"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."
– Lord Des Browne,
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
Missile Defense

Brexit Has Nuclear Consequences for UK

Brexit Has Nuclear Consequences for UK


July/August 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

The United Kingdom’s decision to pull out of a treaty establishing nuclear cooperation in Europe, as part of its overall withdrawal from the European Union known as Brexit, will have significant implications for UK nuclear activities. If London does not take steps in the next few years to fill the void, the UK’s nuclear trade and access to research projects could suffer.

The UK is a party to the 1957 treaty that established the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) to coordinate civil nuclear energy research and create a market for developing nuclear power. Euratom also plays a role in implementing safeguards, which provide assurances that nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes. The UK joined Euratom in 1973, and membership now includes all EU states.

Technicians work at the construction site of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a multinational nuclear fusion project, in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, France, on October 6, 2016. The UK’s withdrawal from Euratom jeopardizes its participation in the megaproject. (Photo credit: Christine Poujoulay/AFP/Getty Images)Following Brexit, the UK will need to reach new bilateral cooperation agreements with the United States and other countries to continue civil nuclear trade. It will also need to revise its nuclear safeguards arrangements and determine how to engage with Euratom on projects, such as fusion research, in which the UK is heavily invested.

It was not a foregone conclusion that Brexit would include withdrawal from Euratom. Although legal experts differ on whether the UK had to withdraw from Euratom, a governmental white paper in February noted that Euratom uses the same institutions as the EU and, under UK law, references to the EU include Euratom.

In March, UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s EU withdrawal notification to the European Council included leaving Euratom. Previously, Jesse Norman, the then-UK minister for energy and industry, called withdrawal from Euratom a “regrettable necessity” in remarks Feb. 27 to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology.

New Safeguards Agreement

One critical area where Euratom plays a role is in implementing nuclear safeguards. Euratom safeguards predate the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and its requirement for non-nuclear-weapon states to implement safeguards arrangements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to pursue peaceful nuclear activities. When the UK joined Euratom, its civil nuclear activities were subject to Euratom safeguards.

The UK, as a recognized NPT nuclear-weapon state, does not have the same NPT obligations as non-nuclear-weapon states, but it reached a voluntary safeguards agreement with the IAEA and Euratom for its civil program in 1978 and an additional protocol to strengthen its IAEA safeguards in 2004.

Implementation of Euratom safeguards is a component of the IAEA’s implementation of safeguards for Euratom member states. For instance, Euratom provides the IAEA with information on nuclear material accounting and transportation. The IAEA also conducts some safeguards inspections jointly with Euratom and verifies Euratom safeguards activities through observation.

Withdrawal from Euratom will require changes in the UK approach to safeguards and in domestic provisions for providing IAEA information and access. Some experts contend that the UK will need to renegotiate its voluntary access safeguards agreement and additional protocol with the IAEA, given that the Euratom measures are part of the UK arrangements with the agency.

Dame Sue Ion, chair of the UK Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, told the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology on March 7 that the UK will need to “evolve other arrangements” between the UK regulator and the IAEA. She said that London will need new arrangements that “pretty much mirror” Euratom.

In a June 6 interview, a UK official speaking on condition of anonymity said it is an “urgent priority” to put in place a “solid safeguards framework,” given that nuclear cooperation agreements take safeguards into account. Ensuring effective safeguards post-Euratom, he said, will be critical to ensuring continuity in cooperative research and trade activities. Although high UK stand­ards could still be relied on to prevent diversion, London wants to continue to lead and set an example for good safeguards practices, he said.

In a June 21 speech on the government’s intentions for the next parliament, Queen Elizabeth II mentioned a new bill that would create domestic nuclear regulations and safeguards to fill the void left by withdrawal from Euratom. Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), said on June 21 that the bill is a necessary step for the UK to take on safeguards responsibilities, but said it does not get close to “resolving the issues they have created” by leaving Euratom.

Nuclear Research and Trade

Euratom also coordinates cooperative research in civil nuclear projects, and several scientists told ACT they are concerned about retaining access to research opportunities, facilities, and projects.

