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

Weapons Research & Development

Air Force Drafts Plan for Follow-on ICBM

July/August 2015

By Kingston Reif

An initial Air Force proposal for replacing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system calls for procuring 642 missiles, 400 of which would be operationally deployed, multiple sources told Arms Control Today in recent months. The remaining missiles would be used for flight tests and as spares to support the program’s anticipated 50-year lifespan, the sources said.

If the U.S. government moves ahead with the proposal, it will 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—447 deployed missiles as of September 2014—while retaining 50 nondeployed missile launchers.

During interviews in May and June, the sources said the preliminary acquisition cost estimate for the Minuteman III replacement system—an option studied under the Pentagon’s Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program—is $62.3 billion, which covers a 30-year period between fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2044.

In a subsequent e-mail exchange, two Air Force representatives confirmed the estimated cost, but declined to comment on the number of planned missiles to be purchased and deployed.

The $62.3 billion cost estimate was first reported on June 5 by Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor. The newsletter quoted Ed Gulick, an Air Force spokesman, as saying the draft estimate was completed in February by the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center’s ICBM System Program Office and that it includes $48.5 billion for the missiles, $6.9 billion for command and control systems, and $6.9 billion to renovate the launch control centers and launch facilities.

In a June 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Gulick said that the cost estimate is in “then-year dollars,” meaning it includes inflationary increases expected to occur in the program over the 30-year time horizon of the estimate.

Options Studied

Last summer, the Air Force conducted an analysis of alternatives to sustain the ICBM force beyond the anticipated end of the Minuteman III’s service life in 2030.

Gulick said the analysis initially examined five options, but after discussions with senior officials in the defense secretary’s office, the analysis narrowed its focus to three alternatives: a “baseline” option that would extend the life of the Minuteman III through 2075, a “replacement system capitalizing” 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.

A request for information issued by the Air Force on Jan. 23 seeking information and feedback from defense industry companies said the United States “is preparing to acquire a replacement for” the Minuteman III system “that replaces the entire flight system” and “retains the silo basing modes.”

Maj. Melissa Milner, one of the Air Force representatives, said in a June 19 e-mail that the current program cost estimate of $62.3 billion is “focused on a replacement system that reflects a missile similar in size to the Minuteman III.” The Air Force has not provided a public cost estimate for the other options.

Milner did not indicate whether the GBSD missile would have a completely new design or would incorporate significant design features from the Minuteman III.

Deployment of the replacement missile system is scheduled to begin in 2027. 

In remarks at a June 16 event in Washington, Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, the deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said the United States cannot “continue to sustain” the Minuteman III.

Questions Raised

One former government official said the cost estimate for the replacement system suggested a new ICBM, an approach that he questioned.

It’s “hard to believe” the Pentagon would choose to design and build a new missile because there is no military need to do so, retired Col. Mark Cancian, who recently left the U.S. Office and Management and Budget after seven years as director of its force structure and management division, said in June 15 interview.

Cancian, now a senior adviser in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, added that there is “no way the Air Force can afford” a new fleet of ICBMs given the cost of plans to modernize other elements of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, such as building new ballistic missile submarines and long-range bombers.

A 2014 report by the RAND Corp. on the future of the ICBM force found that “any new ICBM alternative will very likely cost almost two times—and perhaps even three times—more than incremental modernization of the current Minuteman III system.”

The GBSD program is slated to face a key acquisition milestone early next year, when the defense secretary’s office will decide whether the program should proceed to the next stage of the acquisition process. This stage includes maturing the technology, refining requirements, and finalizing cost estimates for the program.

In the lead-up to this decision point, known as a milestone A decision, the Defense Department is reviewing the acquisition strategy for the program.

Cancian said that although the Air Force may be evaluating a new missile, this approach is not yet a formal Air Force plan or recommendation. “A lot could change” when the program “comes up for decision and has to compete with other programs,” he said.

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. Long-range bombers can carry air-launched cruise missiles and gravity bombs.

The deployed Minuteman III missiles are dispersed in underground silos at three U.S. bases: Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, and F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. Each missile is deployed with one nuclear warhead.

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. Production of the missile ended in 1977. A total of 794 missiles were acquired at a cost of $41.4 billion, as measured in fiscal year 2012 dollars, according to the RAND report.

