"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."

– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
Kingston Reif

GAO Sees Big Rise in B61 Bomb Cost

June 2017

By Kingston Reif

The program to rebuild the B61 nuclear gravity bomb is likely to exceed Energy Department cost projections by about $2.5 billion, or 35 percent, and begin production two years later than anticipated, according to the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In addition, the GAO study released in April disputes the department’s claim that its long-term plans to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure are affordable, calling this conclusion “optimistic.”

An Air Force F-16C prepares to drop an inert B61-12 during a development flight test by the 422nd Flight Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, on March 14, 2017. The test is part of the life extension program intended to improve the weapon’s safety, security and reliability. (Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Brandi Hansen/U.S. Air Force)The report illustrates the significant fiscal challenge facing the Trump administration as it seeks to continue and perhaps expand the ambitious effort set in motion by the Obama administration to overhaul the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The Trump administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2018, released May 23, seeks $10.2 billion for nuclear weapons activities at the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), an increase of roughly $1 billion from the current fiscal year level and about $570 million more than the Obama administration’s final budget request projection.

An updated assessment of the B61 life extension program (LEP) performed by the NNSA about a year ago put the direct cost of the program at $7.6 billion, an increase of $200 million over the agency’s estimate of $7.4 billion provided in its fiscal year 2017 budget materials. The NNSA’s independent Office of Cost Estimating and Program Evaluation, however, told the GAO that its assessment of the program projects a total cost of approximately $10 billion and a two-year delay to the agency’s estimated March 2020 first production-unit date.

Arms Control Today reported last November that the independent office’s analysis had identified program risk factors that could lead to cost increases and schedule delays. (See ACT, November 2016.)

Although the NNSA’s fiscal year 2018 budget request of $789 million for the B61 LEP reflects the agency’s updated $7.6 billion cost figure, it is not in line with the independent projection. An NNSA spokesperson told Arms Control Today last fall that the B61 program office is “monitoring and mitigating” the cost and schedule risk identified by the independent office.

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, which officials have said will lead to the retirement of the stock of B83 gravity bombs, the most powerful nuclear weapon remaining in the U.S. arsenal.

The GAO report also showed that the NNSA thinks the estimated cost of the program to refurbish the existing air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) warhead could be understated by more than $1 billion.

The LEP for the ALCM warhead would receive $399 million billion under the fiscal year 2018 budget request, an increase of $179 million over the current-year level, but a decrease of $63 million below the projection in Obama’s final budget submission. The first refurnished ALCM warhead, which will be mated to the new long-range standoff weapon being developed by the Air Force, is scheduled for production in 2025.

Overall, the GAO report concluded that “budget estimates in some of NNSA’s fiscal year 2017 nuclear security budget materials do not align with the agency’s plans for its modernization efforts at several levels, raising concerns about the overall affordability of NNSA’s planned portfolio of nuclear modernization programs.”

The auditors note that the NNSA may need $2.9 billion more in funding for weapons activities during fiscal years 2022-2026 than the agency is projecting. During this period, the NNSA is planning to be simultaneously executing four to five major warhead LEPs and several major construction projects.

The mismatch between NNSA budget projections and program plans is driven in part by the agency’s costly and controversial proposal to eventually consolidate the U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads. First announced in June 2013, the so-called 3+2 strategy has a sticker price of roughly $60 billion and calls for shrinking the current stockpile from nine different warhead types to five. Three of these warhead types would be “interoperable” on land- and sea-based ballistic missiles, an approach that has not been tried. Two other warhead types would be used on bombers, and two of the seven current warhead types would be retired.

The NNSA argues that its modernization program is “generally affordable,” but the GAO claims the agency “does not thoroughly explain the basis for this conclusion or provide options for how potential affordability concerns…may be addressed if future funding is not increased.”

GAO Sees Big Rise in B61 Bomb Cost

Congress Limits Warhead Dismantlement

June 2017

By Kingston Reif

Long opposed to the Obama administration’s nuclear weapons risk reduction agenda, the Republican-controlled Congress voted in May to prevent the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) from implementing the former administration’s proposal to accelerate the rate of dismantlement of retired nuclear warheads.

