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Kingston Reif

CBO: Nuclear Arsenal to Cost $1.2 Trillion

December 2017
By Kingston Reif

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in a new report highlights the rising cost of current plans to sustain and upgrade U.S. nuclear forces, warns about the many challenges facing these plans, and outlines several options to manage the arsenal that could save scores of billions of dollars.

The report, the most authoritative cost assessment to date, comes as the Trump administration’s ongoing Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), due to be completed by the end of the year, appears poised to call for new types of nuclear weapons and for increasing their role in U.S. defense policy. The report is also likely to fuel an ongoing debate in Congress about how much the United States can afford to spend on nuclear weapons.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks with Air Force Captain Kevin O'Neill, 91st Missile Maintenance Squadron maintenance operations officer, beside a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile near Lansford, N.D., on October 27.  (Photo credit: J.T. Armstrong/ U.S. Air Force)The CBO estimates that the nuclear weapons spending plans President Donald Trump inherited from his predecessor will cost taxpayers $1.2 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars between fiscal years 2017 and 2046. This amounts to about 6 percent of all spending on national defense anticipated for that period, as of President Barack Obama’s final budget request to Congress in February 2016. When the effects of inflation are included, the 30-year cost would approach $1.7 trillion, according to a projection by the Arms Control Association.

These figures are significantly higher than previously reported estimates of roughly $1 trillion.

The CBO estimate captures spending on the triad of nuclear delivery systems and command and control systems at the Defense Department and on nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure at the Energy Department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Nearly every element of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is slated to be upgraded over the next 20 years. Most of these efforts are in the early stages, and a few others have yet to begin.

It remains to be seen whether the NPR will recommend changes to the current arsenal and upgrade plans. (See ACT, July/August 2017.) Trump has said that he favors unspecified actions to “strengthen and expand” U.S. nuclear capabilities, which could lead to a greater increase in spending than projected by the CBO.

The Guardian newspaper reported on Oct. 29 that the administration is considering several options to bolster the arsenal, including a plan for lower-yield warheads for U.S. ballistic missiles, a re-nuclearization of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile, and a reduction in the amount of time it would take to resume nuclear explosive testing.

If the NPR fails to alter the current spending trajectory or accelerates or expands on it, spending on nuclear weapons could threaten money needed for other national security programs, including non-nuclear military spending, which Trump has pledged to increase.

“At a time when modernization of other conventional systems is planned and defense spending is likely to be constrained by long-term fiscal pressures, nuclear modernization will compete for funding with other defense priorities,” the CBO report states.

In addition to budgetary challenges, the report notes that the modernization program will face policy, diplomatic, programmatic, and management challenges.

The October report, titled “Approaches for Managing the Cost of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017 to 2046,” is the latest in a series of CBO reports on the cost of U.S. nuclear forces. (See ACT, March 2017.) The CBO prepared the 30-year study in response to a request from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Hill Debates Spending Plans

Congress has largely backed the effort to rebuild the arsenal. In an op-ed published on Nov. 8 in Defense News, Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, described the planned increase in nuclear weapons spending as “modest” and “temporary.” They added that it “is needed following decades of underinvestment in the nuclear mission.”

But a vocal group of mostly Democratic lawmakers continue to question the need and affordability. “Congress still doesn’t seem to have any answers as to how we will pay for this effort, or what the trade-offs with other national security efforts will be if we maintain an arsenal of over 4,000 nuclear weapons and expand our capacity to produce more,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said in an Oct. 31 statement on the CBO report.

Similarly, a group of 14 Democratic senators on Nov. 29 sent a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry arguing that the CBO report “makes clear, at a minimum, that the existing plan is unaffordable and needs revision.”

Breaking Down the Cost

Of the $1.2 trillion that the CBO projects will be spent on nuclear forces, $399 billion would be allocated for acquiring new missiles, bombers, and submarines and conducting nuclear warhead life-extension programs. The remaining $843 billion would fund sustainment of the current generation of forces and new forces once they entered service.

The projection includes the full cost of the long-range bomber leg of the triad, which has nuclear and non-nuclear missions, and an estimate of additional costs based on historical cost growth.

Annual costs are slated to peak at about $50 billion during the late 2020s and early 2030s. During this period, nuclear weapons would consume about 8 percent of total national defense spending and 15 percent of the Defense Department’s acquisition costs.

Options to Reduce Costs

The CBO report evaluates nine alternatives to the current sustainment and upgrade program that, if pursued, would reduce nuclear weapons spending. The report also measures the capability of the alternatives relative to that of the current program across four metrics: the number of warheads, crisis management, limited nuclear strikes, and large-scale nuclear exchanges.

