Login/Logout

*
*  

ACA's journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General
U.S. Nuclear Weapons

U.S. Reveals New Data on Nuclear Costs

A new report by the National Nuclear Security Administration illuminates U.S. plans to spend more on nuclear weapons maintenance and modernization.

May 2016

By Kingston Reif

The U.S. government in recent months has released new long-term cost data that shine further light on its plans to ramp up spending to maintain and modernize U.S. nuclear weapons, especially during the 10-year period between 2025 and 2035. 

Senior officials from the Defense and Energy departments have warned for years about the affordability challenges posed by their nuclear spending plans, but they argue that the expenditures are needed to sustain a credible nuclear deterrent and can be successfully carried out if appropriately prioritized. 

On April 1, the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) publicly released the fourth version of its annual report on the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan. The fiscal year 2017 iteration projects more than $300 billion in spending on agency efforts related to modernizing the nuclear weapons stockpile over the next 25 years. 

The NNSA is requesting $9.2 billion for its nuclear weapons activities in fiscal year 2017, an increase of almost $400 million, or 4 percent, above the enacted level for the current year. (See ACT, March 2016.)

Notably, the new report says that the NNSA may need $2.9 billion more in funding between 2022 and 2026 to implement its weapons activities than the agency is projecting to request. During this period, the NNSA is planning to be in the midst of simultaneously executing four to five major warhead life extension programs 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. The April report does not alter the schedule for that effort.

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 of nine different warhead types down to five types. 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.

Congress has repeatedly questioned the wisdom of the 3+2 approach, citing the cost and risks involved with the interoperable warheads. (See ACT, May 2014.)

Nonetheless, the NNSA maintains that the 2017 version of its stockpile plan is “generally more affordable and executable” than last year’s version because the projected budget requests between 2026 and 2041 more closely align with the actual predicted costs of the plan. 

Meanwhile, the Pentagon in recent months has begun to reveal more information about the planned costs of its plans to build new fleets of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), ballistic missile submarines, long-range bombers, and short-range tactical aircraft. 

Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Senate and House armed services committees in March that he “expects the total cost of nuclear modernization to be in the range of $350-$450 billion.” He did not provide further details on what accounts for the large range in the estimate, whether any projected NNSA costs are included, or what timeline the figure covers.

Carter said that although the nuclear modernization plan “still presents an enormous affordability challenge for [the Defense Department], we believe it must be funded.”

He added that prior “modernizations of America’s strategic deterrent and nuclear security enterprise were accomplished by topline increases to avoid having to make drastic reductions to conventional forces, and it would be prudent to do so again.”

Pentagon officials have previously stated that the cost to build and sustain new nuclear missiles, submarines, and bombers and to make needed improvements to nuclear command-and-control systems is projected to average $18 billion per year from 2021 to 2035 in constant fiscal year 2016 dollars. (See ACT, September 2015.

In addition, a Defense Department chart obtained by Arms Control Today shows that the department’s planned nuclear spending is slated to average more than $40 billion in constant fiscal year 2016 dollars between 2025 and 2035. The chart was prepared in January 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. 

A knowledgeable source said last month that the chart does not include the NNSA’s projected weapons-related spending during this period. Including these costs would push average spending during this period to well more than $50 billion per year.

Statement by Daryl G. Kimball on Challenges on Disarmament and Opportunities for Progress

Sections:

Description: 

Under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), each of the parties, including the nuclear-weapon-state parties...

Body: 

Political and Security Challenges on Disarmament
and Opportunities to Achieve Progress 

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Framework Forum Roundtable organized by the
Canadian Mission, the Middle Powers Initiative, and Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung 

Mission of the Government of Canada in Geneva, April 18, 2016

Under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), each of the parties, including the nuclear-weapon-state parties, “undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

In its 1996 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that the threat and use of nuclear weapons was generally illegal, but it could not decide whether this illegality applied “in an extreme circumstance of self-defense in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.” Three judges dissented from that ruling, arguing that nuclear weapons were illegal in all circumstances. In its 1996 opinion, the ICJ also concluded unanimously that the disarmament obligation is not limited to NPT parties.

But today, and contrary to these legal obligations, progress on nuclear disarmament is at a standstill, and the risk of unbridled nuclear competition is growing.1

U.S. MX missile re-entry vehicles being tested at Kwajalein Atoll. Each line represents the potential explosive power of about 300 kilotons of TNT. All nine of the world's nuclear weapon states are replacing or upgrading their nuclear weapons strike capabilities. (Photo courtesy of Department of Defense.)As the delegations here at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Disarmament realize, there are still no legally-binding restrictions on the nuclear buildups of world’s four non-NPT nuclear-armed states, and are currently no active bilateral or multilateral negotiations to further regulate, cap, or reduce the stockpiles of any of the world’s five original nuclear-armed states.

Worse still, key treaties like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) have not yet entered into force due to political divisions in Washington and inaction by seven other Annex 2 states, leaving the door to renewed nuclear weapons testing ajar twenty years after the Conference on Disarmament completed its negotiation and the treaty was opened for signature.

In addition to the tensions between key nuclear-armed states, the biggest challenge to the disarmament enterprise is the fact that all of the world’s nine nuclear-weapon states are, to varying degrees or another, devoting vast sums of money to modernize, upgrade, and in some cases expand the size and lethality of their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems.

As Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists wrote in in 20142, the numerical nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia may be over; but elsewhere, “a dynamic technological nuclear arms race is in full swing and may increase over the next decade.”

Although there is abundant evidence that even a “limited” exchange of nuclear weapons would result in a catastrophic humanitarian catastrophe—and in the view of many would violate the principles contained in the Law of War and be contrary to widespread interpretations of International Humanitarian Law—each of the nuclear-armed states continue to reaffirm the importance of such weapons for their security and maintain plans for the use of these weapons in a conflict.

U.S.-Russian Tensions

Undoubtedly, renewed tensions between Moscow and Washington are blocking progress on nuclear disarmament. The United States and Russia have a special responsibility to provide leadership to further reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons, but they are not doing so.

Although the number of nuclear weapons is down from its Cold War peak, the United States and Russia deploy far more nuclear weapons—some 1,800 each—than necessary for nuclear deterrence purposes. As President Barack Obama correctly noted in a speech in 2012, “we have more nuclear weapons than we need.”

Yet progress on further nuclear cuts is on hold. As President Obama recently acknowledged and the Russian [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] MFA confirmed, new negotiations on further nuclear disarmament beyond [the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] New START are unlikely any time soon.

Russian leaders cite concerns about limited but unconstrained U.S. ballistic missile interceptors, NATO conventional military capabilities, and third-country nuclear arsenals, as reason for rejecting the June 2013 U.S. proposal for a further one-third reduction in each side’s strategic nuclear forces. But Russia has failed to put forward a counterproposal and has rejected U.S. offers to discuss the full range of strategic issues.

Complicating matters, Russia also has tested ground-based cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. U.S. and Russian officials say they are interested in discussing the issue, but the matter remains unresolved. So long as it does, the prospects for negotiation of a follow-on agreement to New START are low.

Making matters even worse, Russian officials have begun to highlight their nuclear forces as a deterrent against what they see as increasingly threatening U.S. and NATO conventional military capabilities. Late last year, Russia “leaked” plans for a new nuclear-armed underwater torpedo, implying it is eyeing new types of nuclear weapons.

Now, in a troubling shift of rhetoric, the Defense Department has unwisely begun to frame its unaffordable, all-of-the-above plan for replacing and upgrading U.S. strategic bombers, nuclear-armed cruise missiles, and land- and sea-based strategic nuclear forces as part of its strategy to “counter Russia’s aggressive policies in Eastern Europe,” according its fiscal year 2017 budget request.

In reality, U.S. nuclear weapons, including the remaining forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons are irrelevant to the protection of nervous NATO allies in the Baltics and elsewhere.

Obama and his successor, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, have a responsibility to pull back from a nuclear action-reaction cycle that would put both countries at greater risk and block further nuclear reductions for many more years to come.

Other Nuclear-Armed States

Meanwhile, as the U.S. and Russian tensions and arsenals attract most international attention, China, India, and Pakistan are all pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems3 themselves and increasing the size of their warhead stockpiles or their capacity to produce material to make more weapons.

Although smaller in number, these arsenals are just as dangerous. Pakistan has lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use in a potential conflict with India by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats.

Pakistan’s stated concern about India’s larger fissile stocks has led it to block negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, even though the United States has recently opened the possibility of changing the mandate to address fissile stocks4.

For its part, India says it would support fissile cut-off talks, but it appears to be expanding its fissile material production capacity as the CD remains deadlocked.