Brexit puts in question the future of the EU-funded nuclear-fusion experiment known as the Joint European Torus in Culham, UK. The August 2013 photograph shows the interior of the vacuum vessel with walls of beryllium and tungsten. (Photo credit: EUROfusion)

The UK is heavily invested in cooperative work to develop nuclear fusion-reactor technologies. Existing nuclear reactors use fission, or the splitting of atoms, to produce energy, whereas a fusion reactor would join atoms together to produce energy.

The UK participates through Euratom in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a megaproject under construction in France to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion reactors. The UK’s Culham Centre for Fusion Energy currently houses the Joint European Torus (JET) project, which is funded by the EU to examine the potential for fusion power.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee report said that exclusion from programs such as JET and ITER could “disadvantage national nuclear research” and called for “special consideration” for funding arrangements that would allow continued access to these projects.

In addition to coordinating and facilitating research, Euratom also serves as the partner for U.S. civil nuclear cooperation with Europe, including the UK. In 1958 the United States and Euratom concluded the Euratom Cooperation Act, which serves as the agreement required by the 1954 U.S. Atomic Energy Act to conduct nuclear trade. Once the UK withdraws from Euratom, it will not be covered by that agreement.

In a June 8 interview, a second UK official expressed confidence that the UK would be able to negotiate with the United States a bilateral nuclear cooperation pact, often referenced as a 123 agreement, but said there could be “costly disruptions” to nuclear commerce and research if there is no substitute agreement by March 2019, the effective date for Brexit. A bilateral text is already being drafted, although details need to be worked out before the U.S. review process can begin, he said.

Other countries conducting nuclear trade with the UK via Euratom, such as Canada and Japan, also likely will be affected by London’s withdrawal.

The impact is not limited to trade. It could have implications for decommissioning nuclear facilities and nuclear waste disposal. The UK currently relies on facilities outside of the country for some of these activities, which would require new arrangements.

Moving Forward

Lord John Hutton, NIA chairman, told the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology on March 7 that the UK needs to avoid a “cliff edge” and recommended seeking associate partner status in Euratom. Taking this step, however, would not resolve all of the issues. Switzerland, for instance, is an associate partner, entitling the country to participation in some research projects, but it is not part of the Euratom safeguards agreement.

Another option proposed by Parliament’s Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Committee on May 2 is to “seek a transitional agreement to retain our existing arrangements until new arrangement can be put in place.” The committee noted that the transition time may need to be longer than the three-year period recommended by the European Parliament as the limit for transitional arrangements between the EU and UK. The committee also noted that a delay would give the nuclear industry time to navigate the transition and “minimize any disruptions to trade and threats to power supplies.”

Euratom and other groups seem to support a longer transitional arrangement.

Foratom, the trade association for nuclear energy in Europe, said in an April 3 statement that these arrangements should apply in case the initial transition period is “not sufficient” to prevent any disruption in projects, research, and supply of nuclear fuels.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Moon Orders THAAD Deployment Review

Moon Orders THAAD Deployment Review

A South Korean protester wears a ‘No THAAD’ face mask during an April 28 rally in Seoul against the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. (Photo credit: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)New South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced on June 7 that deployment of four additional U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile launchers would be suspended pending an environmental review. After taking office May 10, Moon said he had not been informed of the presence of the launchers on South Korean soil for weeks and ordered an investigation into why the Defense Ministry withheld this information. Moon has been critical of the rushed deployment of two launchers before his predecessor’s impeachment earlier this year, arguing that the decision should have been left for the incoming administration. Although the four additional launchers would have brought the battery to full strength, the two initial launchers will continue to function. Each launcher is equipped with eight interceptors designed to defend against incoming missiles.