As part of an option that would delay modernization, the CBO evaluated the cost savings from delaying the existing plan to build a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and instead refurbishing the existing Minuteman III ICBM. The CBO projects this approach would save $37 billion over the next 20 years, when modernization costs are slated to be at their highest, and $17.5 billion over the next 30 years.

The Air Force argues that a new ICBM is necessary because the Minuteman III is aging into obsolescence and losing its capability to penetrate adversary missile defenses. (See ACT, March 2017.)

Another option would forgo the current plan to buy a new fleet of nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs). The CBO projects that this would produce a 30-year savings of roughly $30 billion. According to the report, eliminating ALCMs would not impact the number of deployed, on alert, or survivable warheads, but would “would diminish the capability of U.S. nuclear forces, particularly for limited nuclear strikes.”

The CBO also examined options that would reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal from a triad of delivery systems to a dyad. For example, eliminating the ICBM leg would save between $120 billion and $149 billion over 30 years. The CBO notes that such a step would reduce the capability of U.S. nuclear forces in the event of a large-scale nuclear exchange with Russia.

Nuclear spending may threaten funding needed for non-nuclear defense programs.

Hill Wants Development of Banned Missile

December 2017
By Kingston Reif

Lawmakers voted in November to require the Defense Department to establish a program to begin development of a new missile system that if tested would violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis briefs the press at the NATO headquarters in Brussels November 9, after discussing with allies issues including Russia's alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.  (Photo credit: Jette Carr/ U.S. Air Force)The bill authorizes $58 million for a conventional, road-mobile, ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range prohibited by the treaty, as well as other offensive and defensive capabilities to counter Russia’s alleged deployment of a GLCM in violation of the treaty. The measure also expresses the sense of Congress that the United States is entitled to suspend its implementation of the treaty so long as Russia remains in material breach. Furthermore, it requires a report outlining possible sanctions against individuals in Russia deemed complicit in the violation.

The policy provisions are part of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act and come amid reports that the Pentagon has already begun preliminary research on the new missile.

The final compromise version of the bill, passed Nov. 14 by the House and Nov. 16 by the Senate, establishes spending ceilings and legal guidelines for Pentagon programs and activities conducted by the Energy Department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Since 2014, Washington has accused Moscow of violating its commitment “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a GLCM having a range prohibited under the INF Treaty. In the past year, the Pentagon has alleged that Russia is fielding a noncompliant system. Moscow has denied both charges.

The INF Treaty required Russia and the United States to eliminate permanently their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty does not prohibit activities related to research and development of this category of weapons.

The original House and Senate versions of the authorization bill called for R&D programs on a new GLCM. (See ACT, October 2017.) The House bill required development of a conventionally armed missile, whereas the Senate bill would authorize a nuclear-capable version.

Russian Colonel Aleksey Gridnev, Russian Federation team chief, receives a welcome gift May 15 from U.S. Air Force Colonel John Klein, 60th Air Mobility Wing commander, at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. The visit is part of the Open Skies Treaty missions.  (Photo credit: Louis Briscese/U.S. Air Force)In statements during the summer, the Trump administration objected to the GLCM language, stating that it “unhelpfully ties the administration to a specific missile system, which would limit potential military response options.” Nevertheless, The Wall Street Journal reported on Nov. 16, citing U.S. officials, that the Pentagon started research on the missile given the likelihood that it would soon be required by law.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis briefed NATO defense ministers on the administration’s plans at a Nov. 9 meeting in Brussels. Mattis told reporters afterward that Washington is focused on trying to bring Russia back into compliance and does not intend to abandon the pact.

A U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal that the idea behind beginning the GLCM research is “to send a message to the Russians that they will pay a military price” for violation of this treaty. “We are posturing ourselves to live in a post-INF [Treaty] world…if that is the world the Russians want,” the official added.

If the United States ever decides to deploy the new missiles, development would likely take years and cost several billion dollars.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported on Nov. 16 that the Trump administration has called for another meeting of the Special Verification Commission, the treaty’s dispute resolution forum. The commission last met a year ago without progress. (See ACT, December 2016.)

The authorization bill would provide $626 billion for national defense programs and $66 billion for the overseas contingency operations account, which is nominally used to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Syria but also funds other defense programs. This spending level exceeds the spending cap for fiscal year 2018, imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, by roughly $77 billion and the administration’s budget request by $23 billion. The bill does not include an additional $8 billion for defense activities requested by the administration.

The government is currently being funded by a continuing resolution that covers most programs at the fiscal year 2017 appropriated level through early December. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have yet to agree on top-line spending levels for the current fiscal year.

Neither the House nor Senate appropriations committee-approved versions of the fiscal year 2018 defense appropriations bill include funding for a new GLCM.