Leaders in Beijing, New Delhi, and Islamabad profess support for nondiscriminatory approaches to disarmament and minimal deterrence, but their programs are moving in the opposite direction and there is little or no dialogue among them, and with others, on nuclear risk reduction options.

Chinese officials suggest they will not consider limits on their nuclear arsenal unless there are additional, deeper U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons cuts.

Although North Korea may be under tighter and tighter international sanctions, its nuclear weapons and ballistic programs remain unconstrained. With further nuclear and ballistic missile tests, it will likely have missile-deliverable nuclear warheads.

Israel’s nuclear opacity and the inability of the Arab League to find a way to agree on an agenda acceptable to Israel for a meeting Middle East Nuclear WMD Free Zone Treaty has frozen discussion of practical measures to reduce nuclear and missile dangers in that region.

Another challenge is the relatively low-level of public and policy-maker awareness about the dangers of renewed nuclear competition and the consequences of nuclear weapons use is relatively low in the United States—and perhaps elsewhere.

While there is support among Democrats in Congress for efforts to further cut U.S. and Russian arsenals, there is strong skepticism among Republicans in Congress about any further nuclear reductions, and even though the U.S. Defense Department acknowledges that it cannot afford its costly, all-of-the-above plan to replace each component of the U.S. nuclear arsenal5, for the time being there is bipartisan support for most U.S. nuclear weapons modernization programs.

Moving Forward

Obviously, these are very challenging conditions. These difficulties are reflected in the inability to achieve consensus here in Geneva at the CD and in the failure of the nuclear weapon states to meet key 2010 NPT Review Conference commitments and the inability of the states parties at the 2015 NPT Review Conference to agree on an updated action plan on disarmament.

Frustrated by the slow pace of the so-called “step-by-step approach” to disarmament, many non-nuclear-weapon states have tried to catalyze progress through the humanitarian consequences initiative. The effort has helped raise awareness once again about the unique destructive power of nuclear weapons and the dubious legal and moral basis for their possession and use.

But that initiative and the open-ended working group to discuss possible measures “to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons" has not yet produced a unified, realistic diplomatic proposal for halting nuclear competition or starting multilateral disarmament talks.

There is no substitute for serious dialogue, the political will and support to achieve results, and international and domestic pressure to achieve meaningful results.

Simply repeating calls for action are not sufficient. Creative, practical ideas are needed to overcome persistent obstacles and new challenges.

It does not appear to me that there is any one initiative that can overcome these broader systemic challenges that impede progress on disarmament.

Rather, it will likely take the pursuit of multiple, practical, and sometimes bold, initiatives on the part of responsible leaders and groups of states.

So, what options might states participating in the OEWG and the CD pursue to jumpstart progress? Allow me to briefly comment on a few that are in circulation here in Vienna and to offer a few others for your consideration.

  • A Ban Treaty
    At the February OEWG discussions some states and civil society campaigners suggested it is time to launch talks on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons possession and use. Such a ban is, in my view, eventually a necessary step toward a world without nuclear weapons.

    But if such a negotiation is launched and concluded, it would not help the nuclear weapon states meet their nuclear disarmament obligations and would not likely do much to change opinion, policies, dangerous nuclear use doctrines, or accelerate progress on the elimination of the nuclear arsenals in the nuclear-armed states.

    This is due in large part to the fact that the nuclear weapons states will simply ignore the process and the results. The key is to draw them in such a way that they are compelled or persuaded to shift their approach and accelerate action toward zero nuclear weapons.
  • Challenge Nuclear Weapons Use and Use Doctrines 
    Another, approach—which would help address the longstanding goal of assuring non-nuclear-weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons—would be to pursue the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument banning the use of nuclear weapons.

    Such an instrument would not, as some have suggested, legitimize the possession of nuclear weapons. Even if the nuclear-weapon states do not initially join in the negotiation or sign the instrument, the process itself and the final product could further delegitimize nuclear weapons, strengthen the legal norm against their use, and put pressure on nuclear-armed states to revise their nuclear doctrines.

    Another approach would be to press each of the nuclear-armed states to report, in detail, on the physical, environmental, and human impacts of their nuclear war plans, if these plans were to be carried out, and how they believe the use of hundreds of such weapons would be consistent with humanitarian law and the laws of war as some nuclear-armed states claim6.

    Such a process could force an examination of dangerous nuclear doctrines and focus public attention on the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons use.
  • UN Study on Effects of Possible Nuclear Exchanges Between Weapons States
    Part of the OEWG mandate is to make recommendations on “measures to increase awareness and understanding of the complexity of and interrelationship between the wide range of humanitarian consequences that would result from any nuclear detonation.”

    One important way to do so is to launch a UN study on the climate effects and related humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use.

    Tremendous advances in climate modeling and research on both the immediate effects and impacts on climate and agriculture from large-scale nuclear weapons use have been completed since the United Nations looked at the issue 25 years ago. It is time for an up-to-date UN study and report on these issues to inform current and future debate and decisions on global nuclear policy.
  • Disarmament Discussions in the CD or Through Another Forum
    Theoretically, the CD can be a forum for a dialogue on disarmament. The United Kingdom has put forward a useful, and wide-ranging proposal for a working group to discuss and identify effective measures on nuclear disarmament7. It would appear to be flexible enough to all states’ interests into account. If states do not burden this proposal with poison pill demands, it could help extend the conversations taking place at the OEWG and engage key nuclear-armed states. If launched, it would be vital for all states to bring forward detailed and considered proposals, not tired talking points.

    Another option would be to initiate a series of high-level summits approach to put the spotlight on the issue and spur new ideas. This would complement the ongoing P5 [China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States] dialogue on nuclear terms and concepts and the humanitarian impacts initiative.

    Leaders from a core group of states could invite their counterparts from a representative group of 20 to 30 nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states to join a one- or two-day summit on steps to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. The high-level meeting could be a starting point for ongoing, regular disarmament discussions at the expert and ministerial levels on the basis of a clear understanding of the devastating impacts of nuclear weapons use and an objective assessment of the security concerns of states.

    Borrowing a concept from the nuclear security summit process, all participants should be encouraged to bring “house gifts”—specific actions by states that would concretely diminish the threat of nuclear weapons use, freeze or reduce the number of nuclear weapons, reduce the role of nuclear weapons, bring into force key agreements such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or make their nuclear programs more transparent.
  • UN Security Council and UN General Assembly Action to Reinforce the Test Ban Pending Entry Into Force
    The CTBT was concluded twenty years ago, yet entry into force is still many years away. It is essential that states that support the norm against nuclear testing support initiatives that raise the political and legal barriers for testing pending entry into force of the CTBT.

    Specifically, we urge you to actively support a non-binding UN Security Council resolution and a parallel UN General Assembly measure later this year that:
  1. Calls on all states to refrain from testing and calls upon those states that have not ratified the CTBT to do so at the earliest possible time;
  2. Declares that the conduct of a nuclear test explosion would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT;
  3. Underscores the need for a continuous, real-time global nuclear test monitoring capability to detect, identify, and locate nuclear test explosions, and recognizes the vital contributions of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, including the International Monitoring System and International Data Centre.

    In light of the North Korea’s ongoing nuclear testing, the central importance of the CTBT to the NPT and nonproliferation, and the ongoing efforts by several nuclear-armed states to improve their capabilities, the time is right to take this initiative. The place to begin discussing it is the upcoming June 13 high-level meeting in Vienna on the CTBT.
  • Call for Parallel U.S.-Russian Reductions Without a New Treaty
    In 2010, all of the nuclear-weapon states committed “to accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament,” including “all types of nuclear weapons.”

    Further nuclear reductions need not wait for a new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty. More states need to call upon the United States and Russia to accelerate the pace of reductions under New START to reach the agreed limits before the 2018 deadline and call on both states to continue to reduce force levels below the New START ceilings, to be verified with the treaty’s monitoring regime.
  • New START Follow-On Talks No Later Than 2017
    States can also call upon the leaders in Moscow and Washington to begin formal negotiations on a follow-on to New START, and on other relevant strategic weapons issues, no later than 2017.

    The aim should aim to cut each side’s strategic arsenals to fewer than 1,100 deployed strategic warheads and 500 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, including any strategic-range conventional prompt-strike weapons. Such talks can and should explore a wider range of issues, including transparency and confidence-building steps on tactical nuclear weapons and joint understandings on missile defense capabilities and deployments8. Talks should begin soon and before New START expires in 2021 
  • Reinforce the INF Treaty and Pursue Nuclear-Armed Cruise Missile Limits
    To sustain progress on nuclear disarmament, it is essential to reinforce and expand the INF Treaty. States at the CD and elsewhere need to speak up and call upon the United States and Russia to immediately resolve compliance concerns.

