordinates, in the frenzied first few minutes of a nuclear war.

Do missile boats just have a limited number of pre-plotted “attack plans” (say, Plan A for nuking Russia, Plan B for nuking China, etc.) with all the necessary targeting coordinates, or can they carry out orders to attack any spot on the globe without much warning…say, somewhere really out of the way, like McMurdo Station in Antarctica?

Umm , I believe that the ELF signals the boat to come to the surface, then it downloads the awaiting orders.

They would have to , depending on the SIOP. The Trident D-5 is one of the first SLBM’s to be able to hit hardened targets , like missile silos, rather than the old poseidens and polaris missiles ,which were city busters.

The old soviet typhoon missile subs were able to fire and hit targets right from their docks , so as long as the target is in range, an ohio can kill it.

But McMurdo just screams for a cruise missile attack, rather than an overkill SLBM


I gotta say that this sounds a trifle dubious - bring your nuclear subs into a highly vulnerable position shortly before they are to launch missiles?


ELF transmissions are slow. You could be quite a while receiving your attack message using only the ELF, while, presumably, nukes are popping off all over the country, including atop those places what might be transmitting that very same attack message.

Not a high-success scenario.

Instead, if the boat’s skipper has done his job, he’s off someplace unexpected and undetected. Coming shallow and sticking up an antenna is pretty low-risk under these conditions. If no one knows you’re there, no one can capitalize on the small chance of spotting the antenna. Message received in short order, and shortly, missiles are on their way.

Coming “shallow” I can understand. It was coming to the surface that seemed a puzzling strategy.

“Shallow” and “surface” are sometimes used interchangable, if sometimes imprecisely. What specifically would happen is, once notified of incoming flash traffic, the boat would come to periscope depth and run-up an antenna.

Makes sense. I was thinking in terms of a submarine bobbing on the surface,