Moon, who campaigned on fostering dialogue with North Korea, sought to ease concerns about diverging policies with Washington. “My order for a probe on THAAD is purely a domestic measure, and I want to be clear that it is not about trying to change the existing decision or sending a message to the United States,” he told U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) during a May 31 meeting in Seoul. U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis recently expressed confidence that the United States could address Moon’s concerns.—TYLER ROGERS

Decision on Missile Defense Site Delayed

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

GMD Intercept Test Expected Soon

GMD Intercept Test Expected Soon

The Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system successfully intercepted a mock intercontinental-ballistic-missile-range target for the first time in a May 30 test, according to the Missile Defense Agency. “The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment for the GMD system and a critical milestone for this program” said Vice Admiral James Syring, the agency director. “The system demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat.” The GMD system is designed to protect the United States against a limited long-range missile attack from North Korea or Iran. A total of 36 interceptors are currently deployed in Alaska and California and an additional eight are scheduled to be installed by the end of the year. The May 30 test, known as FTG-15, was the first flight intercept test of the system since June 2014 (See ACT, July/August 2014). In the test, a missile interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California collided with a target, launched from the Army’s Kwajalein Test Site in the Marshall Islands, flying at speeds similar to those of an ICBM. The Missile Defense Agency has now conducted 18 intercept tests of the GMD system, of which 10 have been reported as successful.—CHARLES CARRIGAN

New Interceptor Missile Scores a Hit

A ballistic missile interceptor scores a hit, but there is renewed criticism of a missile defense system.

March 2017

By Maggie Tennis and Kingston Reif

The United States and Japan last month conducted the first successful test of a new ballistic missile defense interceptor that will increase the capability of U.S. and allied regional defenses in Europe and Asia. 

Meanwhile, a January report from the Pentagon’s top testing official strongly criticized the missile defense system designed to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited long-range missile attack from North Korea or Iran, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. The successful Feb. 3 test and the critical report on the GMD system from the Pentagon’s director for operational test and evaluation come as the Trump administration prepares to conduct a formal review of U.S. missile defense policy and posture. 

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency, the Japan Ministry of Defense, and U.S. Navy sailors aboard USS John Paul Jones successfully conducted a flight test February 3, resulting in the first intercept of a ballistic missile target using the Standard Missile-3 Block IIA off the west coast of Hawaii. (Photo credit: Leah Garton/U.S. Missile Defense Agency)In the February test, a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA launched from the USS John Paul Jones off the western coast of Hawaii successfully destroyed a medium-range ballistic missile target launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai, Hawaii. The SM-3 IIA is being developed cooperatively by the United States and Japan to defeat medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The interceptor is part of the Aegis missile defense system and can be fired from specially designed Aegis ships or land-based sites. 

The Aegis system is a central component of the U.S. missile defense architecture in Europe and Asia. As of Feb. 3, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has conducted 41 intercept tests of the system, of which 34 were successful. 

The Defense Department is planning to deploy the SM-3 IIA missile in Poland in 2018 as part of the third phase of the so-called European Phased Adaptive Approach. (See ACT, June 2016.) The approach is the U.S. contribution to NATO’s missile defense system and is designed to protect Europe against short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles launched from Iran. 

Russia has strongly opposed the planned Polish site and claims that the alliance’s missile defense plans are aimed at undermining Moscow’s nuclear deterrent. U.S. and NATO officials have stated repeatedly that the SM-3 system will not be able to shoot down Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

In a Feb. 8 email to Arms Control Today, Christopher Szkrybalo, an MDA spokesman, said the SM-3 IIA “was neither designed nor planned to defend the U.S. against ICBM threats.” 

Although the SM-3 IIA was successful in its first intercept test, the Pentagon’s testing office raised concerns about the viability of the GMD system. Consistent with prior assessments, the office’s 2016 annual report states that the system “has demonstrated a limited capability to defend the U.S. Homeland from small numbers of simple intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missile threats launched from North Korea or Iran.” 

The report notes that the “reliability and availability” of the system’s interceptors “are low” and the MDA “continues to discover new failure modes during testing.” The report also notes that “[f]ew cybersecurity assessments have been performed” of the system to date. 

The GMD system consists of interceptor sites in Alaska and California. A total of 44 interceptors are scheduled to be deployed at these locations by the end of fiscal year 2017. 

It remains to be seen whether and how President Donald Trump will adjust missile defense policy. In a Jan. 27 executive order, he ordered Defense Secretary James Mattis to conduct a new Ballistic Missile Defense Review “to identify ways of strengthening missile defense capabilities” and “rebalancing homeland and theater defense priorities.” Such a rebalance could lead to greater emphasis on and funding for expanding the GMD system, including by building a third GMD site in the eastern United States, at the expense of regional defenses such as the Aegis system. (See ACT, January/February 2017.

