"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
United States

U.S. Reveals Assessment of Russian Explosion

November 2019
By Shannon Bugos

The United States has determined that a Russian recovery mission of a nuclear-powered cruise missile, known as Skyfall by Western intelligence agencies, prompted a major explosion in the White Sea in August.

The explosion, said Thomas DiNanno, deputy assistant secretary of state for defense policy, emerging threats, and outreach, was “the result of a nuclear reaction” that occurred during the recovery mission of the missile, which “remained on the bed of the White Sea since its failed test early last year.” DiNanno made the remarks on Oct. 10 at the UN General Assembly First Committee in New York.

DiNanno elaborated on the Skyfall incident in an Oct. 20 interview with The Washington Times. “From what I understand, the actual radiation cloud was not dangerous per se,” he said, “but our issue is with the lack of transparency and the cover-up and the misinformation.”

Vladimir Yermakov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry Department on Nonproliferation and Arms Control, delivered Russia’s statement to the First Committee on Oct. 11. Yermakov did not mention the August incident, instead focusing on the recent U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the need for an extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

The Aug. 8 blast occurred at the Nenoksa Missile Test Site, on the coast
of the White Sea. According to a statement from Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation issued two days later, five employees died in the accident, which involved “isotopic sources of fuel on a liquid propulsion unit.” Two military personnel also reportedly died from the blast.

Initial reports claimed that Russia was testing a nuclear-powered cruise missile, named the 9M730 Buresvestnik by Russia and the SSC-X-9 Skyfall by NATO, that Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed in March 2018. (See ACT, September 2019.)

A mysterious August explosion in Russia occurred during efforts to recover a sunken, nuclear-powered cruise missile, according to a U.S. official.

U.S. Bomb Programs Face Delays, Cost Hikes

November 2019
By Kingston Reif

Technical problems with electrical components will delay production of the upgraded U.S. B61 nuclear gravity bomb and W88 submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead by around 20 months and cost as much as $850 million, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

A Sandia National Laboratories engineer adjusts a microphone for an acoustic test on a B61 gravity bomb. (Photo: NNSA)The setback raises fresh fears about the affordability and executability of the agency’s ambitious plans to modernize U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure. (See ACT, September 2019.)

“Stress testing concluded that commercially available capacitors” to be used in the weapons “did not meet reliability requirements,” said Charles Verdon, deputy administrator for defense programs at the NNSA, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 24. The NNSA “determined that the prudent approach is to replace those components rather than risk component failure in future years.”

Verdon told lawmakers that although the original capacitors cost around $5 per part, the “replacement capacitors, which are built to now a new standard that did not exist at the time the original capacitors were procured, are more like $75 per part.”

The NNSA, a semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department, first revealed the technical issue earlier this year but did not disclose the length of the schedule delay or the cost to fix the problem until September. (See ACT, June 2019.)

The NNSA estimates that swapping capacitors will increase the cost of the program to rebuild the B61 by $600-700 million and delay the first production unit until the first quarter of fiscal year 2022. The cost of the program to modify the W88 will increase by $125-150 million and delay the beginning of production until the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2021.

Verdon said that the NNSA hopes to address the cost overruns without requesting additional funds by using money that the agency had planned to spend on, but may no longer need for, future warhead modernization programs.

Lawmakers from both parties expressed concern about the impact of the technical issues facing the two programs.

The NNSA Cost Estimating and Program Evaluation Office “publicly predicted these delays years ago and has raised concerns about future warhead programs as well,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) at the House hearing.

For the past several years, the NNSA has estimated the cost of the B61 life extension program (LEP) at $7.6 billion and a first production unit date of March 2020. But the agency’s independent cost estimating office in 2016 projected a total cost of approximately $10 billion and a two-year delay to the agency’s estimated March 2020 first production-unit date. (See ACT, June 2017.)

