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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Kingston Reif

No Deal Yet as New START Expiration Nears


January/February 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

With the sole agreement limiting U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals set to expire in early February, Russia has repeated its offer to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). President Joe Biden has said that he will seek to extend the agreement, but the incoming administration has yet to decide on the length of an extension to seek.

Toward the end of 2020, Russian officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, reaffirmed Russia's willingness to extend New START, but raised the prospect that there was insufficient time to do so. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)“Russia is in favor of extending this treaty for five years without additional conditions,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Nov. 30. In his annual end-of-year news conference on Dec. 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an extension of the treaty for at least one year. New START allows for an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents mutually agree to it.

Biden’s advisers continue to consider the length of extension the incoming administration should pursue, with Biden's National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan saying Jan. 3 that "right out of the gate in the early days and weeks of the administration...we will have to look at extending that treaty in the interests of the United States." Nearly 30 U.S. arms control experts in a Nov. 30 letter urged Biden to agree to a full five-year extension without conditions as one of his first priorities.

After the U.S. presidential election, the Trump administration and Russia signaled a willingness to reach a deal on extension based on proposals exchanged in October. (See ACT, December 2020.) Washington proposed a politically binding one-year extension of New START and a one-year freeze on the number of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads of any type at current levels, as well as some type of verification plan for the freeze. Russia, which had called for a five-year extension of New START for much of 2020, countered with a one-year extension and a one-year warhead freeze so long as Washington put forward no other conditions, such as on verification.

Putin said on Dec. 17 that Russia remains open to dialogue regarding the treaty and awaits a response from Washington.

Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, replied on Twitter that the Trump administration has responded five times “to meet to finalize the freeze/extension deal to which Putin agreed” but that the Russian Foreign Ministry rejected all the meetings.

Ryabkov responded to Billingslea that Russia “offered [the United States] to agree on proposal by President Putin 25 times.... Instead of accepting this simple scheme they’re making unacceptable demands.”

The fate of the treaty now rests on the incoming Biden administration and Russia. The two sides will have just 16 days to seal an extension before the treaty expires on Feb. 5, 2021.

Billingslea insisted in remarks given on Nov. 17, published on Dec. 8, that the Trump administration’s proposal “is now the de minimis threshold for all future nuclear arms control deals with Russia.”

“Any future deal which fails to cap all warheads should be regarded as an abject failure,” he continued. “Any simple extension of New START without capitalizing on Putin’s acquiescence to an overall warhead limit would demonstrate a profound lack of negotiating acumen.”

Billingslea said that the two countries “are at the brink” of agreement and that there “is still time to hammer out” the details.

Trump administration critics have argued that such a freeze has never been done previously and that there is not enough time to reach agreement on key details. They claim that the incoming administration should not feel bound to a deal that might break new ground with respect to a warhead freeze but has not been officially agreed to and would only last a year in any event.

The details yet to be finalized include the definition of “warhead,” stockpile declarations, data exchanges, and a plan for verification of the freeze. (See ACT, October 2020.) “All we need to do is define what we are freezing [and] the cap level and start verification talks,” Billingslea tweeted on Dec. 17.

U.S. and Russian officials have said that the Trump administration sought a verification approach outside warhead production and disassembly sites known as portal monitoring. Russia has adamantly objected to this approach.

Meanwhile, in the event an agreement on extension is reached between the Biden administration and Moscow, it remains to be seen how Russia will seek to initially implement an extension given that Russian law requires approval by the Russian parliament.

Ryabkov said on Dec. 7 that, “for Russia to extend [New START] would mean to go through numerous steps…that equals to the formal ratification of a treaty.”

“We are prepared to…do our utmost to be there in time,” he said, but “the situation is challenging, it’s quite a demanding one.”

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.a

The fate of the only treaty limiting U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons remains in question as the Trump administration closes.

U.S. Defense Bill Drops Nuclear Testing


January/February 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

U.S. lawmakers agreed in December to drop dueling House and Senate defense bill provisions on nuclear test explosions prompted by reports last spring that the Trump administration had discussed a resumption of such testing.

Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) praised Congress for refusing to authorize or appropriate funds for renewed U.S. nuclear testing. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)The Democratic-led House in July adopted in its version of the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) an amendment offered by Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) to prohibit any fiscal year 2021 or prior-year funding “to conduct or make preparations for any explosive nuclear weapons test that produces any yield.” (See ACT, September 2020.)

The House version of the defense and energy and water appropriations bills included a similar prohibition.

The Republican-led Senate version of the authorization bill, however, included an amendment introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to make $10 million available for the United States to conduct a nuclear test. (See ACT, June 2020.)

The final version of the authorization and appropriations bills ultimately eliminated all of the provisions.

McAdams said the final outcome would make the resumption of nuclear testing less likely.

“Our success in this fight means that our citizens won’t have to face the prospect of more dangerous and unnecessary explosive nuclear weapons testing in our backyard,” said McAdams in a Dec. 4 statement. “The United States maintains the most effective and capable nuclear deterrent in the world. We have done so while observing a moratorium on explosive nuclear testing for the past three decades.”