Several multibillion-dollar life extension programs have kept the Minuteman III in service for more than 40 years. Nearly the entire missile has been refurbished, including the propellant and guidance and propulsion systems.

President Barack Obama determined in 2013 that the United States could reduce “deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third,” but he conditioned further reductions on negotiations with Russia.

Greg Weaver, principal director for nuclear and missile defense policy in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, told Inside the Air Force on Feb. 20 that given the uncertain prospects for a future arms control agreement with Russia after New START expires in 2021, the GBSD program “is budgeted based on the current policy” and “arms control limits.”

Weaver added that the approach could change if Russia and the United States agreed to further nuclear weapons reductions at some point in the future.

What's New Text: 

Posted: December 31, 1969

Air Force Clarifies Cruise Missile Plan

The Air Force says that only a portion of the 1,000 new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles it is proposing to build will be deployed with nuclear warheads.

June 2015

By Kingston Reif

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) speaks during a May 6 hearing of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee in this video image. Feinstein questioned the need for the new cruise missile that the Air Force is pursuing. (Senate Appropriations Committee)Only a portion of the 1,000 new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) that the Air Force is proposing to build will be deployed with nuclear warheads, according to an Air Force official.

Arms Control Today reported last month that the Air Force is seeking about 1,000 new nuclear-capable ALCMs, roughly double the size of the existing fleet of ALCMs. (See ACT, May 2015.)

In a May 7 e-mail in response to the story, an Air Force official said the number of new ALCMs “to be acquired includes a large number of spare and test missiles that will be required throughout the life of the program.” The Air Force has declined to provide additional details on the planned numbers of deployed, spare, and test missiles.

“This means that the planned purchase of 1,000 missiles includes far more missiles than we plan to operationally arm and deploy in our nuclear force,” the official added.

The official said that the requirements issued by President Barack Obama for deployed ALCMs “have not increased.”

The existing ALCM can be carried by the B-52 bomber. The missile, which has a range of more than 1,500 miles, was first fielded in 1982 with a planned service life of 10 years. Multiple life extension programs have kept the missile in service for more than 30 years. The Air Force is planning to retain the missile until 2030.

The Air Force is developing the long-range standoff cruise missile to replace the existing ALCM. The new missile will be compatible with the B-2 and B-52 bombers, as well as the planned long-range strike bomber.

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request proposed to increase spending to accelerate by two years the development of the long-range standoff missile and the modified warhead that it would carry, partially reversing the fiscal year 2015 proposal to delay development of both by three years. (See ACT, March 2015.)

The United States does not maintain any nuclear weapons loaded on its deployed heavy bombers on a day-to-day basis. Nuclear weapons for bombers are stored separately in bunkers on or near their air bases.

The Air Force currently retains 575 nuclear-capable ALCMs, down from the original production run of 1,715 missiles, which concluded in 1986. The service declined to comment on whether the existing ALCM was built with a similar ratio of deployed weapons to spare and test missiles as that proposed for the new 1,000-missile plan.

Some members of Congress continued to express skepticism about the need for any new nuclear cruise missiles.

At a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing on May 6, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) questioned whether the United States requires a new “cruise missile that can deliver nuclear warheads from great distances in addition to the numerous gravity bombs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and intercontinental ballistic missiles we’ve armed ourselves with.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Feinstein at the hearing that the reason for a new cruise missile “is to replace the cruise missiles that exist now…in recognition of the fact that air defenses are improving around the world and that keeping that capability to penetrate air defenses with our nuclear deterrent is an important one.”

In a May 14 interview published on the website of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, defended the need for a new cruise missile on the grounds that “air-launched systems are inherently more stabilizing” because bombers are “slow flying” and “if a decision is made to launch the bomber force, then they can also be recalled.”

Gottemoeller added that the plan to build 1,000 new missiles “is not in my view unreasonable.”

Meanwhile, the House-passed version of the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision that would require the defense secretary to submit to Congress a report on the justification for the planned number of new cruise missiles, including the rationale for building the expected number of missiles and how the number of planned missiles aligns with Obama’s nuclear weapons employment guidance.

The report was proposed by Rep. Michael Quigley (D-Ill.) as an amendment to the defense bill. The amendment, which was cosponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), was approved by the full House on a voice vote.

In a May 15 press release, Quigley said his action was prompted by “new information that the Air Force is planning to procure 1,000 [long-range standoff missiles]” and would “promote a more modest and responsible nuclear weapons budget.”