The Senate Appropriations Committee warned in the report accompanying the panel’s version of the fiscal year 2020 energy and water appropriations bill released in September that the NNSA must “ensure any technical challenges or production issues, particularly in the electronic components, are discovered quickly and mitigated to minimize impacts” to other agency priorities.

The committee “is concerned that a recent technical challenge demonstrates a lack of systems engineering and highlights a lack of coordination and leadership focus, which in turn jeopardizes successful program execution,” the report added.

Under the B61 LEP, the NNSA plans to consolidate four of the five existing versions of the bomb into a single weapon known as the B61-12. The upgraded weapon will be equipped with a new tail-kit guidance assembly that will make the bomb more accurate and allow it to have a lower yield than some of the existing variants. The new tail kit is being developed by the Air Force and is estimated to cost $1.3 billion.

The NNSA is expected to produce 400 to 500 B61-12s. Some of these newer weapons will replace the approximately 150 tactical versions of the B61 believed to be deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey in support of NATO nuclear sharing commitments.

The alternation program for the W88 is designed to provide the weapons with a new arming, fuzing, and firing subsystem and replace the conventional high-explosive main charges and associated components. Prior to the announcement of the capacitor problem, the NNSA projected the cost of the program at $2.6 billion and said production would begin next month.


Technical issues are slowing U.S. efforts to upgrade two nuclear warheads.

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, Oct. 17, 2019

Trump Poised to Withdraw from Open Skies Treaty The Trump administration is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty , according to lawmakers and media reports. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, first sounded the public alarm in an Oct. 7 letter to National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien. “I am deeply concerned by reports that the Trump Administration is considering withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty and strongly urge you against such a reckless action,” Rep. Engel wrote. “American withdrawal would only benefit...

Abandonment of Open Skies Treaty Would Undermine U.S. and European Security



For Immediate Release: October 9, 2019

Media ContactsKingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, 202-463-8270 ext. 104; Tony Fleming, director for communications, 202-463-8270 ext 110.

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—The Trump administration is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from yet another key arms control treaty: the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. If President Trump decides to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty, it would undermine the security of the United States and European allies, including Ukraine, say leading arms control and national security experts.

The Open Skies Treaty entered into force in 2002 and currently has 34 states-parties, including the United States and Russia. The treaty allows for information-sharing that increases transparency about military forces among members, thereby contributing to stability and improving each participating state’s national security.

The treaty allows aerial imaging through short-notice, unarmed observation flights over each other's entire territory. The flights allow observing parties to identify significant military equipment, such as artillery, fighter aircraft, and armored combat vehicles. Open Skies aircraft can only be equipped with cameras verifiably limited to a resolution below state-of-the-art technology, and the treaty disallows the collection of any other electromagnetic signals. The 34 states-parties have yearly quotas on overflights and must make the collected information available to all treaty parties.

Since entering into force, the United States has conducted almost 200 flights over Russian territory. Russia has carried out more than 70 flights over U.S. territory. U.S. allies continue to value and rely on the Open Skies Treaty for imagery collection.

National security officials, members of Congress, and arms control experts are warning the Trump administration that withdrawal would be "reckless" and would reduce the ability of the United States and European allies to monitor and counter Russian aggression against Ukraine.


"The Open Skies Treaty provides information about Russian military activities for the U.S. and our allies and provides the Russians with insight on our capabilities. Such transparency reduces uncertainty and the risk of conflict and miscalculations due to worst-case assumptions."
Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association

"U.S. flights over Ukraine and western Russia have yielded valuable data, easily shared between allies. The flights strengthen ties between the United States and its allies and reassure non-NATO members on Russia’s periphery. Withdrawing from the treaty would be another step in the collapse of U.S. leadership and further alienate U.S. allies and partners."
Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy



To schedule an interview with or appearance by an expert on U.S-Russian arms control agreements, please contact Tony Fleming, director for communications, (202) 463-8270 ext 110.

  • Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, [email protected], (202) 463-8270 ext. 104

  • Amb. Bonnie Jenkins, former Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, Department of State, and member of the Board of Directors of the Arms Control Association, [email protected], (571) 264-7053

  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, [email protected], 202-277-3478

The treaty provides transparency about Russian military activities for the U.S. and our allies. Withdrawing from the treaty would be another step in the collapse of U.S. leadership and further alienate U.S. allies and partners, note arms control experts.

Country Resources:

Janne E. Nolan (1951–2019) Mentoring a Generation of National Security Experts

October 2019
By Jane Vaynman 

Janne E. Nolan left a legacy of ideas, scholarship, mentees, and humor that few will forget following her passing on June 26, 2019. In conversations on national security, she was a presence when she was in the room and when she was not, her work being constantly interwoven into the fabric of our collective knowledge on nuclear security, bureaucracy, foreign policy, and domestic politics.

I met Janne at the Elliott School of International Affairs, where she was a member of the faculty and I was associate director of the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies. Our professional connections expanded at George Washington University (GWU), through the Nuclear Studies Research Initiative, and at Janne’s Nuclear Security Working Group dinners and quickly grew to a friendship. Over white wine and oysters, Janne’s preferred setting for all Track II discussions, she was a mentor, a confidant, and a co-conspirator.

Janne was a mentor who gave different advice than everyone else, advice rooted in trusting your own voice. At GWU, Janne once spoke to a group of pre- and postdoctoral fellows about how to conduct “policy-relevant research.” This topic comes up constantly for young academics and the advice is usually the same: pick questions that policymakers want to understand, present your work in a way that policymakers can understand, and write ever shorter pieces. Janne, however, told a different story. She argued that policymakers often do not know what they need, and no one knows what will be relevant tomorrow. So, she advised, aim first and foremost to be an expert in your subject matter, focusing on the thing that you think is important. Then, convince others that they should be paying attention to it too. Finally, be patient because the world will come knocking on your door when you are the one expert on an issue no one valued until a war broke out.

She described what happened with her book, Trappings of Power: Ballistic Missiles in the Third World. She had been working on issues regarding intermediate-range missiles for some time and had been warning of the threat of their proliferation to smaller countries. At the time, however, the dominant perception was that the policymaker focus should be on strategic arsenals. Her work was dismissed, and she was counseled that she was working on the wrong question. But just as she was finishing her book in 1990, the Gulf War started, and everyone was very interested in Iraqi Scud missiles and Scud missiles more broadly. As she put it with typical Janne-style humility, she got lucky in publishing her book at that exact moment. Being policy relevant can sometimes be a matter of timing, so you should not let other people or the trends of the time dictate what is relevant. Your work is making the case for what should be relevant.

More personally, Janne was once elated to discover that I am what she would later call a “Jackson-Vanik baby.” The Jackson-Vanik amendment tied Jewish emigration out of the Soviet Union with trade status by the United States, and it helped my family and I to leave the USSR in 1988. Janne had worked on issues related to the amendment during her time on the staff of Senator Gary Hart (D-Colo.), but she had never met anyone who had benefited directly from the law. I showed Janne a clip from a 1989 episode of “Nightline” that featured my parents, waiting in Italy with two little kids, talking about their desire to make a life in the United States. Perhaps she felt that her earlier work had directly affected my success and my work in the nuclear field. If so, she was exactly right. I would be a very different person today if my family had not come to the United States. I like thinking about how Janne helped me get here before I even knew her.

In a world often divided between policymakers and academics, left and right, emerging voices and wise elders, Janne was nonpartisan. Her mix of colleagues and friends, often coming together at dinners or over drinks on the sidelines of some conference, were a vibrant and ever evolving whirlwind. I hope we all continue to create that kind of space in work and play. I will be there, at least every now and then with a black dress and pearls in Janne’s honor.

Jane Vaynman is an assistant professor of political science at Temple University. 
Janne Nolan served on the Board of Directors of the Arms Control Association from 1994–2019.

Janne Nolan steered many up-and-coming specialists on both their personal and professional paths.