Congress approved $56 million for nuclear warhead dismantlement and disposition activities, a reduction of $13 million, or 19 percent, from the Obama administration’s proposal of $69 million in its final budget request. The funding provision is part of the fiscal year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill, which President Donald Trump signed into law on May 5. Fiscal year 2017 started on Oct. 1, 2016, and runs until Sept. 30.

When a warhead is retired and removed from the U.S. nuclear stockpile, the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department, takes the weapon apart to ensure that it can never be used again. The transition from retirement to disassembly can take years and involves a number of steps and facilities.

In a January speech in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden stated that the Obama administration dismantled 2,226 warheads during its eight years in office. Biden also said that the queue of warheads awaiting dismantlement stood at 2,800 warheads as of September 2016.

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request included funds to begin accelerating the rate of dismantlement by 20 percent pursuant to an announcement made by Secretary of State John Kerry in April 2015 at the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference in New York to further demonstrate the administration’s commitment to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

But a number of Republican members of Congress strongly opposed the proposal, calling it unilateral disarmament.

The fiscal year 2017 national defense authorization act signed by President Barack Obama last December sets an annual limit of $56 million for NNSA dismantlement expenditures in fiscal years 2017 to 2021 and prohibits spending beyond that amount unless a number of stringent conditions can be met. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)

Although the House and Senate appropriations committees last year approved the Obama administration’s request to accelerate the dismantlement rate, the final funding level in the omnibus bill follows the direction in the defense authorization bill.

The omnibus bill also includes a policy provision prohibiting the use of fiscal year 2016 funds “to reduce or to prepare to reduce” the number of deployed and nondeployed U.S. strategic nuclear delivery systems below the levels the Pentagon has said it will retain as it adjusts its forces to meet the requirements of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the treaty’s implementation deadline of 2018.

The Obama administration last year considered reducing the size of the deployed arsenal below New START levels, but ultimately decided not to do so. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)

Defense Spending Increased

The omnibus appropriations bill is a nearly $1.2 trillion conglomeration of 12 appropriations bills that had to be passed to keep the government operating. For the first seven months of the fiscal year, Congress passed a series of continuing resolutions that extended funding for most discretionary governmental programs at the previous year’s levels, although several programs, including nuclear weapons programs, received fresh funding at the fiscal year 2017 request level.

The bill includes $14.8 billion of the extra $30 billion in spending requested by the Trump administration in March. The administration requested the funds as a supplement to the Obama administration’s original budget submission.

Congress included the additional funds in the Defense Department’s overseas contingency operations account, which is nominally used to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Syria but in fact also funds other defense programs, as the account is not limited by the 2011 Budget Control Act. That act places limits on discretionary spending, including military spending.

The Trump administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2018, released on May 23, includes a total of $603 billion for national defense, which includes the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs. This is an increase of $54 billion above the budget cap in effect for fiscal year 2018 and $19 billion, or 3 percent, above the projected spending level for fiscal year 2018 contained in the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 request.

Nuclear Modernization

The omnibus bill largely supports the Obama administration’s proposed funding increases for programs to sustain and to rebuild nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and their associated nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure. (See ACT, March 2016.)

The bill includes the requested amounts of $1.9 billion for the Navy’s Ohio-class submarine replacement program, an increase of $360 million above the fiscal year 2016 appropriation; $114 million for the Air Force’s effort to develop a replacement for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system, an increase of almost $39 million over 2016; and $96 million for a new fleet of nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), almost six times as much as Congress appropriated last year.

The bill funds the nuclear-capable B-21 “Raider” bomber program at $1.3 billion, a small reduction of $20 million below the budget request level. The bill also includes a provision calling on the Defense Department’s inspector general to review the secrecy of the program.

The Air Force has refused to release the value of the contract awarded to Northrop Grumman Corp. in October 2015 to develop the B-21 and the estimated total cost of the bomber program, citing classification concerns.

The bill also provides $9.3 billion for nuclear weapons activities conducted by the NNSA, an increase of $399 million, or 4.5 percent, above the fiscal year 2016 appropriation. The appropriation for weapons activities includes $223 million to begin refurbishing the existing ALCM warhead and $616 million for the B61 nuclear gravity bomb life extension program.

GMD System Gets Boost

The omnibus bill provides $968 million in research and development funding for the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system designed to protect the United States against a limited ICBM attack from North Korea or Iran, an increase of $106 million above the budget request level of $862 million. The increase restores funding to the level the Obama administration planned to request for fiscal year 2017 in its fiscal year 2016 budget submission.