A number of organizations, including the Arms Control Association, have supported efforts this year to reduce funding for the new cruise missile and associated warhead refurbishment programs.

Posted: December 31, 1969

STRATCOM Shifts on Nuclear Costs

U.S. Strategic Command appears to be backing away from a September 2014 estimate that maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal “will require close to 10 percent” of the Defense Department budget.

April 2015

By Kingston Reif

U.S. Strategic Command appears to be backing away from a September 2014 estimate that maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal “will require close to 10 percent” of the Defense Department budget “for a period of time.”

Adm. Cecil Haney, who has led STRATCOM since November 2013, made the estimate in a letter to Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee. But at a Feb. 26 subcommittee hearing, Haney said the figure was likely to be in the range of “5 percent to 6 percent.”

In this video image, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) speaks at a February 26 hearing of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee. At the hearing, Larsen asked about a budget estimate made last year by U.S. Strategic Command. (House Armed Services)Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) first disclosed the existence of the letter at the hearing. Arms Control Today subsequently obtained a copy of the letter, which has not been publicly released.

In the letter, Haney says the Defense Department currently spends 2.5 percent of its budget on nuclear forces but that current plans to rebuild U.S. nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and the associated nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure for these weapons will cause this ratio to quadruple in the future. Haney defended the large anticipated surge in funding, writing that “the cost of losing a credible deterrent capability would likely be much greater not only in dollars, but potentially in terms of freedom and sovereignty.”

The letter does not detail how STRATCOM calculated total nuclear weapons costs or specify the period of time and anticipated size of the Pentagon budget during which nuclear weapons spending could peak at 10 percent of military spending.

At the hearing, Larsen asked Haney how STRATCOM is thinking about the spending trade-offs that would be required to accommodate increased spending on nuclear weapons programs within the Defense Department, noting that 10 percent of the budget “over any period of time is a lot.”

In response, Haney appeared to back away from the 10 percent estimate, stating that “as I look at some of the Congressional Budget Office [CBO] work that is ongoing, more specifically, as it looks over a period…in the 2020[s] to 2030s, when we would have to recapitalize the bulk of our strategic forces,” the cost of nuclear weapons is “really [on] the order of 5 percent to 6 percent” of the Defense Department’s budget.

A January 2015 CBO report estimated that current plans to sustain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal will cost $348 billion between fiscal years 2015 and 2024, or 5 to 6 percent of the total cost of the Obama administration’s plans for national defense over that period. (See ACT, March 2015.)

In an e-mail exchange with Arms Control Today, STRATCOM declined to outline the assumptions behind the estimates contained in the September letter or clarify whether Haney has disavowed the 10 percent estimate. In a March 17 e-mail, STRATCOM spokesman Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell said, “I would refer you back to the Admiral’s testimony” and quoted from the exchange with Larsen.

Meanwhile, high-ranking Defense Department officials continue to warn that the United States may not be able to afford the growing cost to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear forces, especially in light of the spending limits set by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act. The Obama administration proposed a major funding hike in the fiscal year 2016 budget request for nuclear weapons programs.

At a March 4 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said that as the Pentagon starts to actually build new submarines, missiles, and bombers in the early 2020s, it is going to “start to have a problem finding ways to afford these systems.”

“We will work to do that,” Kendall added. “It’s a very high priority, and we will work to do that,” but it will be “a challenge for us,” he said.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Budget Speeds Cruise Missile Development

The Obama administration is proposing to increase spending to accelerate by two years the development of a new nuclear-armed cruise missile.

March 2015

By Kingston Reif

The Obama administration is proposing to increase spending to accelerate by two years the development of a new nuclear-armed cruise missile, according to budget documents released Feb. 2.

The increase in proposed spending is part of a major funding hike in the fiscal year 2016 budget request for programs to sustain and to rebuild nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and their associated nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure. An updated cost analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released on Jan. 22 estimated that the administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans would cost $348 billion between fiscal years 2015 and 2024 (see box).

Some current and former U.S. defense officials have questioned whether the modernization plans can be implemented as currently conceived, given continued pressure to reduce military spending. (See ACT, September 2014.)

An air-launched cruise missile is flight-tested in February 2012. (U.S. Air Force)The Air Force is seeking $36.6 million in fiscal year 2016 for research and development for a long-range standoff weapon, more than 10 times as much as the $3.4 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. ALCMs are carried by long-range bombers and can attack targets at great distances.

