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Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
Kingston Reif

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, Nov. 15, 2019

Moscow Expresses Frustration About U.S. Stance on New START Top Russian Foreign Ministry officials have issued a fresh set of warnings about the future of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) because, they say, the Trump administration continues to refuse to engage in talks on extending the treaty. Washington “is evading any serious discussion, making public discouraging signals regarding the future of this treaty,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Nov. 8 at a nonproliferation conference in Moscow. Lavrov’s deputy, Sergey Ryabkov, voiced similar criticisms at the...

Is the US About to Test a New Ballistic Missile?

News Source: 
Defense News
News Date: 
November 13, 2019 -05:00

U.S. Considers Open Skies Treaty Withdrawal


November 2019
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The Trump administration appears to be preparing to withdraw the United States from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, according to lawmakers and media reports.

A Russian Tu-154 aircraft used for Open Skies flights awaits its mission at a Kamchatka air base in 2005. (Photo: OSCE)House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) first sounded the alarm about a possible U.S. withdrawal in an Oct. 7 letter to National Security Advisor Robert 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,” Engel wrote. “American withdrawal would only benefit Russia and be harmful to our allies’ and partners’ national security interests.”

Engel did not specify the source of the reports that prompted his letter.

Slate columnist Fred Kaplan reported on Oct. 9 that former National Security Advisor John Bolton pushed for withdrawing from the treaty before departing the administration in early September. Following Bolton’s departure, Kaplan wrote, White House staff continued to advocate for withdrawal and persuaded President Donald Trump to sign a memorandum expressing his intent to exit the treaty. The Omaha World-Herald reported that same day that the memorandum directed a withdrawal by Oct. 26.

Trump has not, however, formally announced a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty and ongoing discussions have revealed differing views within the administration about whether to do so.

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 30 that "the United States has not withdrawn from the Open Skies Treaty."

"I've consulted with our ambassadors to NATO and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] and ... conveyed ... their view that we should continue to be members of the treaty," he added

Sullivan added that the administration has yet to consult with allies or Congress on a possible withdrawal and that any decision to withdraw would require the unanimous support of NATO "to make sure we don't do damage to our NATO alliance."

The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002 and has 34 states-parties, aims to increase confidence in and transparency of military activities, particularly in Europe, by allowing unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its participants for information-gathering purposes. The parties have yearly quotas on overflights and must make the information they acquire available to all treaty parties.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking members of the foreign relations and armed services committees, respectively, joined Engel in an Oct. 8 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper denouncing a possible withdrawal. The lawmakers wrote that pulling out of the treaty “would be yet another gift from the Trump administration to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.” They also noted that the treaty “has been an essential tool for United States efforts to constrain Russian aggression in Ukraine.”

Eleven other Senate Democrats, led by Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), wrote a separate letter to the secretary of state on Oct. 25 urging the administration not to exit the United States from the treaty.

Republican lawmakers also expressed concern about ditching the treaty. In an Oct. 8 statement, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) stated that he has “yet to see a compelling reason to withdraw” from the treaty, given the “valuable access to Russian airspace and military airfields” the United States gains from the treaty.

Several U.S. allies and partner nations, including Ukraine, are publicly calling for the preservation of the treaty, which was a topic of discussion at the High-Level NATO Conference on Arms Control and Disarmament held in Brussels on Oct. 25.

Daniel Drake, head of the Euro-Atlantic Security Policy Unit of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, told a British parliamentary committee on Oct. 23 that the treaty “continues to perform an important role in transparency and risk reduction in the conventional arms control space."

The treaty “is one of the basic international treaties in the field of European security and arms control,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal. “Ukraine is interested in maintaining and implementing this treaty,” the paper reported on Oct. 27.

The United States and several allies in December 2018 conducted an “extraordinary flight” over eastern Ukraine under the treaty. The flight followed a Russian attack in late November 2018 on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea. (See ACT, January/February 2019.)