Recalling the Senate Review of New START

October 2019
By Brian P. McKeon 

Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Senate approved the ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which limits deployed strategic weapons and launchers possessed by the United States and Russia. With 71 senators voting in favor, it was a rare act of bipartisanship in Washington. Key to this cross-party support was a commitment by President Obama to modernize aging nuclear warhead production facilities in the Department of Energy. Some observers believed a consensus had emerged in favor both of arms control and “nuclear modernization” that would provide a period of stability in nuclear policy-making.1 That promise appears to be fading, and a review of the 2010 ratification process could serve the current president and Congress.

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev prepare  to sign the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in Prague on April 8, 2010.  (Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)New START expires in February 2021, and the Trump administration has suggested it will let it lapse to pursue a more ambitious agreement involving the United States, Russia, and China. At a July 2019 congressional hearing on U.S.-Russian arms control, not a single Republican member voiced support for extending New START.2 Many Democrats in Congress are concerned that the Trump administration made insufficient efforts to preserve the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty before withdrawing from it in response to Russia’s violations of the agreement, oppose the new low-yield nuclear weapon requested by the president, and wonder whether current plans to sustain and modernize the nuclear deterrent, with costs projected to exceed $1 trillion in the next three decades, are affordable.3

The consensus was always fragile. Perhaps its fraying was inevitable, but it is worth recalling the events that brought a moment of bipartisan harmony in nuclear policy-making.

The linkage between modernization and New START was made before the treaty was concluded. In the fiscal year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) authored a provision requiring the administration to provide a nuclear weapons plan to Congress when the treaty was submitted to the Senate, to include 10-year budget projections on “the plan to: (1) enhance the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile of the United States; (2) modernize the nuclear weapons complex; and (3) maintain the delivery platforms for nuclear weapons.”4

Senior Obama administration officials soon joined the debate. In January 2010, Vice President Joe Biden previewed the president’s budget in a commentary in The Wall Street Journal. Noting the warning of the Strategic Posture Commission, chaired by former secretaries of defense William Perry and James Schlesinger, which in 2009 lamented the deterioration of the weapons complex, Biden wrote that the proposed budget “both reverses this decline and enables [the administration] to implement the president’s nuclear security agenda.”5 In a speech the following month, he argued that these investments were “not only consistent with our nonproliferation agenda; [they are] essential to it. Guaranteeing our stockpile, coupled with broader research and development efforts, allows us to pursue deep nuclear reductions without compromising our security.”6 The president’s budget requested a nearly 10 percent increase for the weapons activities of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)—raising it to $7 billion—and an increase of more than $5 billion over a five-year period.

In the report of the Nuclear Posture Review, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates took a similar tack. He wrote that funds he transferred to the Department of Energy for weapons work would allow the United States to sustain and support its nuclear deterrent while enabling future arms control reductions by “allowing us to hedge against future threats without the need for a large non-deployed stockpile.”7

Twice in 2010, while New START was under Senate consideration, the Obama administration reported on proposed investments for the weapons complex. The first report in May promised some $80 billion over 10 years.8 The second, submitted in November at the behest of Kyl, pledged another $5 billion over the ensuing decade, for a total of $85 billion.9

To push the treaty across the finish line, the president put his full weight behind the budget promises. Two days before the Senate vote on the treaty, Obama pledged to four key senators on the Appropriations Committee that he “recognize[d] that nuclear modernization requires investment for the long-term. That is my commitment to the Congress—that my administration will pursue these programs and capabilities for as long as I am president.”10 The president’s personal assurance achieved its purpose: 12 Republican senators joined 59 Democrats to approve the treaty’s ratification.

