"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Kingston Reif

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2020 Trump Budget Aims To Boost US Nuclear Capabilities

This op-ed originally appeared in IDN (Indepthnews) , April 5, 2019. Consistent with the recommendations of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) , the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request would continue plans to expand U.S. nuclear weapon capabilities. The ultimate fate of the request, submitted to Congress March 11, 2019 remains uncertain as Democrats, particularly in the House, have signaled strong opposition to several controversial funding proposals. Their concerns include administration plans to develop two additional low-yield nuclear weapons and two conventionally...

2020 Trump Budget Aims to Boost U.S. Nuclear Capabilities

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April 3, 2019 -04:00

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Trump Budget Boosts Nuclear Efforts

April 2019
By Kingston Reif

Consistent with the recommendations of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request would continue plans to expand U.S. nuclear weapon capabilities.

The Ohio-class USS Nebraska submarine returns to port in Washington in 2018.  The Trump administration is seeking funds to complete development of low-yield nuclear warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles (Photo: Michael Smith/U.S. Navy) The ultimate fate of the request, submitted to Congress March 11, remains uncertain as Democrats, particularly in the House, have signaled strong opposition to several controversial funding proposals. Their concerns include administration plans to develop two additional low-yield nuclear weapons and two conventionally armed, ground-launched missiles currently prohibited by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The budget submission illustrates the rising cost of the nuclear mission and the challenge those expenses may pose to the administration’s other national security priorities.

A Congressional Budget Office report in February estimates that the United States will spend $494 billion on nuclear weapons from fiscal years 2019 through 2028. That is an increase of $94 billion, or 23 percent, from the CBO’s previous 10-year estimate of $400 billion, which was published in January 2017. (See ACT, March 2019.)

The Trump administration’s budget proposal contains increases for several Defense and Energy department nuclear weapons systems. The request does not change the planned development timelines for these programs.

The largest increase sought is for the nuclear weapons account of the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The budget request calls for $12.4 billion, an increase of $1.3 billion above the fiscal year 2019 appropriation and $530 million above the projection in the fiscal year 2019 budget request.

The request includes funds for the continued development of two missile systems with ranges prohibited by the INF Treaty, but despite numerous queries by Arms Control Today and other outlets, the Pentagon has yet to divulge the amount.

Defense Department officials told a group of reporters March 13 that the Pentagon is planning to test a ground-launched cruise missile and a ballistic missile by the end of this year.

The announcement came just over a month after the Trump administration announced on Feb. 2 that it would withdraw from the treaty on Aug. 2 unless Russia corrects alleged compliance violations with the agreement. (See ACT, March 2019.)

The budget request for nuclear weapons programs is part of the overall $750 billion request for national defense. That figure includes the Defense Department’s regular budget activities and the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs.

New Nuclear Capabilities

The budget request would finish development of a small number of low-yield nuclear warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and begin studies of a new fleet of sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs).

The Trump administration’s NPR report released in February 2018 called for developing two additional low-yield nuclear weapons primarily to counter Russia’s alleged willingness to use or threaten to use tactical nuclear weapons on a limited basis in a crisis or at lower levels of conflict, a strategy known as escalate to de-escalate. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Congress last year approved nearly $90 million for the two additional systems, but not without strong opposition from Democrats. (See ACT, November 2018.) House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has said he plans to oppose continued funding for the weapons. (See ACT, January/February 2019.)

The NNSA is seeking $10 million for the low-yield SLBM warhead, $55 million less than the fiscal year 2019 appropriation. The request states that production of the warhead, known as the W76-2, will finish by the end of fiscal year 2019 and final program documentation and close-out activities will be completed fiscal year 2020. The agency said in February that it had completed the first production unit for the warhead.

The Defense Department request includes funds to support production of the low-yield variant, although the exact amount is not specified.

The Pentagon is also seeking increased funding to “conduct an Analysis of Alternatives study in support of” developing a new SLCM, but the specific amount has not been announced. Such an analysis is one of the first steps the Pentagon takes in the usually lengthy process to acquire a new weapons system.

The NNSA request includes as much as $12 million to begin a study of the warhead for a new SLCM.