    The United States and other like-minded states could also propose and initiate talks with other states in talks on limiting and eventually phasing out all nuclear-armed cruise missile systems. President Obama could spur progress in this area by cancelling plans for a costly new U.S. air-launched cruise missile, which would have new military capabilities and is destabilizing former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and others have proposed9.

    Such an initiative would allow the United States, Russia and other countries to forgo expensive modernization programs for such missiles, and in cooperation with other key states, head off dangerous cruise missile buildups around the globe.
  • Call On Other Nuclear-Armed States to Freeze Their Nuclear Buildups
    The world’s other nuclear-armed states must do their part too.

    In addition to urging the United States, China, and the other CTBT Annex 2 states to finally take the steps necessary to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Russia and the world’s other nuclear-armed states should be called upon by all NPT states parties to freeze the overall size of their stockpiles as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce their nuclear arsenals. 

    A unified push for further U.S.-Russian arms cuts combined with a global nuclear weapons freeze by the other nuclear-armed states would help create the conditions for multilateral, verifiable nuclear disarmament and an eventual ban on nuclear weapons.

In the coming months and years, creative, bold approaches will be needed to overcome old and new obstacles to the long-running effort to eliminate the potential for nuclear catastrophe.


1. "Race for Latest Class of Nuclear Arms Threatens to Revive Cold War,” By William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, The New York Times, April 16, 2016

2. “Nuclear Weapons Modernization: A Threat to the NPT?,” Hans M. Kristensen in Arms Control Today, May 2014.

3. “India’s Submarine Completes Tests,” Kelsey Davenport, Arms Control Today, April 2016

4. “U.S. Floats New Fissile Talks Formula, “ Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Today, March 2016.

5. “The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Spending Binge,” by Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Today, December 2015

6. The June 2013 Report on the Nuclear Weapons Employment Strategy of the United States claims that: [t]he new guidance makes clear that all plans must be consistent with the fundamental principles of the Law of Armed Conflict. Accordingly, plans will, for example, apply the principles of distinction and proportionality and seek to minimize collateral damage to civilian populations and civilian objects. The United States will not intentionally target civilian populations or civilian objects.”

7. Letter dated 19 February from the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Conference on Disarmament.

8. “Second Report of the Deep Cuts Commission: Strengthening Stability in Turbulent Times,” published by the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, April 2015.

9.“Overkill: The Case Against a New Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missile” by Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association Issue Brief, October 19, 2015

Country Resources:

BOOK REVIEW: The Future of Nuclear Weapons

Reviewer Jan Lodal contrasts the very different perspectives on nuclear arms articulated in two new books...

April 2016

Reviewed by Jan Lodal

The Case for U.S. Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century
By Brad Roberts, Stanford Security Studies, 2015, 352 pp.

My Journey at the Nuclear Brink
William J. Perry, Stanford Security Studies, 2015, 258 pp.

In the 25 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War, the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal has faded from the headlines. Now, Brad Roberts and William J. Perry have written two important books pleading for our re-engagement with nuclear matters. Both are motivated to a significant degree by the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has embarked on a buildup of Russia’s nuclear capability, ending two decades of post-Cold War cooperative and negotiated nuclear reductions. Russian officials have asserted that their nuclear weapons are necessary to offset the conventional military strength of NATO and the United States, implying that this strength poses a direct threat and that, in a conflict, they are prepared to be the first to use nuclear weapons.

This comes just as the usable lifetime of the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal is reaching its limits. With the need for an ongoing deterrent to Russian nuclear forces re-emerging, a serious effort to refurbish and even upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal is underway. The Cold War nuclear arms race seems to be resuming only eight years after the hope and excitement generated by President Barack Obama’s stirring speech and declaration in Prague: “I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

In one sense, wider re-engagement with nuclear issues is a welcome development; it brings an end to growing complacency. Too many have forgotten or, if young enough, have never learned that nuclear weapons remain the most immediate existential threat to civilization. Roughly 10,000 nuclear weapons remain in military inventories worldwide, and 5,000 more are in storage. Even though these numbers are down by 70 percent or more from Cold War peaks, they are still huge. Some studies have argued that as few as 100 nuclear detonations could trigger nuclear winter, and a few hundred could destroy all the world’s major cities.  

The potential scenarios for nuclear catastrophe are uncountable. Perry describes one of the most frightening: If a terrorist organization were to gain control of just a single one of these 15,000 weapons, put it in an SUV or small van, and set it off halfway between the White House and the Capitol on a day when the president and Congress were present, the world would be changed forever. Even a “small” Hiroshima-sized weapon would destroy the White House and Capitol Hill, probably including the Supreme Court, along with the headquarters of most government departments. The federal government would be completely decapitated; its reconstitution would be drawn out and chaotic at best.

Arguing for a Robust Force

Roberts comes to the question of what to do about U.S. nuclear weapons after a long career of analyzing nuclear weapons programs, policy, posture, and plans. His book, The Case for U.S. Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century, covers the nuts and bolts of the nuclear issue. It provides an important contribution to understanding how government policy and programs actually have been constructed.

Roberts largely telegraphs his conclusions in the introduction to his book. He asserts that the United States “is entering a period of renewed debate about nuclear deterrence,” with the debate led by two “camps,” each with “fixed positions.” One camp “recoils from the horror of nuclear war” and demands unilateral U.S. steps toward nuclear disarmament. The other camp “accepts nuclear weapons as necessary and useful” and advocates retention and modernization of the nuclear arsenal. Roberts asserts that these two camps are generally contemptuous of the views of each other, leading to gridlock in Congress and disagreement within the “analytic community” on how to proceed.

Using an approach long followed by analysts, Roberts asserts his preference for the middle option—a “balanced approach” set between these two extremes. The essence of his recommendation is to implement fully the Obama administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, in which he played an important role. He would set aside as unrealistic the goal of nuclear abolition in favor of “working to create the conditions that would allow the United States and other states with nuclear weapons to take additional steps in the future to reduce the role and number of such weapons.” In other words, Roberts supports arms control, but only in the future when “conditions allow.” He very much wants to drop dreams of nuclear disarmament, which in his view have led to dangerous complacency about the safety, effectiveness, and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons. To end the complacency, he calls for the United States to modernize and strengthen its nuclear forces along the lines that the Obama administration has proposed to Congress.

Roberts’ book is a thorough and carefully argued case for maintaining a robust U.S. nuclear force indefinitely into the future. His rationale starts with a proposition not disputed by Obama or even those who have supported the goal of eventual nuclear disarmament: so long as other states retain nuclear weapons, the United States must maintain a robust nuclear deterrent to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used. But Roberts goes further: he supports missions for nuclear weapons that go beyond that of preventing the use of nuclear weapons by others.

Roberts defines three “zones of deterrence” through which nuclear-related challenges might pass: a “gray zone” of coercion and provocation, a “red zone” in which combat is underway but the adversary attempts to keep its actions beneath the U.S. nuclear response threshold, and a “black and white zone” involving nuclear attack against U.S. assets, allies, or forces. Deterrence should work in all three zones. He also hypothesizes a “theory of victory” held by each potential adversary. He believes that a major aspect of U.S. strategy should be to ensure that each theory of victory can be effectively countered, even when doing so would require standing ready to use nuclear weapons as war-fighting instruments.

Roberts then turns to the nuclear-related security problems that he sees challenging the United States. He first analyzes two “new problems”—the emergence of nuclear-armed regional challenges, principally North Korea, and Putin’s Russia. He also analyzes four long-standing security issues: the evolving relationship with China, extended deterrence in Europe and Asia, strategic stability, and nuclear assurance.

Roberts’ first new-problem discussion focuses on Iran and North Korea, although he also sees some role for nuclear deterrence in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. His writing dates to 2014, so one can assume that the situation in the latter three countries has now changed to the point that nuclear issues are no longer terribly relevant. Much the same is true with regard to his discussion of how to deal with a nuclear-armed Iran. That leaves North Korea as the new problem—something that has been high on the list of U.S. concerns since President Bill Clinton’s first term, so it is new only in the sense that it emerged after the Cold War. To deter North Korean threats in the gray zone or even the red zone, Roberts proposes a combination of robust conventional forces, ballistic missile defense, and flexible nuclear forces relevant to the region. There is little mention of diplomacy beyond maintaining alliances, and there is no mention of arms control.