What did both sides gain? Kyl, who ultimately opposed the treaty, and other Senate Republicans succeeded in leveraging the treaty to secure long-term commitments designed to restore the health of the Energy Department enterprise. During much of 2010, Kyl was able to persuade Republican senators to stay neutral on the treaty, forcing the administration to deal with him. For its part, the administration gained progress on a central pillar of the president’s ambitious nuclear weapons agenda, which he had outlined in April 2009. He was able to do so consistent with that vision, which called for the “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” but also promised that as long as nuclear weapons existed, the United States would “maintain and safe, secure and effective arsenal.”11

The bipartisan compromise advanced strategic stability and the health of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. New START remains in effect, with the United States and Russia abiding by its limits, and both taking full advantage of the verification regime. The nuclear complex enjoyed a decade of relative stability in funding. Although the Budget Control Act in 2011 slowed the rate of budget increases for a time, since 2010 the NNSA weapons budget has increased by more than 60 percent and is on track to receive more during fiscal years 2011–2020 than originally promised by the Obama administration.12

The current administration would do well to consider this history and the continued importance of linking arms control and nuclear modernization. Supporters of arms control will surely be reluctant to buy into a long-term nuclear modernization plan that does not involve a realistic plan for mutual restraint between the two countries with the largest nuclear arsenals, namely the United States and Russia. At the same time, supporters of the nuclear deterrent should appreciate the benefits of predictability and stability for the complicated undertaking that is the nuclear enterprise.



1. Whether there was an actual consensus is debatable, given that less than one-third of the Republican caucus—12 of 41 senators—voted for the Treaty.

2. Arms Control Association Board Chair Thomas Countryman and the author were witnesses at the hearing. U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, “Russia and Arms Control: Extending New START or Starting Over?” July 25, 2019, https://foreignaffairs.house.gov/hearings?ID=CC4C4917-AD41-4EF2-A99A-B2C69B2D7ECB.

3. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost of maintaining the nuclear deterrent and modernizing it over three decades would total $1.2 trillion in 2017 dollars, of which more than $800 billion would go to operate and sustain the nuclear forces and about $400 billion to modernize them. U.S. Congressional Budget Office, “Approaches for Managing the Cost of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017-46,” October 2017, https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/115th-congress-2017-2018/reports/53211-nuclearforces.pdf.

4. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, Public Law 111-84, October 28, 2009, sec. 1251.

5. Joseph R. Biden Jr, “The President’s Nuclear Vision,” The Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2010.

6. Office of the Vice President, The White House, “Remarks of Vice President Biden at National Defense University,” February 18, 2010, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/remarks-vice-president-biden-national-defense-university.

7. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, p. i, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf.

8. Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) sponsored the legislation that was eventually passed into law requiring this report. The report was classified, but the White House released an unclassified fact sheet. “The New START Treaty - Maintaining a Strong Nuclear Deterrent,” n.d., http://www.airforcemag.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/Reports/2010/May%202010/Day18/NewSTARTsection1251factsheet.pdf.

9. “November 2010 Update to the National Defense Authorization Act of FY 2010 Section 1251 Report: New START Treaty Framework and Nuclear Force Structure Plans,” n.d., https://www.lasg.org/budget/Sect1251_update_17Nov2010.pdf.

10. 156 Cong. Rec. S10850 (daily ed. Dec. 12, 2010) (letter from President Barack Obama to Sen. Lamar Alexander [R-Tenn.]).

11. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Barack Obama in Prague as Delivered,” April 5, 2009, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-barack-obama-prague-delivered.

12. Kingston Reif and Shervin Taheran, “U.S.-Russian Arms Control Talks to Begin Amid Uncertainty,” Arms Control Association, May 24, 2019, https://www.armscontrol.org/blog/2019-05-24/us-russian-nuclear-arms-control-watch-may-2019.


Brian P. McKeon is a senior director at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington. He served as deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden from 2009 to 2012. While in that position, he coordinated the administration’s efforts to seek Senate approval of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

The linkage between New START ratification and the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal offers useful lessons for today.

Russia, China Criticize U.S. Missile Test

October 2019
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

An August test of a missile previously banned by the defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty drew continued denunciations from Russia and China
in September.