Meanwhile, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department, is requesting $195 million to begin refurbishing the existing ALCM warhead that would be delivered by the new missile. That is an increase of $186 million above the fiscal year 2015 appropriation of $9.4 million. The first refurbished warhead is now scheduled for completion in 2025, two years earlier than the NNSA proposed last year.

The fiscal year 2015 budget request delayed development of the new ALCM by three years. An Air Force spokeswoman told InsideDefense.com at the time that the delay was caused by “warhead uncertainty and…continuing fiscal challenges.”

Overall, the administration requested $561 billion for national defense in fiscal year 2016, which includes the Defense Department’s regular budget activities and the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs.
This spending proposal is nearly $39 billion above the spending caps set by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act. If Congress does not raise the spending caps or cut the president’s budget request down, automatic, across-the-board cuts will have to be made to the request before the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

Triad Spending Grows

The budget request also substantially increases investments in next-generation nuclear submarines, bombers, and land-based missiles.

CBO Updates Nuclear Cost Study

Current U.S. plans to sustain and modernize its nuclear arsenal will cost $348 billion over the next decade, or 5 to 6 percent of the total costs of the Obama administration’s plans for national defense, according to a January report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
The report is an update to the cost study that the CBO released in December 2013, which put the price tag for U.S. nuclear forces between fiscal years 2014 and 2023 at $355 billion. The update estimates the cost between fiscal years 2015 and 2024.
The $7 billion dip from the 2013 estimate is due to “budget-driven delays in several programs, including a three-year delay for the new cruise missile and its nuclear warhead,” the update said.

The CBO spending projection is approximately $51 billion more than the $297 billion 10-year estimate the Defense and Energy departments provided to Congress last year.
The report was released just before the administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request, which sought increased funding to accelerate the development schedule for the new cruise missile and improve the management of the nuclear force. These funding increases are not reflected in the CBO’s latest cost update.

In a Feb. 2 press briefing at the Pentagon, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work expressed concern about the growing costs of the nuclear mission. “We need to keep the old equipment and systems going,” he said, “but it is becoming more expensive for us to do so and requiring us to divert resources in that regard.”—KINGSTON REIF

    The highest-priority and most costly program remains the Navy’s plan to replace its current fleet of 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines with 12 new subs, called the SSBN(X). Under the Navy’s budget request, the program would receive $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2016, an increase of $100 million above the fiscal year 2015 appropriation. A December 2014 report by the CBO estimated that the cost to build the 12-sub fleet would be more than $100 billion, with the first boat entering service in 2031.

    Proposed funding for the Air Force’s plan to build up to 100 new long-range strategic bombers continues to rise steeply. The Air Force is seeking $1.25 billion in fiscal year 2016, an increase of $332 million over the fiscal year 2015 appropriation. The new bombers are scheduled to enter service in the mid-2020s, and the entire fleet could cost as much as $80 billion to produce, according to some estimates.

    The program to develop a replacement for the current force of 450 land-based Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles also would get a big boost under the administration’s request. The Air Force is requesting $75.2 million for the program, an increase of $68.3 million over the appropriation for the current fiscal year. The potential replacement missile is slated to begin deployment in fiscal year 2027.

    The budget request also includes $1.1 billion in new funding to address the professional and ethical lapses and poor morale plaguing the nuclear force, according to the Associated Press. (See ACT, December 2014.) This proposal would support 1,120 additional military and civilian personnel working on Air Force nuclear issues and accelerate investments in Navy shipyard infrastructure. The Pentagon plans to spend $8 billion for these and other force improvement efforts over the next five years, the AP said.

    Gen. Mark Welsh, chief of staff of the Air Force, warned last month that if Congress fails to raise the budget caps, across-the-board cuts would slash “roughly 66 percent of currently planned [Air Force] funding intended to modernize nuclear systems and infrastructure.”

    Warhead Request Pleases GOP

    NNSA nuclear warhead maintenance and infrastructure programs would receive $8.9 billion in fiscal year 2016, an increase of $667 million, or 8 percent, above the fiscal year 2015 appropriation.

    The NNSA weapons budget would increase spending to rebuild the B61 gravity bomb and ALCM warhead, refresh 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.