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mari Zakharova said in an Oct. 8 statement that Russia had no comment on the concerns raised by U.S. lawmakers because the United States has made no official statement about withdrawing from the treaty.

“Russia is committed to its obligations under the treaty and exhibits the utmost flexibility for maintaining it,” she added.

According to the treaty, states-parties must give 72 hours advance notice before an overflight. At least 24 hours in advance, the observing state-party must supply its flight plan, which the host state-party can only modify for safety or logistical reasons. No territory is off-limits under the treaty.

A dispute between Georgia and Russia over the inclusion of Russian observers on flights over Georgia prevented agreement on quotas for 2018, thereby freezing all flights. Normal flights resumed in 2019. (See ACT, April 2019.)

In recent years, disputes over implementation and concerns from some U.S. officials and lawmakers about the value of the treaty have threatened to derail the pact.

For example, Washington raised concerns about Russian compliance with the treaty, citing in particular Russia's restriction of observation flights over Kaliningrad to no more than 500 kilometers and within a 10-kilometer corridor along Russia’s border with the Georgian border-conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In response, the United States has restricted flights over the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii and the missile defense interceptor fields in Fort Greely, Alaska.

Zakharova said that Russia would lift the ban on flights near Abkhazia and South Ossetia if Georgia met “its commitments on receiving Russian missions,” but “Tbilisi has not changed its position so far.”

The House-passed version of the fiscal year 2020 defense authorization act included a provision that would reaffirm congressional commitment to the treaty and prohibit the use of funds to suspend, terminate, or withdraw from the agreement unless “certain certification requirements are made.” The Senate version of the bill did not include a similar provision. The House and Senate continue to negotiate a final version of the bill.

The Trump administration may abandon the 1992 treaty that allows mutual overflights of traditional adversaries.

Concern Grows About U.S. Weapons in Turkey


November 2019
By Kingston Reif

Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish-run areas in northern Syria against U.S. wishes in October sparked unprecedented public concern among members of Congress about the wisdom of continuing to store U.S. tactical nuclear weapons at Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey.

A U.S. F-15 fighter jet lands at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey in 2015. U.S. lawmakers have recently questioned the wisdom of deploying U.S. nuclear weapons at the base.  (Photo: Cory Bush/U.S. Air Force)Despite the outcry against Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s attack on Kurdish allies of the United States, the Trump administration says it is not considering removing the weapons
from Turkey.

Tucked inside the Countering Turkish Aggression Act of 2019, a bill introduced on Oct. 17 by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that would impose new sanctions on Turkey, is a requirement that the administration assess alternative basing options for U.S. military “personnel and assets” housed
at Incirlik.

The bill was co-sponsored at the time of introduction by 14 other senators, equally split between Democrats and Republicans.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told MSNBC on Oct. 14 that “it does worry me” that U.S. nuclear weapons continue to be stored in Turkey.

“We do have to step back and have some wholesale conversations about our relationship” with Turkey, Murphy said.

Similarly, House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.) tweeted on Oct. 17 that she is “deeply concerned that strategic nuclear weapons remain on an air base within Turkish borders.” Horn later deleted
the tweet.

According to open source estimates, the United States may store as many as 50 B61 gravity bombs at Incirlik. Those make up one-third of the approximately 150 nuclear weapons thought to be housed in five nations in Europe as part of NATO nuclear sharing arrangements. (See ACT, September 2018.)

The original rationale for deploying U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe was to deter and, if necessary, defeat a large-scale attack by the Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has drastically reduced the number of weapons on the continent, but still deploys a smaller number to extend deterrence to NATO allies and as a political signal of the U.S. commitment to the security of alliance members.

Unlike the other bases in Europe that host B61s, Incirlik does not host dedicated nuclear-capable fighter aircraft that can deliver the weapons. Moreover, Turkey does not train its pilots to fly nuclear missions. In the event NATO were to make a decision to use the weapons now stored in Turkey, the United States or another NATO member would fly its own aircraft to retrieve them.