Missile Defense Buildup Urged

The final authorization bill supports the Trump administration’s early moves to significantly expand U.S. ballistic missile defenses to counter North Korea’s advancing missile capabilities.

The bill authorizes $10.5 billion for the Missile Defense Agency, an increase of $2.6 billion above the administration’s initial request. In total, the bill adds $4.4 billion above the request for missile defense and related programs.

The legislation provides all of the extra $4 billion for missile defense programs requested by the administration in a Nov. 6 amendment to its fiscal year 2018 budget request (see page 40). The supplemental request follows congressional approval in October for the transfer of $440 million in unspent fiscal year 2017 Army operations and maintenance funds to missile defense programs. (See ACT, November 2017.)

The Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, designed to protect the United States against a limited intercontinental ballistic missile attack from North Korea or Iran, would receive $1.3 billion in the bill, an increase of $498 million above the requested level of $828 million. This includes $88 million to begin increasing the number of ground-based, long-range missile defense interceptors by up to 20 beyond the currently deployed 44.

In addition, the bill requires the Pentagon to develop a plan to increase the number of interceptors to 104 and authorizes additional money for missile defense sensors, upgrades to the Navy’s Aegis missile defense program, and classified programs to augment U.S. cyber capabilities for missile defense. It also supports the rapid acquisition of a boost-phase missile defense capability and a space-based interceptor layer.

The administration is currently conducting a congressionally mandated review of the U.S. approach toward missile defense. (See ACT, May 2017.) The review is slated for completion by the end of the year.

CTBTO Funds Curtailed

The authorization bill limits funding for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and declares that UN Security Council Resolution 2310, passed in September 2016, does not “obligate…nor does it impose an obligation on the United States to refrain from actions that would run counter to the object and purpose” of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The explanatory statement accompanying the bill states that “it is wholly inappropriate for U.S. funds to support activities of the [CTBTO] that include advocating for ratification of the treaty or otherwise preparing for the treaty’s possible entry into force.”

The CTBTO is the intergovernmental organization that promotes the CTBT, which has yet to enter into force, and maintains the global International Monitoring System to deter and detect nuclear test explosions. Resolution 2310 urges eight countries, whose ratification is needed for the treaty to enter into force, to ratify the CTBT “without further delay” and calls on all states to refrain from conducting nuclear tests, emphasizing that current testing moratoria contribute to “international peace and stability.” (See ACT, October 2016.)

The legislation also imposes conditions on funding to upgrade U.S. digital imaging systems pursuant to implementation of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. The treaty, which entered into force in 2002, permits each of the agreement’s 34 states-parties to conduct short-notice, unarmed reconnaissance flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities.

The United States has yet to transition to the use of the more advanced digital sensors in its treaty flights over Russia, but is requesting funding to do so in the near future.

The United States has raised numerous concerns about Russian compliance with the treaty. Republican lawmakers have voiced concern that Russian flights under the treaty, which now employ more advanced sensors and cameras as allowed by the treaty, amount to spy missions.

Congress completes the fiscal year 2018 defense authorization act.

The Alternative 'Russia Scandal'

News Date: 
November 6, 2017 -05:00

Fear Creates a Proposal

News Date: 
November 14, 2017 -05:00

U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Turkey Raise Alarm

November 2017
By Kingston Reif

Deteriorating relations between the United States and Turkey have prompted a growing debate about the wisdom of maintaining U.S. tactical nuclear weapons at the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey and, more broadly, about whether to remove all such U.S. weapons from Europe.

Airmen from the U.S. Air Force 39th Security Forces Squadron search Senior Airman Dwaine Barnes during a security exercise January 15, 2016, at Incirlik Air Base. The exercise tested security forces ability to respond to insider threats and to practice other security missions. (Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Krystal Ardrey)Although Turkey is a NATO member and Incirlik is a key base of operations for the U.S. air campaign against the Islamic State group, developments over the past year and a half have soured relations and raised security concerns at the base. Those arguing for the removal from Incirlik note that although the bombs do not appear to be in imminent danger of theft or unauthorized use, the risks of storing the weapons in Turkey have nevertheless increased significantly. They also note that maintaining the status quo is unacceptable in light of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s anti-U.S. rhetoric and actions.

In an Oct. 14 tweet, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former State Department official in the George W. Bush administration, said the United States “should remove nukes from Turkey” and “reduce dependence on use of its bases.” Turkey under Erdogan is an “ally in name only,” he added.

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’s nuclear sharing arrangements.

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.

The Defense and Energy departments are in the process of an extensive rebuilding of the B61, at a cost that may exceed $10 billion. (See ACT, November 2016.)