The Nuclear Triad

The budget request would keep on schedule the Defense Department’s programs to sustain and rebuild the U.S. triad of nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and their associated warheads and supporting infrastructure.

The request includes $2.2 billion for the Navy program to build 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines. The Air Force is seeking $3 billion to continue development of the B-21 Raider strategic bomber, $713 million for the long-range standoff weapon program to replace the existing air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), and $678 million for the program to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a missile system called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent.

The NNSA is asking for $793 million to continue developing and begin production of the B61-12 gravity bomb life-extension program and $899 million to refurbish the existing warhead that would be delivered by the new ALCM under development by the Air Force. The request for the ALCM warhead is $244 million more than the current appropriation and $185 million above last year’s projection for fiscal year 2020.

The request also includes $112 million to continue the design of the W87-1 warhead to replace the W78 warhead currently carried by the Minuteman III ICBM and an increase of more than $16 million above last year’s appropriation to sustain the B83-1 gravity bomb.

The NPR report recommended retaining the B83-1 gravity bomb, the only remaining megaton-class warhead in the U.S. stockpile, reversing the Obama administration’s proposal that the warhead be retired once confidence in the B61-12 is achieved.

New delivery vehicles and warheads are featured in fiscal year 2020 budget request.

U.S. Seeks New Space-Based Capabilities

April 2019
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 defense budget request contains unexpected proposals to fund space-based missile defense weapons. Submitted to Congress in mid-March, the request seeks funds for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to develop and test by 2023 a prototype space-based laser weapon to destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles during their boost and midcourse phases of flight. The budget submission includes $34 million for the new program in fiscal year 2020 and $380 million over the next five years.

“The addition of the neutral particle beam effort will design, develop, and conduct a feasibility demonstration for a space-based, directed-energy intercept layer,” the budget documents state. “This future system will offer new kill options for the [ballistic missile defense system] and adds another layer of protection for the homeland.”

In addition, the budget request for the new Space Development Agency includes $15 million to “develop a government reference architecture for a space-based kinetic interceptor layer for boost-phase defense.”

Critics have argued that space-based interceptors are an unaffordable, ineffective, and destabilizing form of defense. Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, warned in a Jan. 17 statement on the Missile Defense Review that “a space-based interceptor layer…has been studied repeatedly and found to be technologically challenging and prohibitively expensive.”

The administration’s Missile Defense Review report, released on Jan. 17, proposed a six-month feasibility study “of the concepts and technology for space-based defenses.” (See ACT, March 2019.) The report gave no indication that the MDA would pursue the neutral particle beam.

Overall, the budget submission would sustain increased funding levels for missile defense. The administration is asking for $13.6 billion for missile defense efforts in fiscal year 2020, an increase of $700 million, or 5.4 percent, above what the administration requested for fiscal year 2019. Of that amount, $9.4 billion would be for the MDA.

The request for the MDA is $1.1 billion less than Congress appropriated in fiscal year 2019. In a March 12 Pentagon press briefing, Comptroller Elaine McCusker disputed claims that the reduction is inconsistent with the Missile Defense Review’s call for an expansion of missile defense capabilities. She said the reduction was planned and reflected a surge in missile defense capabilities in 2018 and 2019 that is winding down.

She added that the Pentagon is investing an additional $1.3 billion in technologies outside of the MDA budget.

The program to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited, long-range missile attack, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, would receive about $1.7 billion under the budget proposal, a decrease of about $160 million from last year’s spending level.

Notably, the request proposes to delay by two years the previous plan to increase the number of ground-based interceptors deployed in Alaska from 40 to 60 by 2023, citing the need to refine the design of a more reliable kill vehicle that would arm the additional interceptors. The Government Accountability Office had raised several red flags about the new kill vehicle program. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

On March 25, the MDA conducted a successful intercept test of the GMD system against an intercontinental-range ballistic missile target. For the first time, the test involved firing two interceptors against one target. In a real-world scenario, multiple interceptors would be fired at an incoming missile.

The MDA has now conducted 19 intercept tests of the system, of which 11 have been reported as successful.

Pentagon asks for big increase to develop orbiting missile defenses.

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