Last year, Congress voted to open the door to expanding national missile defenses beyond the currently limited goal of defending against Iran and North Korea as some, predominantly Republican backers eye actions that some worry could upset the nuclear balance with Russia and China. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)

China’s Alleged ICBM Moves Questioned

At issue is whether China has deployed a new intercontinental ballistic missile ICBM near the Russian border.

March 2017

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

China reportedly has deployed a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the DF-41, in northern China near the Russian border. The missile was successfully flight-tested for the seventh time in April 2016, but it is unclear if it has completed development, and experts reacted skeptically to news reports circulating in late January that it had been deployed. 

Military vehicles carrying DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missiles are displayed in a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on September 3, 2015, to mark the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan and the end of World War II. (Photo credit: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)Observers’ photos on Chinese websites of missile launchers in Daqing City in northern China are evidence of the missile’s deployment, according to a Jan. 24 report by The Global Times, a state-run Chinese newspaper, which cited information from “some Hong Kong and Taiwan media.” The Global Times noted that “some media…think this is Beijing’s response” to U.S. President Donald Trump’s combative remarks about China. 

China has disputed the reports. “This is just the speculation of Internet users, the guesses that do not correspond to reality,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told the Russian news agency TASS on Jan. 25.

Reports of the DF-41 deployment are unsubstantiated, asserted Gregory Kulacki, China project manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a Feb. 13 blog post. There is also no official report that the missile has completed development, although China is notoriously secretive about its nuclear arsenal.

The modernized missile appears to be slightly larger than its predecessor, the DF-31A; but like the DF-31A, it is able to reach targets in the United States, Kulacki told Arms Control Today in a Feb. 13 email. The missile’s range is 12,000 to 15,000 kilometers, and it can carry up to 10 multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) warheads, according to the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

As a solid-fueled, road-mobile ICBM, the “mobility of the system is the most notable upgrade,” Catherine Dill, senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told Arms Control Today in an email on Feb. 17. She also stated that the missile is still under development and therefore not all features are known.

China has diverse missile systems, including short-range, medium-range, and intercontinental missiles, as well as cruise missiles. The development of the DF-41 would have “modest but important” implications for the Chinese nuclear deterrent, said Kulacki. 

“China’s nuclear forces have one, and only one, purpose, which is to prevent a nuclear attack against China,” he said. “The new missile is another incremental improvement in the retaliatory capability that Chinese leaders believe is necessary to fulfill that purpose, especially in the face of new precision-guided conventional capabilities which could target China’s nuclear forces.”

New ICBM Replacement Cost Revealed

A high-end cost estimate raises the prospect that the missiles will cost far more than anticipated.

March 2017

By Kingston Reif

The high end of an independent Pentagon cost estimate to design and build a replacement for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system put the project at roughly $100 billion after adjusting for inflation, an informed source told Arms Control Today.

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test September 5, 2016, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. (Photo credit: Michael Peterson/U.S. Air Force)The $100 billion figure in the estimate completed last August is more than 60 percent greater than the $61 billion cost set last summer by the Defense Department’s top acquisition official in advancing the new ICBM program. His announced figure was at the low end of the independent projection and, even so, exceeded the initial cost estimate produced by the Air Force. (See ACT, October 2016.)

At the high end of the estimate, recapitalizing the Minuteman III could be more expensive than replacing the nation’s aging fleet of nuclear ballistic missile submarines and exacerbate the affordability challenge posed by current plans to modernize U.S. nuclear forces. 

The independent estimate was prepared by the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) in support of the program’s so-called milestone A decision, a key early benchmark in the acquisition process. Frank Kendall, former undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, approved the milestone A decision on Aug. 23, the Air Force announced in a Sept. 1 press release.

CAPE provides the Defense Department with detailed analysis of the costs of major acquisition programs. The office’s estimate for the missile program, known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), is measured in fiscal year 2016 constant dollars. When measured in then-year dollars, which includes inflationary increases expected over the period to acquire the new ICBM system, the low CAPE estimate translates to $85 billion while the high estimate could top $140 billion, according to the source. 