Then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden criticized the Trump administration last May for debating a return to nuclear testing, calling the possibility “as reckless as it is dangerous.”

Congress initially passed the final defense authorization bill in December by overwhelming veto-proof majorities, but Trump vetoed the bill Dec. 23. The Senate and House overrode the veto on Dec. 28 and Jan. 1, respectively.

Trump signed omnibus appropriations legislation on Dec. 27, and overall, Congress provided $741 billion for national defense programs, the same as the budget request.

In other areas, the sprawling appropriations law approved the vast majority of the Trump administration’s proposed $44.5 billion budget request for programs to maintain and upgrade the U.S. nuclear triad and its associated warheads and supporting infrastructure, but not without controversy.

The law provided $4.4 billion for building a fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, a slight increase of about $100 million above the budget request. The bill noted that “challenges have occurred in certain design, prototyping, and advance construction efforts of the program” and that “the supplier industrial base presents the most significant risk to the program.”

The law approved $2.8 billion to continue development of the Air Force’s B-21 Raider strategic bomber, the same as the budget request; $1.5 billion for the program to build the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which was a decrease of $75 million from the budget request; and $385 million for the Long-Range Standoff Weapon program to replace the existing air-launched cruise missile, $89 million less than the budget request.

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile interceptor launches from Kwajalein Atoll in a 2019 test. The defense appropriations bill funded the Missile Defense Agency with 12 percent more than the Trump administration requested. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency) The Air Force in September awarded a $13.3 billion development contract to Northrop Grumman to build the new ICBM system. (See ACT, October 2020.)

The funding reduction for the new cruise missile appears to reflect the Air Force’s decision last spring to continue development with Raytheon as the sole contractor. (See ACT, May 2020.) The service is planning to award the main development contract for the missile in May, about nine months earlier than planned, according to a Nov. 18 Inside Defense report.

The initial House and Senate versions of the appropriations and authorization bills largely aligned on funding to modernize the nuclear triad, but the budget request for and oversight of the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) was far more contentious.

The Trump administration last February requested $15.6 billion for the agency’s nuclear weapons activities account, an increase of $3.1 billion, or 25 percent, from the fiscal year 2020 appropriations and $2.8 billion above the projection for 2021 in the fiscal year 2020 budget request.

In the wake of an internal Trump administration dispute about the appropriate size of the NNSA weapons budget request, the Senate version of the defense authorization bill included provisions that would give the Pentagon’s Nuclear Weapons Council, a body that coordinates the Defense and Energy departments’ nuclear weapons stockpile responsibilities, a much greater say in the annual formulation of the NNSA budget. (See ACT, March 2020.)

In addition to proving controversial in the Senate, the language prompted strong pushback from the House. The lower chamber’s authorization bill included a provision that would make the energy secretary a member of the council, and its appropriations legislation sought to bar the council from expanding its budget role.

The final version of the authorization bill, however, retained much of the Senate language, and the House provisions were dropped from the final appropriations bills.

Meanwhile, the law provided $15.4 billion for the NNSA’s nuclear weapons activities, a decrease of $257 million from the budget request but an increase of $2.9 billion from last year’s appropriation. The law fully funds the $53 million NNSA request to begin early work on a new-design submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead dubbed the W93 and the $1.5 billion NNSA request to increase the rate of production of plutonium pits for nuclear warheads to at least 80 per year.

In contrast, the House had proposed $13.7 billion for weapons activities, including no funding for the W93, and a cut of several hundred million dollars for pit production.

Lawmakers poured cold water on the Pentagon’s proposal to supplement existing U.S. homeland missile defenses by modifying existing systems.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) requested $274 million in fiscal year 2021 to adapt the Aegis missile defense system and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, designed to defeat short- and intermediate-range missiles, to provide an additional layer of defense against limited ICBMs threats.

In the end, the law provided $49 million only for limited concept studies, a decrease of $225 million from the budget request.

The final authorization bill authorized a similar funding reduction and conditioned 50 percent of the remaining funds on the receipt of a report from the defense secretary and the MDA director detailing a description of the requirements for the layered missile defense proposal; a site-specific fielding plan that includes possible locations, the number and type of interceptors, and radars in each location; and a life-cycle cost estimate of different deployment options.

The law also required an assessment from the Defense Intelligence Agency of how using the Aegis and THAAD systems “to conduct longer-range missile defense missions would be perceived by near-peer foreign countries and rogue nations” and how they “would likely respond to such deployments.”

The skepticism from Congress comes on the heels of a successful first intercept test of the Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile of an ICBM target on Nov. 17. (See ACT, December 2020.)

Critics have warned that an increase in the number of U.S. interceptors capable of intercepting ICBMs could exacerbate Russian and Chinese concerns about the threat the defenses pose to their nuclear deterrents and prompt them to take steps to counter new U.S. missile defenses.

The law provided $10.5 billion for the MDA, an increase of $1.3 billion from the budget request.