Roberts implies that U.S. nuclear forces need to be the sum of what is required to separately deter or respond to each possible regional threat, plus what is needed to deter or respond to China and Russia. But long-standing U.S. government analysis has been that the force needed to deal with non-Russian threats is a “lesser included case” of what is needed to deal with Russia. In other words, the size of the U.S. nuclear force is determined entirely by the need to deter a potentially hostile Russia, not by the other problems Roberts cites. If the United States has enough for Russia, it does not need more for Roberts’ other problems, nor does it need more-flexible forces to fight nuclear wars.

The Putin Factor

With regard to Russia, Roberts asserts that 2014 was a “fundamental turning point” in U.S.-Russian relations. There is no question that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and de facto invasion of Ukraine’s Donbas region, blatantly disregarding its multiple commitments to respect existing borders, marked a significant turn for the worse. Yet, the relationship had been deteriorating steadily under Putin, except perhaps for his four years as prime minister when there was a partial thaw under the “tandem” leadership with President Dmitry Medvedev. During this period, Russia and the United States concluded the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which froze but did not significantly reduce strategic nuclear force numbers and left tactical and reserve weapons uncontrolled.

Roberts believes that Russia’s leadership feels genuinely threatened by NATO expansion, modest missile defenses oriented toward Iran, and the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Steven Lee Myers in his definitive book, The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin, details the ways in which Putin has been motivated largely by a desire for power and wealth. Putin has sought to control every aspect of Russian government, news outlets, and major business. To do so, he needed all the public support he could get. So he has used the age-old tactic of scaring his citizens about an external enemy, in this case NATO led by the United States, to consolidate his power. This became more feasible as oil revenues enriched his kleptocracy and bloated Russia’s defense budget. Complaints about the “threat” of NATO or the United States were largely concocted for his domestic political reasons. This does not fit Roberts’ zones of deterrence model.

Back to the Cold War

Roberts’ approach is similar in many aspects to the “flexible response” strategy initiated by President John Kennedy. This strategy was a reaction to President Dwight Eisenhower’s strategy of “massive retaliation,” which was no longer credible after the Soviet Union developed a strategic missile and bomber force comparable to that of the United States. Yet, Roberts seems to forget that the main purpose of “flexible response,” which envisioned the United States being the first to use tactical battlefield nuclear weapons, was to deter a Soviet tank army invasion of Western Europe. Soviet control of the Warsaw Pact and its massive armored force meant that the West would have had a difficult time building an adequate deterrent consisting only of conventional weapons.

The Cold War strategy of using nuclear weapons to offset a conventional disadvantage was high risk even then, adopted only because it was the best of many bad options. Fortunately, there no longer is a Soviet invasion force requiring nuclear threats to deter its use. High-tech U.S. and European conventional forces, based on precision-guided munitions and dominant surveillance and communications, could defeat any Russian invasion or, for that matter, a conventional military threat to the United States or its allies anywhere in the world. So the only remaining purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to prevent the use of nuclear weapons by others.

Roberts’ book does not deal with a critical capability now missing from the U.S. nuclear force—the capability to assure that there will be no “prompt launch.” Present systems and war plans envision the possibility of the president having to make a decision to launch nuclear weapons under attack in a very short time frame. There have been many calls to de-alert U.S. nuclear weapons systems, which would automatically remove the capability for prompt launch. In many cases, however, keeping systems on alert is important to ensure their survivability. What the United States needs instead is a national command system that will better protect the safety of the president and his successors to be sure any decision to use nuclear weapons can be made deliberately.

A Very Different Perspective

Perry’s book, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, is also an analysis of the nuclear challenge but from a very different perspective—that of a lifetime of insider involvement culminating at the very highest level as secretary of defense. Perry does not retrace the intricacies of nuclear strategy and doctrine. Rather, his book is devoted to explaining his urgent concern that although nuclear weapons remain the primary existential threat to humankind, the public’s focus, particularly that of young leaders, has moved elsewhere. He calls the book a “selective memoir” because its focus is the “nuclear brink” on which he believes the world remains perched, not his career as a whole.

Perry’s book has five important chapters on other aspects of his fascinating and rich career: the Bosnian war and his role in bringing it to an end, Haiti and other efforts to build a new mutual defense relationship with Latin America, the challenges of creating an efficient weapons development and procurement system, improving the life of military families, and his experience as a successful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley at the outset of the digital age. But the remaining 20 chapters focus on nuclear subjects.

Perry begins with a fascinating personal description of the defining moment of the early Cold War and of his career’s focus on nuclear war: the Cuban missile crisis. He had been exposed to the horrors of modern warfare as a young soldier posted to Okinawa just after allied bombs had destroyed the main cities there. But he had to confront the reality of possible nuclear war only many years later when he was serving as a young assistant to the chief intelligence officer in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

Perry and one or two other young experts prepared the daily briefings on the status of the Soviet missiles in Cuba for Kennedy and his top advisers. The crisis management team was meeting nearly around the clock trying to figure out how to remove the nuclear threat from Cuba without triggering a catastrophic nuclear war. Each day, Perry thought war was imminent and that it might be his last day on earth. The knee-jerk reaction of the senior military officer present, General Curtis LeMay, was to start bombing the missiles in Cuba immediately, which probably would have triggered their launch against U.S. cities and an all-out nuclear exchange killing hundreds of millions. But LeMay was overruled by Kennedy, leaving room for the brilliant diplomacy, backed up by a naval blockade, that ended the crisis peacefully. A nuclear catastrophe was narrowly averted, and Perry learned that the only way to avoid nuclear war was to use a combination of military strength and smart diplomacy.

Soon afterward, Perry was to play a major role in developing the intelligence systems that allowed the United States to understand the growth of the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal. In the Carter administration, he became the Department of Defense’s chief technology officer, leading the development of stealth and other systems that increased the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent force. He eloquently describes these efforts and how they helped to keep the peace. Finally, in the Clinton administration, Perry assumed what is perhaps the world’s most important position of responsibility for nuclear matters, U.S. defense secretary.

In that role, Perry accumulated even more intense experience with the challenge of avoiding nuclear war as second to the president in command of U.S. nuclear weapons. Any order to launch nuclear weapons, including the massive attacks that made up the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), would have to pass through him. He thus became intimately aware of how fragile the edifice of “mutual assured destruction” was and how catastrophic a failure of deterrence would be.

As a result, Perry immediately took advantage of the new relationship with Russia emerging after the breakup of the Soviet Union. One of his first steps, ably assisted by the current defense secretary, Ash Carter, was to take personal responsibility for the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program with Russia. Perry adds new details to the history of this path-breaking effort. The CTR program led to the dismantlement of nuclear systems in the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine and provided significant other assistance to Russia in dismantling the Cold War nuclear infrastructure it no longer needed. Cooperative disarmament such as this has not existed before or since.

Perry also documents the unprecedented military cooperation between Russia and NATO that peaked in the Bosnia peacekeeping mission. This cooperation was so deep that a Russian battalion participated in the Bosnia peacekeeping force under the overall command of a U.S. general. During Perry’s years as secretary, Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a formal cooperation agreement with NATO that remains in effect (although little used). Again, Perry took home the lesson that military programs had to be complemented by capable diplomacy to manage the nuclear threat.

To document that nongovernmental efforts can play an important diplomatic role, Perry offers a fascinating account of how he continued his “journey at the nuclear brink” even after he left office. He resumed a position at Stanford University and passed up a comfortable retirement to travel the world, with several trips to Russia, to mentor next-generation leaders and to advocate for continued reductions in nuclear forces worldwide.

These efforts reached something of a peak when he joined three other distinguished statesmen to write the op-ed “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons” in the January 4, 2007, Wall Street Journal. This article took the arms control and nuclear policy community by storm. The four men—Perry, former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, and former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.)—argued that a serious effort should be made to eliminate all nuclear weapons from the earth. Nuclear deterrence would have to be maintained during the process, but the risk to mankind of these weapons was too great to keep them indefinitely.

The four authors became known as the “Gang of Four.” They had come to their conclusion after years of responsibility for U.S. nuclear forces and policy at the highest level. In their initial op-ed and in subsequent articles and speeches, they argued that any use of nuclear weapons would trigger massive, unacceptable changes in the world, even if the first detonation did not lead to escalation. The states that emerged from the catastrophe would very likely band together to disarm any state or terrorist group that might still retain nuclear weapons or the capability to make them, no matter what the price in collateral damage. The cost of the dragnet would be huge, probably involving more war, an end to individual liberties, and perhaps even an end to the system of sovereign states that forms the basis of world governance. Reconstruction could take decades or perhaps never be possible because of residual radiation.