The Air Force in 2015 published a preliminary cost estimate of $62.3 billion in then-year dollars for the replacement program. (See ACT, July/August 2015.) That estimate covered a 30-year time horizon. The time period covered by the CAPE projection is unclear. 

Even at the level of the CAPE low estimate, the Pentagon will need to find more than $1 billion in additional funding to pay for the GBSD system than it anticipated in the fiscal year 2017 budget request, which was based on the Air Force projection. 

The dueling Air Force and CAPE estimates reflect both the different assumptions used to estimate the cost of the new ICBM program and the significant uncertainty about program costs.

In CAPE’s annual report for fiscal year 2016, published in January, former CAPE Director Jamie Morin said that although the Air Force “relied” on historical Minuteman and Peacekeeper program data, CAPE’s estimate “used additional data from the Navy Trident II and the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-Based Interceptor.” 

Morin added that “it was unusually difficult to estimate the cost of a new ICBM program because there was no recent data to draw upon, and the older historical data was of very questionable quality or was nonexistent.” 

“This leads to considerable uncertainty and risk in any cost estimate,” he said. 

In an interview last fall with Defense News, Morin said the biggest driver of the difference between the low- and high-end CAPE estimates had to do with different assumptions about the price escalation of labor costs. The value of the escalator used by CAPE in each estimate is unclear. 

Morin expressed hope that the current plan to buy more than 600 new missiles would result in efficiencies that bring down the overall cost. 

The CAPE estimate illustrates the significant high-side cost risk of the new ICBM program and is likely to prompt continued questions about whether the Pentagon is pursuing the most cost-effective approach to sustaining the ICBM leg of the triad beyond 2030. 

Many ICBM proponents argue that they are the cheapest leg of the triad to maintain and modernize, but the $100 billion CAPE high estimate is roughly the same as the Navy’s constant-dollar cost estimate for the program to replace the current fleet of 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines with submarines of the Columbia class. In then-year dollars, the CAPE high estimate of approximately $140 billion exceeds the projected cost of $128 billion for the Columbia-class submarine program. 

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, April 2016.) The current recapitalization approach assumes that 400 deployed ICBMs, which is the same number the United States is planning to deploy under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, will be required for the entire 50-year service life of the new missile system. 

But some analysts claim that if the requirements for 400 deployed missiles, a 50-year service life, and new capabilities are relaxed, then it is possible to extend the life of the Minuteman III for a period of time beyond 2030 and at less cost than the GBSD system. (See ACT, October 2016.)

Congress Rewrites Missile Defense Policy

Sponsors look beyond Iran and North Korea to developments in Russia and China.

January/February 2017

By Kingston Reif

In a significant departure from long-standing U.S. policy, lawmakers voted in December to expand the declared role of U.S. national ballistic missile defenses.

The measure states that it shall be “the policy of the United States to maintain and improve an effective, robust layered missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States and its allies against the developing and increasingly complex ballistic missile threat.” That opens the door to expanding the system beyond the currently limited goal of defending against Iran and North Korea as some, predominately Republican, backers eye actions that could upset the nuclear balance with Russia and China.

The Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy sailors aboard USS Hopper successfully conducted two developmental flight tests of the Standard Missile-3 Block IB Threat Upgrade guided missile on May 25 and 26, 2016, off the west coast of Hawaii. (Photo credit: U.S. Missile Defense Agency)The policy provision is part of the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. The final compromise version of that bill, which the House of Representatives and the Senate passed on Dec. 2 and Dec. 8, respectively, establishes spending ceilings and legal guidelines for Pentagon programs and the activities conducted by the Energy Department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law on Dec. 23, despite having previously objected to the new missile defense language. The policy statement does not require the development of missile defenses against any one country or countries and notes that implementation is subject to the annual authorization and appropriation of funds by Congress. 

The language replaces a 1999 law expressing “the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate).”