The appropriations include increases of $220 million to sustain the existing Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system based in Alaska and California, $194 million to develop a new next-generation homeland defense interceptor in the wake of the demise of the Redesigned Kill Vehicle program, and $76 million to buy an eighth THAAD battery.

Despite providing a funding boost for the GMD system, Congress raised concerns about the next-generation interceptor, which is not slated to be fielded until 2028 at the earliest. The authorization law requires an independent cost estimate and at least two successful flight intercept tests prior to beginning production of the new interceptor.

The bill also directed the MDA to develop, subject to the availability of appropriations, 20 interim homeland missile defense interceptors by 2026 that, “at minimum, meet the proposed capabilities of the Redesigned Kill Vehicle program” and “leverage existing kill vehicle and booster technology.”

The appropriations law, however, did not provide any funding for such an interim interceptor. Moreover, the authorization bill allows the Pentagon to waive the requirement for the interceptor if development is not technically feasible, the interim capability is not in the national security interest of the United States, and the capability cannot be fielded at least two years before the next-generation interceptor.

Elsewhere in the appropriations bill, Congress provided no funding for the Marine Corps to assess the feasibility and utility of firing the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile from a ground launcher.

The Marine Corps had requested $125 million to purchase 48 Tomahawk missiles for this purpose. (See ACT, June 2020.) With an estimated range of between 1,250 and 2,500 kilometers, a ground-launched variant of the Tomahawk would have violated the now-defunct 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The Trump administration withdrew the United States from the treaty in August 2019.

But the bill provided $88 million in initially unrequested Army funding to pursue development of a ground-launched midrange missile capability. (See ACT, October 2020.) The service last fall selected variants of the Tomahawk and the Navy’s Standard Missile-6 missiles to be part of an initial prototype scheduled to be fielded in 2023.

The appropriations law also increased funding for the Pentagon’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which seeks to counter weapons of mass destruction and related threats.

The Pentagon requested $239 million for the program in fiscal year 2021, a decrease of $135 million, or 36 percent, from the fiscal year 2020 appropriation, prompting alarm from members of Congress, former government officials, and nuclear security experts. (See ACT, April 2020.)

The appropriations bill provided $122 million in additional funding for the program, including an increase of $98 million for the program’s efforts to reduce the proliferation of biological weapons and facilitate detection and reporting of diseases caused by especially dangerous pathogens.

The authorization law also requires a report from the National Academy of Sciences on improving U.S. strategies “for preventing, countering, and responding to nuclear, biological, and chemical terrorism.”

The sprawling National Defense Authorization Act does not permit nuclear testing, but does strongly support expanded U.S. nuclear capabilities.

U.S. Selects Missiles for INF-Range Capability


January/February 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The U.S. Army announced on Nov. 6 its selection of two missiles to serve as the basis for initial development of a conventional, ground-launched, midrange missile capability. Both missiles would have been prohibited under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, from which the United States withdrew in August 2019. (See ACT, September 2020.)

Sailors aboard the USS Barry prepare to fire a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile during a September 2020 exercise. The U.S. Army is considering using a variant of the missile as a land-based weapon that would have been banned by the INF Treaty.  (Photo: Samuel Hardgrove/U.S. Navy)Lockheed Martin won a sole source contract worth $339 million to design, develop, and deliver the Mid-Range Capability (MRC) prototype to be fielded in fiscal year 2023.

“Following a broad review of joint service technologies potentially applicable to MRC, the Army has selected variants of the Navy [Standard Missile-6 (SM-6)] and Tomahawk missiles to be part of the initial prototype,” said the statement from the U.S. Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office.

The SM-6 was developed as a missile defense interceptor and first deployed in 2013. The Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missile has been in service since the 1980s, although some variants, such as those carrying a nuclear payload, have been retired.

“The MRC supports one of the Army’s chief roles in multi-domain operations: to use strategic fires to penetrate and disintegrate enemy layered defense systems, creating windows of opportunity for exploitation by the joint force,” the office said.

The Army told Breaking Defense that it does not plan to modify either of the Navy missiles. By selecting variants of the two missiles, the Army would be able to purchase the latest models: the SM-6 Block IB, estimated to complete development in 2024, and the Tomahawk Block Va, known as the Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST), which began production in 2020.

Since the demise of the INF Treaty last year, the Trump administration has been vocal about quickly developing and deploying a ground-launched, intermediate-range missile capability to counter Russia and China in particular. (See ACT, October 2020.) But where such missiles might be based remains unclear, as countries, including Australia, Japan, and South Korea, have downplayed the possibility of hosting them. (See ACT, September 2020.)

Signed in 1987, the now defunct INF Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

The U.S. Army has identified two Navy missiles to serve as the basis for a new land-based system that would have violated the INF Treaty.

Fate of New START Hinges on Biden

Fate of New START Hinges on Biden With less than two months remaining until the last agreement limiting the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals expires, Russia has reiterated its offer to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ). Though President-elect Joe Biden has said that he will seek to extend the agreement, the incoming administration has yet to decide on the length of an extension to seek. “Russia is in favor of extending this treaty for five years without additional conditions,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov Nov. 30. In his annual...

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