The GMD system consists of interceptor sites in Alaska and California supported by radars and sensors around the globe and in space.

Overall, the bill provides approximately $8.2 billion for the Missile Defense Agency, an increase of $700 million above the Obama administration request.

MOX Construction Continues

Congress provided the NNSA with $335 million to continue construction of the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, rejecting the Obama administration’s proposal to end the project. (See ACT, March 2016.)

The MOX fuel program is designed to turn surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program into fuel for power reactors.

The U.S. effort to dispose of its plutonium via the MOX fuel path has suffered from large cost increases and schedule delays that put the project in jeopardy, prompting the Obama administration to propose ending the program and instead pursue an alternative approach. The alternative “dilute and dispose” process would down-blend the plutonium with an inert material for direct disposal in a repository. That approach can be implemented decades sooner at a much lower cost and with fewer risks, according to the Energy Department. (See ACT, June 2015.)

Despite the Energy Department’s efforts to terminate the MOX fuel project, Congress, led by the delegation from South Carolina, has refused to abandon it. Nonetheless, the bill provides $15 million, the same as the budget request and an increase of $10 million over the fiscal year 2016 level, to complete design activities for the dilute-and-dispose alternative.

Overall, the bill includes $1.9 billion for NNSA fissile material security and nonproliferation efforts, an increase of $75 million above the budget request and a decrease of $57 million from the current level.

Congress Limits Warhead Dismantlement

Decision on Missile Defense Site Delayed

The Defense Department announced that a final environ­mental statement designating a preferred location for a new ballistic missile interceptor site has been delayed again and will be further studied as part the department’s broad review of U.S. missile defense policy. “We will not be able to provide additional information” on the additional site until the ballistic missile defense review concludes, said Leah Garton, a Missile Defense Agency spokesperson, in a May 19 email to Arms Control Today.

The policy review, to be completed by the end of the year, will “identify ways to strengthen missile-defense capabilities, rebalance homeland and theater defense priorities and provide the necessary policy and strategy framework for the nation’s missile defense systems,” according to a Defense Department press release on May 5. The review could significantly alter long-standing policy and have far-reaching implications for U.S. strategic relationships with Russia and China. (See ACT, May 2017.)

The current system to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited, long-range missile attack, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, consists of interceptor sites in Alaska and California. Pentagon officials have repeatedly stated that there is no military requirement for a third site and that the estimated $3-4 billion price tag would be better spent to upgrade the existing GMD system. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)—KINGSTON REIF

Decision on Missile Defense Site Delayed

Missile Defense Can't Save Us From North Korea

This post originally appeared in War on the Rocks . There is no more urgent threat to the global nuclear nonproliferation order than North Korea’s accelerating and unconstrained nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Pyongyang is estimated to possess enough nuclear explosive material for at least 10 nuclear warheads, and in all likelihood already has the capability to deliver some of these weapons on its arsenal of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. By 2020, some experts believe Pyongyang may have enough fissile material for 100 warheads. With more nuclear tests, North Korea can...

New ICBM Cost May Rise Further

May 2017
By Kingston Reif

The Pentagon’s former top acquisition official said that the cost to build a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system could end up exceeding the Defense Department’s current estimate of $85 billion. Frank Kendall, former undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, told Arms Control Today in an April 5 interview that he would be “delighted” if the cost dropped below the current estimate, but said he did not “expect that to happen.” Kendall approved the $85 billion figure last summer as part of the new ICBM program’s so-called milestone A decision, a key early benchmark in the acquisition process. That figure was at the low end of the independent projection prepared by the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation and, even so, exceeded the Air Force’s 2015 cost estimate of $62.3 billion in then-year dollars. (See ACT, March 2017.) Kendall said that there is more uncertainty than usual about the estimated cost of the program, pending design determination and “more detailed, bottom-up cost analysis.”

New ICBM Cost May Rise Further

States Seek Ban Treaty by Summer

May 2017
By Kingston Reif and Alicia Sanders-Zakre

In the first week of historic negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, more than 100 countries without nuclear weapons started a process that could have far-reaching consequences for the future of nuclear deterrence and disarmament.

The talks began against the backdrop of strong opposition from the nuclear-armed powers and many of their allies, including the United States and most members of NATO, who contend that such an accord would undermine stability based on nuclear deterrence.