Perry emphasizes the importance of maintaining close working relations with Russia because significant reductions in the vast number of active nuclear weapons still remaining in the world are not possible without this cooperation. He attributes the current breakdown in relations with Russia in no small measure to mistakes made by successive U.S. presidents. While he was defense secretary, he argued for a slower and smaller expansion of NATO. He also disagreed with President George W. Bush’s decision to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in order to deploy ABMs in central Europe directed at Iran, which then led Russia to renounce START II with its extensive verification procedures and ban on multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles. Perry saw these actions as unnecessary provocations and not worth stifling the growing U.S.-Russian cooperation that had led to dramatic reductions in nuclear arsenals.

Perry argues that it would be a terrible mistake to give up on nuclear diplomacy with Russia, but he does not directly address the challenge of making progress with Putin in power and his nuclear buildup underway. Perry’s implicit solution is to remain patient and not respond with a nuclear buildup in the United States, realizing that the aging but very powerful U.S. force will remain an adequate deterrent.  Over time, Russia will accept that NATO, limited missile defenses, and U.S. military actions against terrorists are not a threat and will return to cooperation. This probably will require a change in Russian leadership; Putin seems pleased at the success he has had using foreign threats to stoke nationalistic political support for his authoritarian regime.

Prospects for Reductions

Since the early days of the Cold War, calculations have shown that 400 nuclear weapons detonated on Russian targets could destroy Russia’s military and its economy. Accounting for alert rates and other failures, perhaps 1,000 weapons might be needed to guarantee that 400 hit their targets. Today’s deployed U.S. force is more than twice this size, implying that it should be reduced, rather than modernized and expanded in capability, as Roberts prefers. Yet, it always has been politically difficult to move away from nuclear parity with Russia, even if there is no military or strategic need for a nuclear force of the same numerical size as Russia’s.

Thus, further U.S.-Russian bilateral arms control reductions are likely to be the only path away from the nuclear brink. Notwithstanding Putin’s bellicosity, this is not as hopeless as one might think. An economically challenged Russia, with its energy revenues severely reduced, its businesses sanctioned, and its industry falling further behind the rest of the world, might just find it in its interest to resume nuclear cooperation with the United States. This would not usher in “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” but it would be a start in that direction.


Jan Lodal is a distinguished fellow and former president of the Atlantic Council. He has served in senior positions at the Department of Defense and the National Security Council, where he had major responsibilities for arms control and other defense-related matters. He is the author of more than 50 articles and The Price of Dominance: The New Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Challenge to American Leadership (2001).

Air Force Seeks Mobile ICBM Option

Deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles on mobile launchers would represent an unprecedented development in U.S. nuclear strategy.

April 2016

By Kingston Reif

The U.S. Air Force is planning to design a next generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) that will have the capability to be deployed on mobile launchers, a knowledgeable source told Arms Control Today last month.

Initial Air Force estimates suggest that it would cost roughly $400 million in development funding to provide the “modularity” that would allow this option, the source said.

A decision by the United States to deploy ICBMs on a mobile platform would represent an unprecedented development in U.S. nuclear strategy. The United States explored two mobile ICBM options during the Cold War—the Peacekeeper, which would have been carried by railcars, and the small ICBM, or Midgetman, which would have been carried by trucks—but both programs were canceled before they became operational.

Developing transportable ICBM forces would cost at least $80 billion more over the next 50 years than retaining only silo-based missiles, according to Air Force estimates.

In an email exchange last month, Maj. Robert Leese, an Air Force spokesman, confirmed that the service is pursuing a replacement for the silo-based Minuteman III system “that will provide the option for alternative modes of operation in the future.” The replacement is known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD).

Leese declined to provide additional details, saying that “[t]he design features and the total cost required to support this option will be evaluated” later in the acquisition process.

A 2014 report by the RAND Corp. on the future of the ICBM force said a “mobile missile must be designed and built to more-demanding specifications then a silo-based ICBM,” such as remaining “reliable under the rigors of periodic movement.” The Minuteman III currently is not capable of being put on a mobile platform.

The requirement to examine future ICBM mobility appears to have originated with the 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review Report.” The document stated that the Defense Department would study “new modes of ICBM basing that enhance survivability and further reduce any incentives for prompt launch.” Under this argument, a mobile ICBM would enhance the overall survivability of the ICBM force by making the missile more difficult to target and destroy, thereby reducing the pressure the president might feel in the event of a nuclear attack to use ICBMs quickly lest they be destroyed.

The current Air Force proposal for replacing the Minuteman III calls for procuring 642 replacement missiles and rebuilding the existing missile infrastructure at an estimated acquisition cost of $62.3 billion (in then-year dollars) over the next 30 years. (See ACT, July/August 2015.)

That number of missiles would allow the United States to have a capability extending into the 2070s to deploy 400 ICBMs, the number that the United States will have in 2018 under the terms of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

To meet the treaty limits, the Defense Department has said it will reduce the U.S. arsenal from its current level—441 deployed missiles as of September 2015—while retaining 50 nondeployed missile launchers.

Leese said that, under the GBSD program, the Air Force is proposing to build “an improved system” that replaces the entire Minuteman III flight system, including the re-entry vehicles, guidance system, and propulsion system. The program also would renovate the associated missile-launch facilities, launch control centers, and command-and-control system, he said. The Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor reported last August that the plan is to replace the missiles first, followed by the support systems. The program is scheduled to achieve an initial operating capability of nine missiles by fiscal year 2029, the report said.

The Obama administration is requesting $114 million for the program in fiscal year 2017, an increase of almost $39 million over the appropriation for the current fiscal year. (See ACT, March 2016.)

The knowledgeable source said that, under the Air Force plan, the replacement missiles that will be fielded between 2028 and 2036 will not include mobile missiles.

ICBMs make up the land-based leg of the U.S. nuclear triad of delivery systems, which also consists of submarine-launched missiles and long-range bombers. The bombers can carry air-launched cruise missiles and gravity bombs.

The Minuteman III, which has a range of more than 8,000 miles, was first fielded in 1970 with a planned service life of 10 years. Several multibillion-dollar life extension programs have kept the missile in service for more than 40 years.

Costs Revealed

In 2014 the Air Force completed an analysis of alternatives to sustain the ICBM force beyond the anticipated end of the Minuteman III’s service life in 2030.

The analysis focused on three alternatives: a “baseline” option that would extend the life of the Minuteman III through 2075, a “replacement system” that would “capitaliz[e]” on the existing Minuteman III silo infrastructure, and a “hybrid” option that would mix the existing Minuteman III silo infrastructure with new road-mobile ICBMs.

The analysis ultimately recommended that the Air Force proceed with the replacement option. The total life-cycle cost of this approach was estimated at $159 billion (in fiscal year 2014 constant dollars) between fiscal years 2016 and 2075, according to Leese.

The baseline option was estimated to cost $160 billion and the hybrid option $242 billion.

Leese said that mobile forces would not have been deployed until around 2050 under the hybrid option. 

Incremental Upgrade Rejected

Like the Air Force, the 2014 RAND study ruled out basic sustainment of the Minuteman III as a realistic follow-on option, noting that “replacement of failed items with exact replicas is not possible in some instances.”

The RAND study took a more favorable view of an approach to sustaining the Minuteman III beyond 2030 that the authors called “incremental modernization,” which differed from the three main alternatives that the Air Force considered. The report said maintaining the missile through continued life extension programs and “gradual upgrades is a relatively inexpensive way to retain current ICBM capabilities.”

The study identified two challenges to this approach. First, the number of Minuteman III missile bodies is declining due to test launches. Based on the current testing pace, maintaining a force of 400 missiles, as is the plan under New START, would deplete the test inventory by 2035. Second, the report said incremental modernization would be “viable” only if the capability the Minuteman III provides “is not substantially changed.”

In the March email exchange, Leese said the analysis of alternatives “looked at a ‘phased’ implementation of” system “improvements” but did not recommend this option. “Incremental modernization is hindered by” the near-term need to upgrade key parts of the missile “and the remaining elements of the weapon system,” such as ground security and communications, he said.

This approach would also increase the near-term cost of sustaining the Minuteman III, Leese added.

Meanwhile, an Air Force official told Politico last October that “as enemy capabilities continue to progress...more advanced technologies are required to meet” the ICBM mission. The official did not specify what new technologies would be required or if a future mobile option is desired to enhance the U.S. capability.

A Feb. 17 story in The Daily Beast cited concerns among some military officials that the Minuteman III lacks the required accuracy to destroy key hardened targets.

In addition, Gen. Robin Rand, the commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command, told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on March 2 that the Minuteman III “will have a difficult time surviving” against missile defenses or other anti-missile capabilities—known as “anti-area access denial”—that potential adversaries are expected to possess “in the 2030 and beyond time period.”