For nearly two decades, U.S. ballistic missile defense policy has been guided by protecting the homeland against limited long-range missile strikes from states such as Iran and North Korea and not major nuclear powers Russia and China. In May 2014, Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in speech that Washington “will not rely on missile defense for strategic deterrence of Russia because it would simply be too hard and too expensive and too strategically destabilizing to even try.”

Yet, some lawmakers and national security analysts had expressed concern in recent years that the 1999 law was too restrictive and did not reflect the evolving ballistic missile threat environment. 

Last spring, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) successfully attached amendments to their respective chamber’s versions of the defense authorization bill that removed the word “limited” from the 1999 law. Franks justified the change in part by arguing that “China and Russia are both developing complex missile technology specifically designed to exploit our weaknesses,” such as hypersonic strike systems and advanced cruise missiles. 

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, also cited Russia and China as a motivating factor, stating at a committee discussion on the Franks amendment that the old policy was written at a time when “Russia was a peaceful partner” and China had yet to deploy long-range submarine-launched ballistic missiles. 

In a statement last June, the White House said it “strongly objects” to removing the word “limited” from the 1999 law. “The inclusion of this word is specifically intended to convey that the U.S. homeland missile defense system is designed and deployed to counter limited attacks (in number and sophistication) from Iran and North Korea, and not to counter the strategic deterrence forces of Russia and China,” according to the statement. 

Some analysts argue that the White House and other critics of the new policy are misinterpreting the new provision. Thomas Karako, the director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Arms Control Today in a Dec. 29 email that the “substitution of ‘effective, robust, and layered’ for ‘limited’ does not mean ‘unlimited.’” 

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Kenneth Todorov, the former deputy director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), told Arms Control Today in a Jan. 3 interview that the change was unnecessary. “I never felt like the word ‘limited’ constrained us in any way, including our development of capabilities against the most serious ballistic missile threats,” he said.

Todorov added that he would be “interested in observing how Russia and China react to the change, since they could use the new language as fodder to support their longstanding claim that U.S. missile defenses are in fact aimed at them.”  

Another provision in the authorization bill encourages but does not require the Defense Department to begin research and development on a space-based missile defense option for the United States. Vice Adm. James Syring, the MDA director, told lawmakers at a House hearing last April that he had “serious concerns about the technical feasibility” and “long-term affordability” of interceptors in space.

B-21 Provisions Diluted

The final authorization bill removed provisions contained in the initial House and Senate versions that sought to control the cost of the nuclear-capable B-21 Raider bomber program. 

The Air Force is planning to purchase 100 bombers to complement and then replace the existing B-52H and B-2A aircraft. The new bombers are scheduled to enter service in the mid-2020s, and the entire fleet could cost more than $100 billion to produce, according to some nongovernmental estimates. 

An Air Force depiction of the long-range, nuclear-capable bomber known as the B-21 Raider, which is scheduled to enter service in the mid-2020s. (Photo credit: U.S. Air Force)The House bill required the defense secretary to submit a report to Congress on the value of the contract awarded to Northrop Grumman Corp. in October 2015 to begin developing the bomber. The Senate bill contained a similar reporting requirement and a provision that would have halted development of the new bomber fleet if the program exceeded certain cost growth thresholds.  

The Air Force has refused to release the value of the contract award and the estimated total cost of the B-21 program, citing classification concerns. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a critic of the Air Force’s unwillingness to share more information about the price of the bomber, decried the elimination of the House and Senate cost control provisions. 

“It’s a testimony again to the clout of the industry in the Congress,” he told CQ Roll Call in December. “It’s absolutely unconscionable.”

On weapons dismantlement, the law sets an annual limit of $56 million for NNSA expenditures in fiscal years 2017 to 2021 to take apart and dispose of retired nuclear warheads and prohibits spending beyond that amount unless a number of stringent conditions can be met. 

The measure also bars funding to provide nuclear security assistance to Russia unless the U.S. energy secretary, with the concurrence of the secretaries of state and defense, issues a waiver stating that such assistance is necessary to address an urgent “nuclear-related threat arising in the Russian Federation.” 

Nearly all U.S. nuclear security work inside Russia has come to an end due to Russia’s unwillingness to continue that work and congressional limitations on funding. (See ACT, March 2015.)