Costa Rica’s UN Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez (left), president of the UN conference to negotiate a nuclear-weapons ban treaty, chairs a meeting of the conference March 30. Credit: UN Photo/Rick BajornasThe push to begin negotiations on a ban treaty reflects growing concern among non-nuclear-weapon states about the devastating humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, the rising risks of conflict between states with nuclear weapons, and frustration at the slow pace of nuclear disarmament by the nine nuclear-armed countries.

Although supporters expressed hope that agreement on a treaty text could be reached this summer, that goal may be elusive due to disagreements that emerged about how comprehensive the new instrument should be, as well as other legal and technical issues. If a treaty is not concluded by that date, a new UN General Assembly resolution authorizing additional negotiations will be required.

Last October, the UN General Assembly First Committee voted 123–38 with 16 abstentions in favor of a resolution introduced by Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, and South Africa to begin negotiations this year on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. (See ACT, November 2016.) The full General Assembly approved the resolution in December.

The resolution called for a one-day organizational meeting, which was held in New York in January, followed by two negotiating sessions, March 27–31 and June 15–July 7.

The commencement of talks follows an open-ended working group that met in Geneva last year, in which a majority of participating states expressed support for starting negotiations on a “legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” None of the nuclear-armed countries attended the sessions. (See ACT, September 2016.)

The working group’s final report said a new instrument “would establish general prohibitions and obligations,” which could include a number of elements, such as “prohibitions on the acquisition, possession, stockpiling, development, testing and production of nuclear weapons.”

Treaty Opponents’ Concerns

The beginning of talks underscored deep divisions between treaty supporters, who celebrated the occasion, and opponents, who largely boycotted the proceedings.

The first week was “very successful,” said Thomas Hajnoczi, the Austrian ambassador to the United Nations, in an April 12 email to Arms Control Today. He added that the session demonstrated commitment among participating states and consisted of substantial, issue-oriented dialogue.

Nuclear-weapon states continued to strongly oppose the negotiations. “There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons,” said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, at a news conference outside the General Assembly hall at the opening of the negotiations. “But we have to be realistic.” In a show of solidarity on the issue, she was accompanied by British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, Deputy French UN Ambassador Alexis Lamek, and the UN ambassadors from several NATO members.

A few states were caught in the middle. Japan attended the first day of negotiations but only to give a statement explaining why it would not participate further. The Netherlands, the sole NATO ally in attendance, offered support for a legally binding prohibition, but said that it must be comprehensive and verifiable and have the support of the nuclear-armed states. China, which had reportedly considered participating, formally declared on March 20 that it would not attend.

Big Debates

The negotiations revealed points of contention among treaty supporters. Most states argued that the goal of negotiations should be adoption of a short and simple treaty by the end of July, but a few states, including Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela, expressed interest in a comprehensive treaty with extensive prohibitions and verification provisions that could take much longer to produce.

This “inherent tension” between the majority of participating states who seek a lean and flexible document and those that want something broader will be the “biggest obstacle to completing a treaty by July,” Thomas Countryman, former U.S. undersecretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said in an April 13 email to Arms Control Today.

Debates also arose about appropriate elements to include in the treaty’s preamble, core prohibitions, and institutional arrangements.

There was consensus that the preamble should reference the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, particularly the suffering of victims and testing. Many states said the preamble should note that the treaty builds on existing legal measures calling for nuclear disarmament, such as the 1996 International Court of Justice advisory opinion, and that it complements and does not undermine the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Countryman cautioned that participating states need to take special care to ensure that the principles embedded in the NPT are “reinforced in any ban treaty, or else we risk creating an incentive—and an excuse—for the very few states that could be inclined to begin, or further develop, a weapons program.”

Among other suggested elements for inclusion in the preamble were the gendered impact of nuclear weapons use, the contribution of civil society to disarmament, the universality and nondiscrimination of the treaty, the elimination of nuclear weapons from security doctrines, and the right of states to peaceful nuclear energy.

States agreed on several core prohibitions, including prohibitions on use, possession, development, acquisition, transfer, deployment, and assistance with prohibited activities.