The United States tests a ground-launched cruise missile in California on Aug. 18. The test would have been prohibited by the INF Treaty before the United States withdrew from the pact on Aug. 2. (Photo: Defense Department)Days after the Aug. 18 U.S. flight test of a ground-launched Tomahawk missile, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed his defense and foreign ministries, as well as other related government agencies, “to analyze the level of threat posed to our country” and to “take exhaustive measures for a reciprocal response.” His comments also followed comments from U.S. officials calling for the deployment of new intermediate-range missiles.

Putin specifically highlighted the launcher used in the test, the MK-41 vertical launching system. This launcher was a different configuration than that currently fielded in Romania and soon to be deployed in Poland as part of NATO’s Aegis Ashore missile defense system. In response to Russian claims that the European-based launcher violated the INF Treaty, U.S. officials repeatedly argued that the deployed system “does not have an offensive ground-launched ballistic or cruise missile capability” and therefore did not violate the treaty. After the news of the August test, Putin said, “[T]he fact of the violation is evident and impossible to dispute.”

On Sept. 5, Putin further detailed Russia’s response, saying that Moscow would take steps to produce ground-launched intermediate-range missiles, but not deploy them unless the United States deploys such missiles first. Since 2014, the United States has maintained that Moscow violated the treaty by testing, possessing, and fielding an illegal ground-launched cruise missile, known as the 9M729 or SSC-8. (See ACT, September 2014.)

Later in September, Putin sent a letter to NATO member states reiterating Russia’s offer of a deployment moratorium. NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu told the Financial Times on Sept. 26 that the alliance had “heard this proposal before” and saw it as “not a credible offer.”

“Unless and until Russia verifiably destroys the SSC-8 system, this moratorium on deployments is not a real offer,” she said.

The U.S. missile test occurred less than two weeks after the Trump administration formally withdrew the United States from the INF Treaty on Aug. 2. Before then, the treaty banned the possession or testing of all nuclear and conventional, ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, as well as the launchers for such missiles. (See ACT, September 2019.)

China also expressed its concerns about the U.S. test. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Aug. 20 urged “the U.S. side to abandon outdated notions of Cold War thinking and zero-sum games and exercise restraint in developing arms.”

At a Russian and Chinese request, the 15-member UN Security Council convened on Aug. 22 to discuss the issue. As expected, the United States and Russia clashed at the meeting, repeating their respective accusations of noncompliance.

At the Security Council meeting, Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russian first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, said that “because of the U.S. geopolitical ambitions, we are all one step from an arms race that cannot be controlled or regulated in any way.”

Acting U.S. Ambassador to the UN Jonathan Cohen replied that the real reason behind the council’s meeting was that “the Russian Federation preferred a world in which the United States continued to fulfill its INF Treaty obligations, while the Russian Federation did not.”

Meanwhile, in Congress, the Trump administration’s push for new intermediate-range missiles has proven controversial. The House version of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the Pentagon from spending money to develop any new intermediate-range missiles until several conditions are met. The Senate version does not have a similar provision, and the two versions are set to be reconciled during conference committee negotiations, with the goal of sending a final bill to the president in October.

In addition to the August test of a ground-launched cruise missile, the Defense Department is planning to test an intermediate-range ballistic missile with a range of about 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers later this year. Robert Soofer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, confirmed at a conference in Virginia on Sept. 4 that the department is planning to test a ballistic missile, but would not comment on what missile would be tested.

Without the INF Treaty, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) now stands as the only treaty limiting the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. Although set to expire in February 2021, New START can be extended by up to five years if the U.S. and Russian presidents agree to do so.

Former National Security Advisor John Bolton had said in June and July that an extension is “unlikely.” (See ACT, September 2019.) Bolton, however, departed the administration on Sept. 10 and has been replaced by Robert O’Brien, and it remains to be seen how the change will affect the administration’s deliberations on the future of New START.

The United States and Russia last met in mid-July to discuss strategic security, but no additional meetings have been scheduled. Putin said on Sept. 5 that “[s]o far, our American partners have remained silent with regard to our proposals to maintain contacts in the sphere of disarmament and containing the arms race.”