When asked to clarify whether future Russian or Chinese missile defenses could prevent the Minuteman III from delivering nuclear warheads to their targets, a second Air Force spokesman said in an email last month that the “[s]pecifics regarding the survivability of the Minuteman III weapon system are classified.” The spokesman added that the GBSD program will “address future threats, especially those that may emerge in a post-2030 Anti-Access/Area Denial environment.”

A second knowledgeable source who has been briefed on the GBSD program questioned the Air Force’s approach to replacing the Minuteman III. The source said in an interview that the Air Force had yet to adequately explain why the Minuteman III could not be sustained until the 2040s, thereby allowing the Air Force to defer until then its decision on whether to build a replacement system.

Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis and a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in a January report that “delaying GBSD by five years would yield savings in the early 2020s averaging $2 billion annually.”

New Missile Defense Concepts Advance

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request would increase funding to improve the capability of the U.S. homeland missile defense system.

April 2016

By Kingston Reif

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request would increase funding to improve the capability of the U.S. system intended for protection of the U.S. homeland against long-range missiles launched from North Korea or Iran and the pursuit of advanced technology efforts to ensure the system stays ahead of foreign missile threats.

These proposed increases come amid growing concerns from high-ranking military officials that the current U.S. strategy to defeat adversary ballistic missiles is “unsustainable.”

Some of the advanced anti-missile technologies the Defense Department is pursuing, such as airborne lasers to zap missiles in the early stages of their flight, have been unsuccessfully pursued in the past.

Overall, the administration is asking for $8.5 billion for missile defense efforts in fiscal year 2017, a decrease of $500 million, or 5.5 percent, below what the administration requested for fiscal year 2016. In the request for fiscal year 2017, $7.5 billion would be for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

Congress appropriated $8.3 billion for the MDA, which is part of the Defense Department, for fiscal year 2016.

At a Feb. 9 press briefing at the Pentagon, Vice Adm. James Syring, the director of the MDA, said that although the agency’s fiscal year 2016 budget request projected a decrease in funding for fiscal year 2017, the bipartisan budget deal approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last October set new spending levels that reduced the MDA’s fiscal year 2017 request by an additional $300 million.

The program to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited long-range missile attack, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, would receive $862 million under the budget proposal, a decrease of $408 million, or 32 percent, from last year’s enacted level of $1.3 billion. The request keeps on track the Defense Department’s plan to increase the number of interceptors in Alaska and California from 30 to 44 by the end of fiscal year 2017 in response to concerns about North Korea’s growing nuclear and long-range missile capabilities. (See ACT, April 2014.) Fiscal year 2017 begins on Oct. 1.

In addition, the request would provide $274 million to design a new kill vehicle for the GMD system, a slight decrease of $5 million below the fiscal year 2016 appropriation of $279 million. Over the next five years, however, the MDA is seeking $2.2 billion for this effort, a major increase over the $626 million the agency was projecting to request from fiscal years 2016 through 2020.

The kill vehicle sits atop the interceptor’s booster rocket and is intended to collide with a target in outer space.

There have been serious concerns about the GMD interceptors since they were rushed into service by the George W. Bush administration in 2004. In response to these concerns, the MDA announced in March 2014 that it would build and deploy by 2020 a redesigned kill vehicle that would be more reliable and cost effective than the current versions. (See ACT, July/August 2014.)

The budget request also seeks a funding increase for a new ground-based sensor to provide enhanced tracking and discrimination capabilities for the GMD system. The program would receive $317 million in fiscal year 2017, an increase of $180 million over the current-year level.

In a Feb. 17 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) repeated its warnings about the strategy the MDA is pursuing to improve the GMD system. According to the report, the MDA “has not demonstrated several key homeland missile defense capabilities and is relying on high-risk acquisition practices to achieve its goal of fielding 44 interceptors by the end of fiscal year 2017.”

The report also raised concerns that the MDA is pursuing “an aggressive schedule to begin fielding” the redesigned kill vehicle by 2020 and that it is “unclear whether MDA has allowed enough time for modifying and maturing” the desired components and technologies for the redesign.

Advanced Technology Sought

According to budget documents released on Feb. 9, the fiscal year 2017 proposal supports the MDA’s efforts to develop advanced technologies “to adapt as the threat changes in the future.”

The request includes $72 million, an increase of $21 million above the fiscal year 2016 appropriation, to advance work on a next-generation laser system “capable of defeating advanced threats and [missile] raids more efficiently than existing missile interceptors.”

The request would provide $90 million, an increase of $63 million from the current-year level, to place a sensor on the MQ-9 reaper drone to improve missile tracking and design a laser that could be put on unmanned aerial vehicles, as drones are more formally known, to destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles in their boost phase—that is, the early part of the missile’s ascent when the missile’s rocket motor is still burning.

Syring told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on March 19, 2015, that the MDA’s goal is to deploy a laser-armed drone by 2025.

The MDA also is requesting $72 million, an increase of $10 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level, to develop a new “multi-object kill vehicle” to allow a single GMD interceptor to destroy multiple targets. The program is envisioned as a follow-on to the redesigned vehicle the MDA is seeking to deploy by 2020.

Syring said at the March 2015 hearing that kill vehicles capable of destroying multiple objects “will revolutionize our missile defense architecture, substantially reducing the interceptor inventory required to defeat an evolving and more capable threat to the homeland.”

The George W. Bush administration initiated programs to put a high-powered laser on a Boeing 747 and develop a multiple-object kill vehicle, but both efforts were discontinued by the Obama administration during its first term due to concerns about their effectiveness and cost. The airborne laser program was canceled in 2012 after $5.3 billion had been spent on the program. The Defense Department spent $700 million developing a multiple-object kill vehicle concept before shelving it in 2009.

Cost Effectiveness Questioned

The MDA’s efforts to improve the effectiveness of the GMD system against current and potential threats come as senior military leaders are raising alarms about the sustainability of current U.S. missile defense efforts.

Adm. Bill Gortney, the head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 10 that the U.S. missile defense system “is in an unsustainable cost model, which has us postured to shoot down inexpensive rockets with very expensive ones.”

Gortney said that the Defense Department must augment current defenses with capabilities “designed to defeat ballistic missile threats in the boost phase as well as before they are launched.”

He added that the MDA “is working on emerging technology that will enable us to employ...methods to defeat ballistic missile threats” without physically destroying them with an interceptor “when we receive indications that a launch is imminent.” Gortney did not specify what these methods would entail.

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work stated in March 2015 that the Pentagon is seeking to develop electronic warfare tools to provide additional options to defeat the increasingly sophisticated missile capabilities of U.S. adversaries. (See ACT, April 2015.)

Budget Would Raise Nuclear Spending

The budget calls for increases even as officials warn the plan may be unsustainable. 

March 2016

By Kingston Reif

In this video image, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work speaks to reporters about the fiscal year 2017 defense budget request at the Pentagon on February 9. Photo credit: Defense Department)The Obama administration on Feb. 9 released a final budget request that proposes to continue increasing spending for programs to rebuild the U.S. nuclear triad as Defense Department officials repeated warnings that the modernization plans may become unsustainable.

Comments by U.S. civilian and military officials suggest that several programs will hit their periods of peak spending at about the same time, forcing the U.S. government to choose between the nuclear modernization effort and other military priorities unless overall defense spending rises significantly above the levels currently projected.

The Air Force and Navy are seeking approximately $3.6 billion in fiscal year 2017, which begins on Oct. 1, to build new fleets of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), ballistic missile submarines, long-range bombers, and short-range tactical aircraft, an increase of roughly $1.2 billion, or 50 percent, over the amount that Congress approved for fiscal year 2016. The request keeps the expected production timeline for these programs largely on schedule.

Meanwhile, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department, is requesting $9.2 billion for its nuclear weapons activities, an increase of almost $400 million, or 4 percent, above the enacted level for the current year.

Nuclear modernization costs are scheduled to peak during the 2020s and overlap with large increases in projected spending on modernization programs for conventional weapons systems. Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis and a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), wrote in a January report that “if not altered from current plans,” these modernization programs “will require either an increase in defense spending or a reallocation of resources within the defense budget.”

At a Feb. 9 series of press briefings at the Pentagon, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said that if funding for nuclear modernization “comes out of our conventional forces, that will be very, very, very problematic for us.”

Similarly, Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord said at a CSIS event on Nov. 30 that the long-term cost to modernize the triad is “a concern.” He explained that the “easy solution” would be to “bump up” resources for nuclear weapons for the next 15 years but that such a funding increase is “probably not realistic.”