As a matter of policy, the U.S. Defense Department does not comment on the presence or number of nuclear weapons in Turkey or anywhere else in Europe. But President Donald Trump appeared to confirm, at least indirectly, the existence of the weapons in Turkey in comments to reporters at the Oval Office on Oct. 16.

Asked about the security of the weapons at Incirlik, Trump said he was “confident” in their safety.

Victoria Coates, the senior director for the Middle East on the National Security Council, also appeared to acknowledge the presence of the weapons in an Oct. 15 interview.

Asked if the administration is planning to remove the weapons from Turkey, Coates said, “There are no plans for that at the moment that I’m aware of.”

Those arguing for the removal from Incirlik note that the risks of storing the weapons in Turkey have increased significantly due to a deteriorating security environment and Erdogan’s anti-U.S. rhetoric and actions. (See ACT, November 2017.)

In March 2016, the U.S. military ordered the families of U.S. military personnel to leave southern Turkey, primarily from Incirlik, due to terrorist activity in Turkey and the conflict in nearby Syria. In July 2016, following a failed coup attempt, the Turkish government arrested several high-ranking Turkish military officers at Incirlik and cut power to the base for nearly a week.

Erdogan’s invasion of northern Syria and Turkish artillery strikes near positions held by U.S. troops deployed in northern Syria has exacerbated these worries.

Supporters of keeping the weapons in Turkey counter that removing the weapons from Incirlik would raise questions about NATO’s commitment to Turkey’s security and prompt uncomfortable debates about the merits of nuclear sharing inside the other host nations. They also claim that removing the weapons could prompt Turkey to more seriously consider acquiring its own nuclear weapons.

Erdogan complained in a speech in September that the current nuclear-armed nations retain an unacceptable monopoly on nuclear weapons and suggested that his nation might acquire its own nuclear arsenal. (See ACT, October 2019.)

But analysts have noted that a Turkish nuclear weapons program would carry significant political and economic costs for Ankara and that Erdogan’s remarks may have been more an expression of desire to build its status as a world power than an actual goal.

U.S. lawmakers from both parties are seeking an assessment of alternatives to basing U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey.

U.S. Seeks ‘New Era of Arms Control’


November 2019
By Shannon Bugos and Kingston Reif

The Trump administration continues to say it would like a new arms control agreement with Russia and China while remaining silent on the possibility of extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Moscow, according to U.S. and Russian officials.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto speaks at a White House press conference on Oct. 2, when he publicly called for extending New START in the presence of U.S. President Donald Trump.  (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)During a session of the UN General Assembly First Committee on Oct. 10, Thomas DiNanno, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, stated that the administration is seeking “a new era of arms control, one in which Russia and China are at the negotiating table and willing to reduce nuclear risks rather than heighten them.”

“Today, the Cold War approach, with its bilateral treaties that covered limited types of nuclear weapons or only certain ranges of adversary missiles, is no longer sufficient,” he added. DiNanno did not mention New START except to say that some of the new long-range nuclear delivery systems under development by Russia would not be subject to the agreement.

In an Oct. 20 interview with The Washington Times, he referenced New START specifically, saying that “technology has rapidly changed” and pointing out “not what New START does, but what it doesn’t do in the 2020 deteriorating security environment.”

DiNanno did not explain how the United States plans to achieve a broader agreement with Russia and China.

Details on such an agreement also were not forthcoming from the White House. In an Oct. 21 interview with Fox News, President Donald Trump said, “I believe that we’re going to get together with Russia and with China, and we’re going to work out our nuclear pact so that we don’t all continue with this craziness.” China has repeatedly stated that it is not interested in joining multilateral talks with the United States and Russia on arms control at this time.

In the aftermath of the end of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in August, New START is the only remaining arms control agreement limiting the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. The Trump administration is expected to make a decision on whether to extend the treaty next year. New START allows for an extension of up to five years, until 2026, if the presidents of the United States and Russia agree to do so.