Disagreements emerged on other issues, most notably on whether to prohibit the threat of nuclear weapons use. Some states, including Austria, considered banning the threat of use redundant because a ban on the use of nuclear weapons would implicitly also ban the threat of use. Other states insisted that explicitly banning the threat of use hopefully would delegitimize the inclusion of nuclear weapons in security doctrines.

States also debated how to address nuclear testing. Some states, including those where nuclear tests took place, argued that testing should be expressly banned while others argued that including a prohibition on testing would be unnecessary given the existence of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and could create conflicts with that treaty.

In addition, some states argued that the transit of nuclear weapons should be prohibited, but others such as Malaysia pointed out that such a prohibition could prove exceedingly difficult to verify or enforce.

Many states said the treaty should have simple requirements for entry into force, lest it suffer the same fate as the CTBT. That 1996 treaty, which has yet to enter into force, requires a certain number of named countries to sign and ratify the agreement before it can take effect. For a ban treaty, Austria proposed that the entry into force threshold be set at ratification by 30 states.

States were divided on the questions of how and under what conditions nuclear-armed states could accede to the treaty. Although some states claimed nuclear-weapon states should be required to completely disarm before accession, others argued that the nuclear powers should be able to sign the treaty before disarming if they provide a detailed plan to do so at the time of signature.

Next Steps

Elayne Whyte Gómez, Costa Rica’s UN ambassador and president of the negotiating conference, said she plans to prepare a treaty draft text by late May.

Hajnoczi expressed optimism that a treaty could be concluded by the end of the second session in mid-July. “Given the progress achieved at the March session and the strong sense of commitment, an adoption of the convention text in July seems to be within reach,” the Austrian diplomat said. “It will depend on the speed of progress, political will, and flexibility of participating states whether the negotiations can come to a conclusion already this year.”

In order to conclude a treaty by the summer, it is likely that the crafting of detailed action plans describing disarmament timelines and commitments and associated verification provisions will be postponed until a later date.

States Seek Ban Treaty by Summer

Missile Defense Review Begins

May 2017
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration is undertaking a congressionally mandated review of the U.S. approach toward missile defenses that could significantly alter long-standing policy and have far-reaching implications for the U.S. strategic relationship with Russia and China.

The review comes amid concerns about the growing North Korean ballistic missile threat, declining overall budgets for missile defense, pressure from congressional Republicans to expand the scope of U.S. national missile defenses beyond the currently limited goal of defending against Iran and North Korea, and continued Russian and Chinese objections to U.S. missile defense advances. President Donald Trump has provided few details about his vision for missile defense systems. A brief reference on the defense issues page of the White House website states, “We will…develop a state-of-the-art missile defense system to protect against missile-based attacks from states like Iran and North Korea.”

South Korean activists hold a rally July 11, 2016 in Seoul against the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. Under an agreement with the South Korean government, U.S. deployment of the system began in March. Credit: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty ImagesIn a Jan. 27 executive order titled “Rebuilding the U.S. Armed Forces,” Trump directed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to produce a national defense strategy, a new Ballistic Missile Defense Review, and a new Nuclear Posture Review. The directive language on the missile defense review, just one sentence long, states that the review should “identify ways of strengthening missile-defense capabilities, rebalancing homeland and theater defense priorities, and highlighting priority funding areas.”

Despite this limited initial direction, the review is likely to cast a wide net.

The fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law last December, requires the Defense Department to conduct a broad review of missile defense policy and strategy, including programs and capabilities to defeat ballistic missiles before and after launch, as well as to defeat cruise missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles. The bill mandates that a report describing the results of the review be completed by the end of January 2018.

Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 4 that the Pentagon review will begin “soon” and take six months to complete.

Homeland Defense

For nearly two decades, U.S. ballistic missile defense policy has been guided by protection of the homeland against limited, long-range missile strikes from states such as Iran and North Korea and not from major nuclear powers Russia and China.

The missile defense system designed to provide this limited protection is known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. It consists of ground-based interceptor sites in Alaska and California. The Obama administration announced in 2013 that it would increase the total number of interceptors from 30 to 44 by the end of fiscal year 2017.

There have been serious concerns about the viability of the GMD system since it was rushed into service in 2004 by the administration of President George W. Bush. Nevertheless, in a significant departure from long-standing U.S. policy, the Republican-led Congress voted in December to expand the declared role of U.S. national missile defenses by revising a 1999 law expressing the “limited” purpose of U.S. defenses. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)

It remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will push on the door opened by Congress and seek to protect the U.S. homeland from missile attacks by Russia and China. In a sign that this policy change could be on the table, Trump has nominated David Trachtenberg, a former Pentagon official during the Bush administration, to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy.