    Some Republican lawmakers have criticized previous administration requests for NNSA weapons programs for allegedly not comporting with the spending levels proposed by the administration in 2010 during the ratification debate over the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. This time, however, two Senate Republican staffers praised the fiscal year 2016 NNSA weapons request.

    The budget request “is a good sign and represents the President’s commitment to modernize the [Energy Department] nuclear weapons complex,” one staffer told Arms Control Today in a Feb. 18 e-mail.

    A second Republican staffer said in a Feb. 19 interview that the request is “90 to 95 percent consistent” with what President Barack Obama promised five years ago.

    Although it is unclear what Congress will do to address the mismatch between the budget request and the budget caps, some lawmakers have said they doubt that the budget request for nuclear weapons programs is realistic. In a Feb. 13 interview with Weapons Complex Monitor, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees the NNSA, said that the agency has “more in [its] total overall budget than we’re going to have, frankly, when we get done with the budget resolution.”

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    President’s ‘16 Budget Calls for Unsustainable, Unnecessary Nuclear Weapons Spending

    On February 2 the Obama administration released its fiscal year (FY) 2016 federal budget request. The request is the administration’s biggest down payment to date on a planned unaffordable and unsustainable nuclear spending binge to rebuild all three legs of the nuclear triad and their associated warheads and supporting infrastructure. The administration’s budget proposal includes significant increases for several strategic nuclear weapons systems, including increase for some programs above what was projected in the FY 2015 budget request (see the chart). Most notably, the budget accelerates...

    CBO: Nuclear Weapons Still Expensive

    By Kingston Reif A new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released today estimates that the United States will spend $348 billion on nuclear weapons over the next decade, or 5 percent to 6 percent of the total costs of the administration’s plans for national defense. But this is just the tip of the coming budget bow wave. Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion, according to recent report of the National Defense Panel Review of the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review. This planned spending encompasses a massive rebuild of all three legs of the existing nuclear...

    America Mustn’t Overspend on its Nukes

    In his Nov. 25 New York Times op-ed “ America Mustn’t Neglect Its Nukes ,” Elbridge Colby urges the nation to stop aspiring to eliminate nuclear weapons, stop worrying about nuclear deterrence, and willfully pay the trillion dollar price tag to replace the entire nuclear triad. Colby complains that apathy and even hostility toward the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy from prominent voices in and out of government is part of the problem. In a similar vein, Robert Spalding complains in the Washington Post that “it erodes morale and encourages perpetually low funding...

    Nuclear Weapons Budget Still Ripe for Savings

    Current and former U.S. government officials and military leaders have repeatedly stated that present plans to rebuild the U.S. nuclear arsenal – which could add up to $1 trillion over the next 30 years – are unaffordable given existing budget constraints. This massive price tag comes at a time when other national security bills are coming due, Congress has mandated reductions in planned military spending, and the United States has more nuclear weapons than it needs for its security. Given this state of affairs, reshaping the current nuclear spending blueprint to comport with the fiscal and...

    Congress Leaves Nuclear Issues in Limbo

    Lawmakers left Washington for November’s congressional elections without resolving a host of key nuclear weapons policy and budget decisions for fiscal year 2015.

    November 2014

    By Kingston Reif

    Lawmakers left Washington for November’s congressional elections without resolving a host of key nuclear weapons policy and budget decisions for fiscal year 2015, which began Oct. 1.

    Congress failed to pass a final National Defense Authorization Act, a sweeping bill that establishes spending ceilings and legislative guidelines for Defense Department programs and the activities conducted by the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The initial House and Senate versions of the legislation contain different policy provisions on issues ranging from implementation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) to nuclear security cooperation with Russia.

    Congress also did not approve any fiscal year 2015 appropriations bills, opting instead to extend the previous fiscal year’s funding levels until Dec. 11. The absence of new legislation leaves unsettled a disagreement between the House and Senate about whether to fund the administration’s plans for a new fleet of nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs).