In an Oct. 11 interview, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov called on the United States “to stop wasting time” regarding an extension of New START. “There is almost no time left” before the treaty expires, he said. “At least, it is important to understand what they plan to do with the treaty.”

Ryabkov added that “the extension period is subject to discussion. We are poised to exercise flexibility in this respect.”

Although Russia emphasizes the importance of extending New START, Moscow argues that any future nuclear arms reduction agreement should be multilateral and address a broad array of factors that impact strategic stability.

In a statement to the First Committee on Oct. 11, Vladimir Yermakov, director of the Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control in the Russian Foreign Ministry, said these factors include “unrestricted deployment of the U.S. global missile defense, development of high-precision strategic offensive non-nuclear weapons, prospects for deployment of strike weapons in outer space, destruction of the international system of arms control treaties and agreements, [and] attempts to weaken defense potential of other countries by using illegitimate methods of unilateral pressure, bypassing the UN Security Council.”

Meanwhile, Fu Cong, director-general of the Department of Arms Control of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, reiterated Beijing’s position that it does not plan to participate in talks on arms control with the United States and Russia. Instead, he urged the United States to respond to the Russian call to extend New START, “while substantially reducing its gigantic nuclear arsenal and creating favorable conditions for other nuclear-weapon states to join in multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.”

U.S. allies in Europe continue to express their support for prolonging New START.

In October, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto became the first head of state to publicly call for an extension of New START in a public appearance with Trump.

During a joint press conference on Oct. 2, Niinisto said, “Some of us remember the worst years of cold war in [the] 1960s. There was no agreement at all, just Cold War. We can't let the situation return [to having] no agreement at all about arms control, and that is why it is important to try to negotiate new agreements and to continue…New START.”

Trump did not respond to Niinisto’s comments on the treaty.

New START, set to expire in February 2021 unless extended, caps deployed U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 warheads and 700 missiles and heavy bombers each.

The U.S. State Department in October released updated information on the current status of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces limited by the treaty. As of Sept. 1, the data show the United States deploys 1,378 warheads on 668 missiles and heavy bombers. Russia deploys 1,426 warheads on 513 missiles and heavy bombers.

In addition, the State Department reported that as of Oct. 17, the United States has conducted 14 inspections in Russia this year, and Moscow has conducted 14 inspections in the United States. A total of 18,889 notifications have also been exchanged according to New START requirements.

NATO Rejects Russian Missile Proposal

NATO rejected an offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin in September to impose a moratorium on deploying ground-launched intermediate-range missiles previously banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, shown here in Munich in February, said recently that a Russian proposal on intermediate-range missiles was not "credible."  (Photo: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images)The proposal, according to NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu in a Sept. 26 statement, was not “a credible offer” and “ignored the reality on the ground.” Lungescu specifically pointed to Russia’s deployment of the formerly illegal ground-launched cruise missile known as the 9M729 as a reason why Putin’s offer was not legitimate.

On Oct. 23, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that the proposal was not “credible,” but also stated that, “at the same time, we aspire for a constructive relationship with Russia.”

Russia has repeatedly floated the moratorium proposal in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty. The 1987 pact led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet conventional and nuclear-armed, ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

At the beginning of October, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov called for the two countries to “come to grips” on the issue of deploying ground-launched intermediate-range missiles. He also echoed comments made by Putin after the U.S. test on Aug. 18 of a ground-launched variant of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile that would have been prohibited by the INF Treaty. “We will produce such [ground-launched intermediate-range] missiles,” Putin said, “but we will not deploy them in the regions where no ground-based missile systems of this class manufactured by the U.S. have emerged.”

John Rood, U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, said on Sept. 30 that although the Defense Department has “started development programs on intermediate-range missiles,” the department does not “have any specific plans at this time for deployments anywhere.”—KINGSTON REIF and SHANNON BUGOS

Washington hopes to include China in future nuclear arms control talks.

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.

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