Overall, the administration requested $551 billion for national defense in fiscal year 2017. That figure includes the Defense Department’s regular budget activities and the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs.

Spending on Delivery Systems Rises

The highest-priority nuclear triad replacement program remains the Navy’s plan to replace its current fleet of 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines with 12 new subs, called the Ohio replacement program. Under the Navy’s budget request, the program would receive $1.9 billion in fiscal year 2017, an increase of $360 million above the fiscal year 2016 appropriation.

The request includes $1.1 billion in research and development and, for the first time, $778 million in advance procurement funding to build the first boat in the new class.

An Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine moves through the Hood Canal on its way to Naval Base Kitsap in Washington state on February 15. (Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Amanda R. Gray/U.S. Navy)Navy officials have repeatedly warned that the service’s projected long-term budget is not large enough to accommodate the program to build the new submarines and meet its needs for conventional ships. (See ACT, October 2013.) The Navy estimates that the 12 planned boats, which are slated to be purchased between 2021 and 2035, will cost $139 billion to develop and build.

In another high-profile program, proposed funding for the Air Force’s plan to build approximately 1,000 nuclear-capable cruise missiles in the coming years continues to rise. The service is seeking $95.6 million in fiscal year 2017 for research and development for a long-range standoff weapon, almost six times as much as the $16.1 million that Congress appropriated for the current fiscal year. The new standoff missile would replace the Air Force’s nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), which has been operational since 1986.

Government and think tank estimates suggest that the total cost of building the new missile and refurbishing the associated warhead would be about $25 billion over 20 years. 

In addition, the Air Force is seeking $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2017, an increase of $624 million over the fiscal year 2016 appropriation, for the program to build a new fleet of 80-100 nuclear-capable long-range strategic bombers. 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.

In the budget documents, the Air Force said it is planning to request $12.1 billion for the new bomber program between fiscal years 2017 and 2021, a significant reduction relative to the five-year budget projection of $15.6 billion cited in last year’s budget documents. Carolyn Gleason, a senior Pentagon budget official, told reporters during the Feb. 9 briefings that the change reflects a revised cost estimate for the program in the wake of the awarding of a contract to Northrop Grumman last fall to build the bombers.

The program to develop a replacement for the current force of land-based Minuteman III ICBMs also would get a boost under the administration’s request. The Air Force is requesting $114 million for the program, an increase of almost $39 million over the appropriation for the current fiscal year.

The service is currently planning to procure 642 replacement missiles and update the existing missile infrastructure at an estimated cost of $62.3 billion over the next 30 years. (See ACT, July/August 2015.) According to the new budget documents, the projected deployment date for the replacement missiles is 2028. That represents slippage of a year since last year’s request.

Air Force officials have expressed growing alarm about the cost of the service’s nuclear modernization plans. “Our problems become unmanageable” when the costs for the ICBM replacement program begin to peak, said Lt. Gen. James Holmes, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, at a Feb. 12 press briefing at the Pentagon.

Warhead Request Grows

The NNSA is requesting $220 million to refurbish the existing ALCM warhead that would be delivered by the new ALCM under development by the Air Force. That is an increase of $25.2 million above the fiscal year 2016 appropriation.

The NNSA weapons budget also would increase funding to update a key part of the W88 submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead and build a new uranium-processing facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. In contrast, the budget would slightly decrease spending to rebuild the B61 gravity bomb.

In a Feb. 10 press call with reporters, retired Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, the NNSA administrator, said the NNSA is facing a “formidable” planned increase in spending on life extension programs and infrastructure improvements. Peak funding for these efforts occurs earlier than the Defense Department’s expected peak funding years for triad modernization, he said.

U.S. Will Skip Disarmament Meetings

The United States will not participate in a working group on disarmament taking place in Geneva this year, according to the State Department.

March 2016

By Kingston Reif

The United States will not participate in a working group on disarmament taking place in Geneva this year, according to the State Department.

In a Feb. 18 email to Arms Control Today, Blake Narendra, a U.S. State Department spokesman, said the United States has been open to participating in the disarmament group. But he said that the agenda and rules for the Geneva meetings “will not result in constructive dialogue on nuclear weapons or conditions under which nuclear disarmament can best be achieved.”

During last year’s meeting of the UN General Assembly First Committee, UN member states voted to approve a resolution sponsored by Mexico creating the working group. (See ACT, December 2015.) It is open ended, which means that all UN members can participate.

Under the resolution, the mandate of the group is to “substantively address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms” necessary to “attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.”

The working group also will “substantively address recommendations on other measures that could contribute to taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.” The resolution said the group should convene in Geneva in 2016 for up to 15 days and present a report on its work to the General Assembly at its session later this year.

The working group held its first meeting Feb. 22-26. Many NATO members and East Asian U.S. allies that attended the meeting joined a statement delivered by Canada saying they “chose to participate” in the group in part because existing institutions that deal with disarmament have been bogged down by “both internal and external challenges which seriously impede [their] effectiveness.”

Like the United States, the four other countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty—China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom—did not attend the February meeting.

The working group is scheduled to reconvene during the first two weeks of May and once more during the week of Aug. 22. 

Back to the Nuclear Brink?

Three decades ago, President Ronald Reagan declared that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” In the years after...

March 2016

By Daryl G. Kimball

Three decades ago, President Ronald Reagan declared that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” In the years after, Russia and the United States began to wind down Cold War tensions and slash their nuclear arsenals. But today, the risks of nuclear brinkmanship and unbridled nuclear competition are on the rise once again.

Although the number of nuclear weapons is down from its Cold War peak, Russian and U.S. nuclear forces and postures still allow each country to launch more than 1,000 nuclear bombs within minutes if attacked. Each side depends on the restraint and good judgment of the other to avoid mutual annihilation.

Obama listens to Putin after their bilateral meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico on June 18, 2012, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.

Distrust is deep, and the list of grievances is growing. Although Russian and U.S. forces still far exceed nuclear deterrence requirements, progress on further nuclear cuts is on hold. Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing concerns about U.S. regional missile interceptors and third-country arsenals, has rebuffed U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2013 proposal for a further one-third reduction in each side’s nuclear forces without so much as a counterproposal.

Complicating matters, Russia also has tested ground-based cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and stiff-armed U.S. efforts to resolve the issue. Both countries continue to pursue fiscally unsustainable, multibillion-dollar schemes to replace and upgrade each major component of their strategic nuclear forces.

Worse still, Putin’s illegal annexation and destabilization of parts of Ukraine in violation of its 1994 pledge to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons has put NATO members bordering Russia on edge. Unfortunately, the Ukraine crisis has halted most military-to-military contacts between East and West, making the increasingly frequent Russia-NATO close air encounters an even more dangerous potential flashpoint.

To date, the United States and Europe have responded to Putin’s meddling in Ukraine with targeted economic sanctions against Russia, plus additional conventional military training and support for allies and partners.

As Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme allied commander, told a Senate committee last year, “The security situation in Europe is less stable, but it’s not based on the nuclear piece” of the equation.

Over the past year, however, Russian officials have begun to highlight their nuclear forces as a deterrent against what they see as increasingly threatening U.S. and NATO conventional military capabilities. Late last year, Russia “leaked” plans for a new nuclear-armed underwater torpedo, implying it is eyeing new types of nuclear weapons.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg cautioned, “No one should think it is possible to use nuclear weapons in a limited way as part of a conventional conflict.” He is right.

Now, in a troubling shift of rhetoric, the Defense Department has unwisely begun to frame its unaffordable, all-of-the-above plan for replacing and upgrading U.S. strategic bombers, nuclear-armed cruise missiles, and land- and sea-based strategic nuclear forces as part of its strategy to “counter Russia’s aggressive policies in Eastern Europe,” according its latest budget request.

In reality, U.S. nuclear weapons do nothing to address Russia’s actions in Ukraine or protect nervous NATO allies in the Baltics. This new Pentagon talking point only provides the Kremlin with a cynical excuse to accelerate its plans to improve Russia’s nuclear forces.

It makes no sense for either side to pursue a multidecade nuclear weapons spending binge that would perpetuate excessive force levels and Cold War-era nuclear war-fighting capabilities for generations to come.               

Obama and his successor, along with Putin, have a responsibility to pull back from a nuclear action-reaction cycle that puts both countries at greater risk.

To start, the two presidents should issue a joint statement reaffirming their understanding that there can be no winners in a nuclear war and that as long as each side has nuclear weapons, strategic stability will remain central to their bilateral relations.