Continuing Resolution 

In addition to passing the authorization bill, Congress in December passed a continuing resolution that extends funding for most discretionary government programs at the previous year’s levels through April 2017, although a number of nuclear weapons programs received a special funding exemption. 

Lawmakers failed to pass any fresh appropriations bills for fiscal year 2017, which began on Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30. The House and Senate passed a continuing resolution last September to fund the government at the fiscal year 2016 enacted levels through early December and a second such measure in early December to extend funding at that level through the end of April. 

Most programs will be funded at the fiscal year 2016 levels, but the current continuing resolution permits the Navy to fund advance procurement activities for the Columbia-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine program at a rate consistent with the fiscal year 2017 request of $773 billion. Navy officials had warned that failure to provide this funding would delay the program and increase total costs. 

The bill passed in December also allows the NNSA to fund its nuclear weapons activities account consistent with the fiscal year 2017 request of $9.2 billion. 

Although the Air Force did not receive a similar exemption for its nuclear modernization programs, Capt. Mark Graff, an Air Force spokesperson, told Arms Control Today in a Dec. 22 email that the service “does not anticipate any adverse impacts” to the programs to develop the B-21 and new fleets of nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles as a result of the continuing resolution. But Graff warned that an extension of the continuing resolution for the entire fiscal year would cause delays for these programs.

Missile Defense Study Delayed

The Defense Department announced it would miss its date to choose a location for a new ballistic missile interceptor site.

January/February 2017

By Kingston Reif

The Defense Department announced in mid-December that it would miss its planned year-end date to complete a final environmental statement designating a preferred location for a new ballistic missile interceptor site. 

Leah Garton, deputy director of public affairs at the Missile Defense Agency, told Arms Control Today in a Dec. 20 email that the agency “requires additional time to complete the study” and will release it “once we complete a thorough review.”

The In-Flight Interceptor Communications System data terminal at Fort Drum, New York, shown in a July 2016 photo, is an element in the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system. The facility is designed to feed target updates to an interceptor as it seeks to destroy an incoming missile warhead. (Photo credit: U.S. Missile Defense Agency)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.

In the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required the Defense Department to conduct a study to evaluate at least three possible new long-range interceptor sites that could augment the GMD system, including at least two on the East Coast. 

The Defense Department announced last spring that it had completed a draft environmental impact statement of three possible locations: Fort Drum in New York, Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center in Ohio, and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan. (See ACT, July/August 2016.) For each site, the draft study assessed the impact of factors such as hazardous materials and hazardous waste management, health and safety, socioeconomics, water quality, and environmental justice.

The fiscal year 2016 defense authorization bill ordered the Pentagon to designate a preferred location for a third site within a month of the completion of the draft environmental impact study. (See ACT, November 2015.) The department missed that deadline and does not plan to name a preferred location until it completes the final environmental impact statement. 

The delay comes as members of the Michigan, New York, and Ohio congressional delegations continue to make the case for their respective states to host the third site. Each delegation sent a letter last summer to MDA Director Vice Adm. James Syring urging consideration of their candidate’s location. A total of 55 senators and representatives from both political parties signed the letters.

New Cruise Missiles to Cost $11 Billion

The Pentagon has raised the estimated cost for the new missiles slated to be produced in 2026.

September 2016

UPDATED: September 2, 2016

UPDATED: December 12, 2016

By Kingston Reif

An updated U.S. Air Force estimate, approved by the Pentagon’s top acquisition official in July, puts the cost to design and build a fleet of new nuclear-capable cruise missiles at $10.8 billion, a source familiar with the program told Arms Control Today

The service prepared the estimate, which is in fiscal year 2016 constant dollars, in the spring in preparation for the program’s milestone A decision, a key early benchmark in the acquisition process for the weapon, according to the source. 

(UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, Arms Control Today has learned that this acquisition estimate is in "then-year dollars," which includes inflationary increases expected over the life of the program, not constant dollars as previously reported.)

An unarmed AGM-86B air-launched cruise missile maneuvers over the Utah Test and Training Range en route to its target September 22, 2014, during a simulated combat mission. [Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Roidan Carlson/U.S. Air Force]Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, approved that decision on July 29, the Air Force said later that day. The service declined requests from Arms Control Today to provide information on new program cost estimates.