    Meanwhile, Pentagon officials continue to raise doubts about the feasibility of the overall U.S. nuclear modernization plan in the face of projected military spending reductions mandated by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Plans to maintain and rebuild the nuclear triad of air-, land-, and sea-based weapons and their associated warheads could cost $355 billion over the next decade, according to a December 2013 analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

    The USS Wyoming, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia on June 28.  The Navy is planning to replace the Ohio-class submarines, but the cost of the replacement is prompting a debate in Washington. (U.S. Navy)Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, told reporters on the sidelines of the Air Force Association’s annual meeting on Sept. 17 that nuclear modernization is “a big challenge” and “a lot of things [will] have to be paid for at the same time,” according to the Breaking Defense website. Two weeks later, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus stated at a press briefing that the country must begin a debate about how to pay for the cost of building a fleet of 12 new, nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines. He added that if the Navy is forced to foot the entire bill, it would “break something else” in the Navy’s budget.

    In comments at an Oct. 7 roundtable discussion with reporters, Andrew Weber, outgoing assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, said the growing cost of nuclear weapons “causes us to have to take a hard look at the priorities. What are the trade-offs? Is [the] current strategy affordable and executable, or does it need to be modified?”

    The White House is currently overseeing an interagency review of the multibillion-dollar modernization plans, which will inform the administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request to Congress. (See ACT, September 2014.)

    House GOP Targets New START

    The House version of the defense authorization bill seeks to prohibit funding to implement New START reductions until Russian armed forces “are no longer illegally occupying Ukrainian territory” and Russia “is respecting the sovereignty of all Ukrainian territory.” The bill would also condition funding for New START on a return by Moscow to compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) and Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaties.

    The U.S. State Department determined earlier this year that Russia is in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty. (See ACT, September 2014.) Russia suspended its implementation of the CFE Treaty in December 2007.

    The House passed its version of the defense authorization bill on May 22 by a vote of 325-98. The next day, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its own version, which does not place constraints on New START implementation. The full Senate has yet to debate the committee measure.

    The Republican majority in the House has sought to legislate curbs on implementation of New START in every defense authorization bill it has passed since the treaty entered into force in 2011. But the Democratic-led Senate successfully watered down or blocked these efforts in the final version of the bills.

    The pending House legislation also seeks to place certain restrictions on the Pentagon’s and the NNSA’s nuclear material security cooperation programs with Russia (see page 28). In addition, it requires the maintenance of 450 operational Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos. The provision does not include an end date for that requirement.

    The Senate bill, on the other hand, does not restrict nuclear security cooperation activities with Russia. The Senate legislation also does not include a directive on how many ICBM silos the Pentagon must keep.

    The schedule for final passage of the defense authorization bill remains uncertain. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said in late September that he expects Congress to pass a bill when lawmakers return during a postelection session.

    Levin also said that members and staff of his committee and its House counterpart have begun meeting behind closed doors to discuss reconciling differences between the two bills.

    New Cruise Missile in Doubt

    Meanwhile, the House and Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittees allotted different amounts for the ALCM warhead life extension program for fiscal year 2015.

    The Senate subcommittee did not fund NNSA’s $9.4 million request to study refurbishment of the warhead, citing concerns that the Air Force has yet to identify sufficient funding to design and build a new cruise missile to deliver a life-extended warhead. The Air Force’s fiscal year 2015 budget request delayed the new missile program by three years.

    In contrast, the House of Representatives approved $17 million for the study of the cruise missile warhead.

    The fiscal year 2015 appropriations legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama on Sept. 19 funds all government programs at last year’s levels from Oct. 1 to Dec. 11. According to a congressional staffer, the NNSA cannot spend money on the ALCM warhead study under the law, known as a continuing resolution, because the program is considered “a new start” that was not funded in fiscal year 2014.

    At the Oct. 7 discussion, Weber said that the administration is examining whether the United States could “live with perhaps either delaying or forgoing the follow-on to the ALCM,” given that the B61 gravity bomb is undergoing a major upgrade.

    It is unclear what kind of appropriations legislation Congress will pass once the current legislation expires on Dec. 11. One option is to approve another short-term continuing resolution. Another option, which Congress chose last year, is to pass an omnibus appropriations bill that provides new funding for Defense Department and NNSA programs.

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    The Unaffordable Arsenal: Reducing the Costs of the Bloated U.S. Nuclear Stockpile

    The United States currently plans to spend some $355 billion to maintain and rebuild its Cold War-era nuclear arsenal over the next decade, even as the overall U.S. defense budget is declining and U.S. military planners and the president have determined that the United States can deter nuclear threats against the United States and its allies with far fewer nuclear weapons.

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    Pages

    Subscribe to RSS - Weapons Research & Development