With no more limits on intermediate-range missiles, the Pentagon is embarking on a test of once-banned systems. 

Boeing Seeks Intervention on New ICBM

October 2019
By Kingston Reif

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. has rejected a proposal from its competitor the Boeing Co. to team up on the development of a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system, prompting Boeing to call on the Pentagon to intervene.

The United States tests a Minuteman III ICBM on May 1, 2019. Plans to replace the missile have been slowed by contracting difficulties. (Photo: Defense Department)“We think clearly it’s time for the Air Force or other governmental entities to engage and direct the right solution,” Frank McCall, Boeing’s director of strategic deterrence systems, told reporters on Sept. 17 at the Air Force Association’s annual conference at National Harbor, Maryland.

“Northrop has elected not to do that,” McCall added, “so we’re looking for government intervention to drive us to the best solution.”

Boeing’s proposal to split the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) contract follows the company’s announcement in July that it would not bid on the development contract unless the Pentagon adjusted the bid parameters. (See ACT, September, 2019.)

“There has never been a time in the history of the Minuteman when the Air Force wasn’t supported by both companies,” McCall told the Washington Post on Sept. 18.

In August 2017, the Air Force selected Boeing and Northrop to proceed with development of the Minuteman III ICBM replacement. (See ACT, October 2017.) On July 16, the Air Force issued a request for proposals for the engineering and manufacturing development contract to produce and deploy the system. The service planned to award the contract in the summer of 2020.

The Defense Department is planning to replace the Minuteman III missile, its supporting launch control facilities, and command-and-control infrastructure. The plan is to purchase 666 new missiles, 400 of which would be operationally deployed through 2070.

Northrop Grumman on Sept. 16 revealed a team of 10 contractors that it plans to work with to develop the GBSD system, including fellow industry giant Lockheed Martin.



The contract to replace the U.S. ICBM fleet could see just a single bidder. 

U.S. Raises Treaty Compliance Concerns

October 2019
By Shannon Bugos

The United States has concerns about Russian and Chinese compliance with nuclear weapons-related treaties, according to a newly released State Department report. The annual compliance report provides additional background details on Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and repeats Trump administration concerns about possible nuclear testing by Russia and China.

The U.S. State Department's annual compliance report reiterated that Russia's 9M729 cruise missile violated the INF Treaty, leading to the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty. (Photo: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)The report, made public on Aug. 22 and titled “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” primarily covers activities during 2018. The State Department released a shorter version of the report in April, which sparked controversy in Congress about the potential politicization of intelligence with regard to Iran, as well as other countries.

The full report said that Russia continued to violate the INF Treaty in 2018, a charge the Trump administration cited before formally withdrawing the United States from the treaty on Aug. 2. The 1987 pact banned the possession or testing of all nuclear and conventional, ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing, possessing, and fielding an illegal ground-launched cruise missile known as the 9M729. The report asserts that Russia began development of the missile “probably by the mid-2000s” and concluded in 2015 a “comprehensive” flight-test program. By the end of 2018, Russia fielded multiple battalions of the 9M729, the report says.

“The history of Russia’s anti-INF [Treaty] overtures leading up to missile tests, its attempt to covertly exploit a treaty exception permitting ground-based flight tests of intermediate-range missiles not subject to the treaty, its lack of an explanation for these tests, and its overall secrecy” about the 9M729, the report declares, “provide important context for Russia’s violation.”

The compliance report also raises concerns about alleged Russian nuclear weapons testing and compliance with the 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT), which prohibits nuclear tests with explosive yields exceeding 150 kilotons. The report states that “based on available information, Russian activities during the 1995–2018 timeframe raise questions about Russia’s compliance with its TTBT notification obligation.”

In addition, the report echoes remarks made earlier this year by the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) regarding Russian nuclear testing. In May, DIA Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley said that “Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard outlined” in the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). (See ACT, July/August 2019.) The CTBT, although not yet in force, goes a step farther than the TTBT by prohibiting nuclear tests, no matter what the yield.