Unlike the other bases in Europe that host U.S. B61s, Incirlik does not have 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 pick them up.

As a matter of policy, the Defense Department does not comment on the presence of nuclear weapons in Turkey or anywhere else in Europe. The Air Force, in its fiscal year 2015 budget request, noted the presence of “special weapons” at “storage sites in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.” Since 2000, NATO has invested $80 million in “infrastructure improvements” and as of 2014 planned to invest an additional $154 million “for security improvements.”

The security environment has raised concerns. 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. In the year since, Erdogan has cracked down on opposition groups and independent media and strengthened ties with Russia. In addition, Turkey has arrested several U.S. citizens accused of abetting the coup and in October detained a Turkish employee at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.

Other NATO members also have had troubled relations with Turkey recently. For example, Germany in July removed its soldiers from Incirlik after Ankara refused to allow German lawmakers to visit the troops at the base.

The presumed presence of U.S. nuclear bombs raises the stakes. A former senior NATO official told Stars and Stripes in July that “if there are nuclear weapons stored in Turkey, they should be removed given the instability, both in the country and across the border in Syria and Iraq.” If removed, the weapons could be sent back to the United States or to another country in Europe that has the requisite facilities to store B61s and aircraft capable of delivering them.

So far, neither the United States nor NATO’s military command have given any indication that withdrawal of the weapons has been seriously considered. Leaders of the 28 member countries of NATO, at their July 2016 summit meeting in Warsaw, reaffirmed the security role played by U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. (See ACT, September 2016.)

James Townsend, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy during the Obama administration, told Arms Control Today in an Oct. 23 interview that decisions about U.S. force posture in Europe should not be impacted by “the politics of the day.”

The United States should not pursue a unilateral change to NATO’s nuclear posture “due to politics or even military expediency unless we do so with the Russians giving us something in return,” he added.

NATO may fear that removing the weapons from Incirlik not only would raise questions about the alliance’s commitment to Turkey’s security, likely exacerbating current political tensions, but also prompt uncomfortable debates about the merits of nuclear sharing inside the other host nations.

Indeed, the deployment of U.S. B61s is controversial in some of these countries.

For instance, Martin Schulz, the German Social Democratic candidate for chancellor, said in August that were he to win the Sept. 24 election, he would advocate for the removal of the estimated 20 B61s stored in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party ultimately prevailed, but the Social Democrats remain the second-largest political party in Germany.

In an article urging the withdrawal of all U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe published in the journal Survival in September, Steve Andreasen, a former White House official in the Clinton administration, argued that continuing “NATO’s nuclear status quo will come at an increasingly high financial and political cost, and high security risk.”

Recent developments involving Turkey highlight “the need for NATO to move to a safer, more secure and more credible nuclear deterrent—including withdrawing, and not replacing, U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe,” he wrote.—KINGSTON REIF

Is it time to remove the nuclear bombs stored at Incirlik?

Pentagon Gets More Missile Defense Funds

Congress last month approved the transfer of an additional $440 million in unspent fiscal year 2017 Defense Department funds to missile defense programs amid on ongoing administration review of U.S. missile defense strategy and growing concern about North Korea’s advancing ballistic missile capabilities. Of that amount, $136 million would support increasing the number of ground-based long-range missile defense interceptors in Alaska by up to 20 beyond the currently planned 40.

A ground-based interceptor missile sits inside its underground silo August 23 at the Missile Defense Complex at Fort Greely, Alaska. (Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Capt. Jennifer Beyrle)The additional money, which had originally been earmarked for Army operations and maintenance accounts, would also fund missile defense sensors, upgrades to the Navy’s Aegis missile defense program, and classified programs to augment U.S. cyber capabilities for missile defense. The Defense Department submitted the reprogramming request to Congress on Sept. 7.

The administration is currently conducting a congressionally mandated review of the U.S. approach toward missile defense. (See ACT, May 2017.) The review is slated for completion by the end of the year. The Trump administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2018, released May 23, seeks $7.9 billion for the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency, a decrease of $334 million from the current level but an increase of $470 million from the projection in the final Obama administration submission. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

President Donald Trump said at an Aug. 10 news conference at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, that he would “be increasing our budget by many billions of dollars because of North Korea and other reasons having to do with” missile defense. It remains to be seen if the administration will submit a so-called supplemental request to lawmakers for additional missile defense funds beyond its request for fiscal year 2018, which began Oct. 1.

The House and Senate versions of this year’s defense authorization act would permit expanding the number of ground-based interceptors in Alaska. The two chambers are currently in negotiations to produce a final bill by early December.—KINGSTON REIF

Pentagon Gets More Missile Defense Funds


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