An early draft estimate prepared by the Air Force in fiscal year 2015 projected the price to acquire the missile fleet at $8.3 billion. 

The service also announced on July 29 that it had begun soliciting proposals from the defense industry to design the new air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), known as the long-range standoff weapon, and a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). 

These programs are part of the Defense Department’s plan to modernize and replace elements of the U.S. nuclear triad, which department officials anticipate will cost $350-450 billion over the next 20 years and will put severe pressure on the overall military budget unless Congress provides additional funding. (See ACT, May 2016.)

The Air Force’s current ALCM is the AGM-86B, up to 20 of which can be carried by a B-52H bomber. Current Air Force plans call for the procurement of about 1,000 new nuclear-capable missiles to replace the current missile, which has been operational since 1986. (See ACT, June 2015.

The Air Force intends to award contracts to one or two companies for the long-range standoff weapon program in the summer of 2017, according to the service press release announcing the solicitation. The contractors will spend the next four and a half years completing a preliminary design, which will be followed by the selection of a sole contractor to further develop and produce the missiles. The first new missile is slated to be produced in 2026. 

As the Pentagon proceeds with its plans to replace the AGM-86B, the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is pursuing a life extension program for its warhead. The NNSA estimates that the cost of the program will be between $7.4-9.9 billion in “then-year dollars,” which includes inflationary increases expected over the life of the program. The first refurnished warhead is scheduled for production in 2025. 

Pentagon Debates New ICBM Cost

The Air Force also plans to award up to two contracts in the summer of 2017 to design the replacement for the Minuteman III ICBM system, known as the ground-based strategic deterrent. 

But Bloomberg News reported on Aug. 18 that Kendall has yet to approve the milestone A decision for the program due to a gap of billions of dollars between the cost estimate prepared by the Air Force and an independent estimate prepared by the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, which provides the Defense Department with detailed analysis of the costs of major acquisition programs.

(UPDATE: The Air Force announced in a Sept. 1 press release that the Defense Department approved the milestone A decision for the ground based strategic deterrent on Aug. 23.)

In an Aug. 10 press conference at the Pentagon, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the program “is not on hold” but that the department still needs to “get on the same page” regarding how to estimate the cost of the new missile system.

An early estimate prepared by the Air Force in February 2015 projected the cost to acquire 642 missiles and rebuild the existing Minuteman III infrastructure, including command and control systems, at $62.3 billion over the next 30 years in then-year dollars. (See ACT, July/August 2015.)

In 2014 the Air Force projected the total life-cycle cost of the ground-based strategic deterrent at $159 billion (in fiscal year 2014 constant dollars) between fiscal years 2016 and 2075. (See ACT, April 2016.)

Navy Names New Sub Program 

On July 28, U.S. Naval Institute News reported that the first submarine in the Navy’s Ohio-class replacement program will be called the Columbia and that the program will now be called the Columbia-class program. 

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Alabama returns to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Washington, on May 14, following a patrol mission. The Navy plans to replace its 14 Ohio-class submarines with 12 new Columbia-class subs. [Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Amanda R. Gray/U.S. Navy]The Navy plans to replace its fleet of 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines with 12 new subs. In 2014 the service estimated that the 12 planned boats, which are slated to be purchased between 2021 and 2035, will cost approximately $140 billion (in then-year dollars) to develop and build.

According to an informed source, the Navy in December 2010 projected the total life-cycle cost of the Columbia-class program to be $342 billion in then-year dollars through the 2080s. The source said the Navy prepared a second life-cycle estimate in 2014 that put the cost at $282 billion. The reduction in the life-cycle cost is attributable to such factors as a reduction in the average cost to buy the submarines, updated operations and maintenance costs, and revised inflation assumptions, according to the source. 

In a May 27 email to Arms Control Today, Lt. Kara Yingling, a Navy spokesperson, did not confirm the life-cycle estimates, but said the service is preparing updated cost estimates in preparation for the Columbia-class program’s milestone B acquisition decision, which is considered the formal start of a Pentagon acquisition program. That decision is scheduled to take place later this year, she said.


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