The August report said, “The United States…has assessed that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield.” In an apparent attempt to back up this statement, the report adds that, “[d]uring the 1995–2018 timeframe, Russia probably conducted nuclear weapons-related tests at the Novaya Zemlya Nuclear Test Site.”

The report also mentions Ashley’s remarks regarding China. In May the DIA director said that China may be preparing to operate its nuclear test site year-round and is continuing to use explosive containment chambers at that site. According to the compliance report, these activities, as well as a lack of transparency from China, “raise questions” about Beijing’s adherence to the zero-yield nuclear weapons testing moratorium.

On Iran, the compliance report states that “Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons development activities judged necessary to produce a nuclear device” and that the United States will continue with its “maximum pressure campaign” on Tehran until Iran agrees to “a comprehensive deal that resolves all U.S. concerns.”

The report says that the information in the cache of documents seized by Israel on Iran’s past nuclear weapons-related activities, known as the nuclear archive, has not revealed evidence of any ongoing weapons work. The report argues, however, that Tehran retained those documents, which are still under review by the U.S. intelligence community, to potentially “aid in any future decision to pursue nuclear weapons” and may have “taken active measures to deliberately deceive” officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

As for North Korea, the compliance report states that the United States “believes there is a clear likelihood” of “unidentified nuclear facilities in North Korea” besides those at Yongbyon, the country’s nuclear center. The report does not provide additional information on those secret facilities.

In response to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s declaration in 2018 that Pyongyang would end all nuclear testing and demolish the P’unggye Nuclear Test Site, the report states that the results of the demolition at the test site in May 2018 “are almost certainly reversible.”

The compliance report emphasizes that the administration “remains committed to continued diplomatic negotiations with North Korea toward the goal of achieving the final, fully-verified denuclearization of North Korea.”


An annual State Department report reinforces Trump administration charges of arms control treaty violations. 

U.S. Intel Sheds Light on Russian Explosion

October 2019
By Shannon Bugos

U.S. intelligence analysts have bolstered earlier assessments that an Aug. 8 explosion near a Russian missile test site involved a nuclear-powered cruise missile undergoing development and testing. (See ACT, September 2019.)

The incident began with a blast at the Nenoksa Missile Test Site, on the coast of the White Sea. According to a statement from Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) two days later, five employees died in the accident, which involved “isotopic sources of fuel on a liquid propulsion unit.” Two military personnel also reportedly died from the blast.

A subsequent U.S. intelligence assessment determined that the blast was caused by a recovery mission to salvage a nuclear-powered cruise missile from the ocean floor from a previous test, CNBC reported on Aug. 29.

“There was an explosion on one of the vessels involved in the recovery, and that caused a reaction in the missile’s nuclear core, which lead to the radiation leak,” a person with direct knowledge of the intelligence assessment told CNBC. A number of media outlets have reported releases of a variety of radioactive isotopes.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Norwegian Norsar Research Institute suggested that there may have been two explosions at the test site. Anne Lycke, the institute’s chief executive, said that seismographic readings suggested an explosion first on the ground or water, and then an infrasonic air-pressure sensor pointed to a second explosion two hours later, likely in the air. The second one “coincided in time with the reported increase in radiation,” she said. The governor of the region in which the blast took place denied the possibility of a second explosion.

Some U.S. nuclear experts and intelligence officials initially assessed that the accident likely involved a failed test of a nuclear-powered cruise missile known as the 9M730 Buresvestnik by Russia and the SSC-X-9 Skyfall by NATO. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov appeared to confirm this assessment Aug. 21, stating that a “nuclear-propelled missile” was being tested at the time of the accident.

No official explanations have come from Russia. President Vladimir Putin said only that “this is work in the military field, work on promising weapons systems.”

CNBC released another report on Sept. 11 citing an intelligence finding that, despite numerous test failures, the 9M730 would be ready for deployment in 2025, about five years earlier than previously assessed.


A mysterious August explosion at a Russian missile test site likely involved a prototype nuclear-powered weapon. 


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