They should immediately resume active discussions on new, creative proposals to reduce the size and enormous cost of their excess strategic and tactical nuclear stockpiles and to resolve disagreements about missile defenses and INF Treaty compliance.

For instance, Obama could order a halt of the program to develop a new air-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile, phase out the missile it is replacing, and pursue with Russia and other states a ban on nuclear-armed cruise missiles. Such systems are for nuclear war-fighting, not deterrence. As former Defense Secretary William Perry has argued, “[T]he old Cold War requirement for such a capability no longer exists.”

To avoid miscalculation in a crisis, U.S. and NATO officials should resume regular communications with their military and intelligence counterparts in Russia, including through the NATO-Russia Council. Dialogue is essential for security and should not be denied to show displeasure with Russian behavior.

Leaders in Moscow and Washington need to walk back from a new era of nuclear one-upmanship, or else the world will face even greater dangers in the months and years ahead. 

Statement by Daryl G. Kimball on Rightsizing the U.S. Nuclear Force and Budget

Sections:

Description: 

President Barack Obama promised in the 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] Report” that his administration would...

Body: 

Rightsizing the U.S. Nuclear Force and Budget
Prepared Remarks by Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Association

2016 Nuclear Deterrence Summit
February 17, 2016, Arlington, V.A.

President Barack Obama promised in the 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] Report” that his administration would reduce the number, role, and salience of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense strategy.

The “fundamental purpose” of the weapons, the review states, is to deter nuclear attack, not wage a nuclear war.

At the same time, the strategy called for maintaining and modernizing the remaining U.S. nuclear forces on a smaller triad of delivery systems as mandated by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Current Pentagon plans call for 12 new nuclear-armed strategic submarines, 80 to 100 new penetrating strategic bombers (some or all of which will be nuclear capable), a fleet of new and stealthier nuclear-capable cruise missiles, and new land-based, intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reportedly be deployed on mobile launchers in the future, all at spending levels that exceed what was originally advertised.

In 2011 the Pentagon claimed that the cost for sustaining and modernizing nuclear delivery systems would be $126 billion and up to another $88 billion for warhead refurbishment and infrastructure modernization, for a total of about $214 billion.

In 2015 the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost from fiscal years 2015 to 2024 would be about $348 billion, including upgrades to nuclear command and control.

Senior Pentagon leaders warn that there will not be enough money to fund all of the items on the military’s wish list.

By the mid-2020s, the cost of nuclear weapons will consume 7 percent of the entire defense budget, according to Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work.

And it could consume an even bigger slice of the Pentagon’s overall weapons acquisition budget.

The coming nuclear and conventional weapons budgetary “bow wave” has been apparent for some time.

But rather than make common sense adjustments to the nuclear weapons modernization plan, Secretary of Defense Carter and his policy advisors including principal undersecretary for policy Brian McKeon, are pushing an all-of-the-above approach they know we can’t afford without making irrational cuts to other defense programs and they seem to be content to pass on the problem to their successors.

Frankly, that’s an embarrassing failure of leadership.

With one year left in his term, it is past time for Obama to chart a more realistic, affordable, and sustainable course.

We believe that in the near term, there are three important Defense Department programs that should be re-evaluated and adjusted.

First, the president could announce that U.S. deterrence requirements do not require spending at least $62 billion on 642 new land-based missiles to support a deployed force of 400 missiles with a mobile option.

Instead, he could direct the Pentagon to pursue the deployment of a smaller fleet of 300 new or refurbished fixed-silo ICBMs. 

Over the next decade, this approach could save up to $10 billion.

A 2014 RAND study estimated that the 39-year life cycle costs of sustaining the Minuteman III would cost $24-35 billion less than the current Air Force plan to procure a new missile with similar specifications.

Second, Obama also could announce that requirements for the sea-based leg of the triad can be met with a smaller fleet of strategic subs.

Under the current plans, the 12 new boats would carry 192 missiles with up to eight warheads each, at a cost of $140 billion to develop.

But with adjustments to the current launch-under-attack posture which require a larger number of subs on station and ready to fire their missiles at assigned targets quickly, that number of boats could be reduced to 8 boats and still meet current plans for 1,000 sea-based warheads.

As the most survivable of the three legs of the triad, the missiles sub force need not be maintained on a Cold War launch under nuclear attack to the mainland posture.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates such an approach would save approximately $20.9 billion over the next nine years, and more thereafter.

What is $20 billion? That is roughly one year of the Navy shipbuilding budget, or about the cost of an aircraft carrier, an attack submarine, a destroyer, three small surface combatant ships and four logistics ships.

Third, President Obama should order a halt of the program to develop a new nuclear-armed cruise missile, a.k.a. the long-range standoff weapon (LRSO).

The Air Force wants 1,000 to 1,100 new air-launched, nuclear-capable cruise missiles at an acquisition cost of some $20 billion to $30 billion.

But, as former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry wrote last fall in The Washington Post: “The old Cold War requirement for such a capability no longer exists.”

In fact, the current AGM-86B missile only serves a minor “back-up” role in the current U.S. nuclear war plan. The new system, which would be more capable, is for escalation control and nuclear war-fighting, not deterrence.

Given that new nuclear-armed cruise missile would be redundant and destabilizing, why invest $20-30 billion in a completely new system?

Other strategic nuclear weapons delivery capabilities and conventional cruise missile capabilities make the weapon unnecessary.

The current ALCM will be in the arsenal for more than a decade, and the Air Force is poised to spend $100 billion on its stealthy new strategic bombers to penetrate enemy air defenses with newly refurbished B61 nuclear gravity bombs. A new, long-range, precision conventional cruise missile is now being introduced for delivery by existing and new bombers and fighter jets.

Without the LSRO, we would still have a formidable air-leg of the nuclear triad.

Halting the new cruise missile program would also open the way for a U.S.-led effort on a global ban on all nuclear-armed cruise missiles within a specified time frame, thus reducing current and future threats to the United States. This will not be easy but it is worth pursuing.

Before plunging forward with the LRSO, Secretary Carter, or his successor, should address a number of basic questions, including (but not limited to):

  • What are the specific targets/missions for the LRSO that cannot be fulfilled by either the Long-Range Strike Bomber and the B61-12 or conventional munitions, conventional cruise missiles from other platforms, or ICBMs or SLBMs?
  • If the current AGM-86B missile only serves a very limited role at best in the current war plan, why invest $20-30 billion in a completely new system?
  • Will the W80-4 warhead have more flexible selectable yield options?
  • What are the implications for strategic stability of a nuclear ALCM that is stealthier, faster, longer-range, more accurate, deployed on a larger number of more advanced bombers, and more flexible in terms of nuclear yield options?
  • How would other countries respond to a more capable U.S. LSRO?

Strategic Context

For now, efforts to negotiate further U.S. and Russian nuclear reductions are on hold – at least until New START expires in 2021.

Russia has rebuffed President Obama’s 2013 proposals for further nuclear cuts and violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The danger of close encounters between NATO and Russian aircraft has increased tensions.

Russian Prime Minister Dimtry Medvedev suggested over the weekend in Munich that we are in a “new Cold War.”

Perhaps we are. 

But the proposals for a more affordable strategic nuclear force that I just outlined still would allow for a New START force for a decade beyond its expiration.

And today, U.S. and Russian forces still far exceed deterrence requirements.

A 2013 Pentagon follow-on study determined that deterrence requirements can be met with one-third fewer deployed strategic nuclear forces.

Today, Russia possesses some 1,780 nuclear warheads and the United States some 1,900 that can be delivered on several hundred strategic bombers and missiles. If used even in a “limited” way, the result would be a humanitarian catastrophe.              

It makes little sense for either side to pursue a multi-decade nuclear weapons spending binge that promises to perpetuate excessive force levels and Cold War-era war-fighting capabilities for generations to come.

That does not deter Russia’s meddling in Ukraine or protect nervous NATO allies in the Baltics.

President Obama and Secretary Carter can still use the time they have left in office to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons by trimming back and in some cases forgoing redundant and costly nuclear weapons systems.

By doing so, he would open the way to further reducing the role and size of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces and to a safer and more secure future. 

Last Obama Budget Goes for Broke on Nuclear Weapons

Consider the following facts. The United States is planning to rebuild all three legs of the nuclear triad and their associated warheads at a cost and on a schedule that many military leaders say is unsustainable. In addition, these plans would leave the United States with a larger deployed strategic nuclear arsenal than President Barack Obama has said is needed for U.S. security. Unfortunately, the president’s final budget request released today is divorced from reality. The Fiscal Year 2017 proposal contains significant increases for several Defense and Energy department nuclear weapons...

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - U.S. Nuclear Weapons