Trachtenberg, who will play a major role in the missile defense review, wrote last year that “continued American vulnerability to Russian nuclear missiles is unacceptable.”

Air Force General John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, testifies during a hearing before House Armed Services Committee March 8. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty ImagesBut any decision to abandon the “limited” condition will likely encounter significant technical, financial, and geopolitical obstacles. Previous administrations have not depended on missile defenses for strategic deterrence of Russia “because it would simply be too hard and too expensive and too strategically destabilizing to even try,” Adm. James Winnefeld, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a May 2015 speech in Washington.

Even if the review opts not to take this far-reaching step, it could nonetheless call for expanding the GMD system to address the North Korean nuclear challenge. North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs have accelerated in recent years, and many experts anticipate that North Korea could test an operational intercontinental ballistic missile sometime this year. (See ACT, April 2017)

One option to expand the system is to build a third GMD site in the eastern United States. (See ACT, January/February 2017.) During the Obama administration, Pentagon officials repeatedly stated that there is no military requirement for a third site and that the estimated $3–4 billion price tag would be better spent to implement plans to upgrade the existing ground-based interceptors and long-range sensors designed to identify and track ballistic missiles. (See ACT, April 2016.)

Regional Missile Defenses

The Trump administration’s missile defense review will also evaluate what priority to place on missile defense programs to protect U.S. allies and forward-deployed troops. The Obama administration put in place a new defense architecture for Europe, known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach, designed to protect the continent against short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles launched from Iran.

The controversial third phase of the European missile defense plan is scheduled to become operational in 2018. (See ACT, June 2016.) This phase will consist of an Aegis Ashore site in Poland equipped with the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptor.

Russia has strongly opposed the planned Polish site and claims that U.S. and NATO missile defense plans are aimed at undermining Moscow’s nuclear deterrent.

The Trump administration could choose to accelerate construction of the Polish site or deploy more interceptors at the site than the Obama administration had planned but it is unclear whether other NATO allies would support such a move. Such steps would also infuriate Russia, and Trump has said he hopes to improve Washington’s relationship with Moscow.

Alternatively, the administration could consider scaling back the plans for the Polish site as a result of the July 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, which is intended to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon for at least the next 15 years if not indefinitely.

As for missile defenses in Northeast Asia, the administration could try to augment defenses against North Korea by deploying additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries in the region. It could also examine whether to increase the defense of U.S. allies against China’s growing regional missile capabilities.

Given the strong opposition China has registered against the Obama administration’s decision to deploy the THAAD system to South Korea, where its radar system could “see” into Chinese territory, Beijing would likely react even more harshly to further deployments, especially if they are directed explicitly at diminishing China’s missile potential.

Cruise Missile Defenses

In a departure from its direction to the Obama administration, Congress asked the Defense Department to assess options to enhance defense of the U.S. homeland against cruise missiles.

These efforts have lacked direction and funding relative to the ballistic missile defense mission.

Pentagon officials have warned in recent years about Russia’s development of long-range, air- and sea-launched cruise missiles, the difficulty of detecting cruise missile launches, and the inadequacy of current defenses against these missiles. The review could also consider measures to respond to Russia's alleged deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

As it undertakes its review of missile defenses, the Trump administration inherits a number of advanced technology developmental efforts to ensure the system stays ahead of foreign missile threats. High-ranking military officials have expressed concern that the current U.S. strategy to defeat adversary ballistic missiles is “unsustainable.” (See ACT, April 2016.)

The new technologies include airborne lasers to zap missiles in the early stages of their flight and a new “multi-object kill vehicle” to allow a single missile defense interceptor to destroy multiple targets. In addition, the Pentagon has been working on technology, including electronic warfare tools, to defeat ballistic missile threats before they are launched, which some observers think has already been employed to disrupt North Korea’s ballistic missile tests.

The Trump administration is likely to continue if not accelerate these efforts. But while the United States is moving ahead on the development of multiple new missile defense capabilities, there appears to be very little analysis within the government and the scholarly community about how other nuclear-armed states might respond.

Missile Defense Review Begins


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