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former IAEA Director-General

Weapons Research & Development

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.

SECTION 2: Nuclear Reductions Make the United States Safer

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“Arms control treaties have and continue to reduce the likelihood of nuclear conflict with Russia.”50
                                —Admiral C. D. Haney, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, February 2014

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Since the 1960s, U.S. military leaders have determined time and again that nuclear stockpiles are larger than needed to maintain the security of the United States, its allies and friends. These arsenal reductions have encouraged corresponding reductions by Russia, thereby lowering the nuclear threat from the only nation capable of ending the United States as we know it. Moreover, U.S. reductions have helped build international support for stopping the spread of nuclear weapons to other states or terrorist organizations, a growing threat to U.S. security. And by avoiding the production of new weapons, arms reductions save money, a key benefit at a time of fiscal pressures.

Enhancing U.S. national security by verifiably reducing superpower nuclear arsenals—a counter-intuitive idea to some—has a long bipartisan tradition.

Since the late-1960s, U.S. presidents beginning with Lyndon B. Johnson have pursued and signed bilateral agreements mandating verifiable limits and reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all contributed to reducing the nuclear threat through the negotiation of nuclear arms control agreements with the Soviet Union and later with Russia.

In certain periods of time, the force reductions were very significant. During the George H. W. Bush administration, from 1989 to 1994, the U.S. nuclear stockpile dropped by 50 percent, from about 22,00 to 11,000 warheads, the most rapid nuclear arsenal reduction in U.S. history. During the George W. Bush administration, from 2001 to 2009, the stockpile dropped another 50 percent, from about 10,000 to 5,000.

As Reagan said in 1986, “It is my fervent goal and hope…that we will some day no longer have to rely on nuclear weapons to deter aggression and assure world peace. To that end the United States is now engaged in a serious and sustained effort to negotiate major reductions in levels of offensive nuclear weapons with the ultimate goal of eliminating these weapons from the face of the earth.”

President Barack Obama negotiated the New START Treaty with Russia, signed in 2010, and has called for another round of bilateral reductions beyond New START. As President Obama said in Berlin in June 2013, “we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third.”

Some members of Congress, however, claim that arms reductions have gone far enough, and, despite their long history of success, should not continue. Some even suggest that the United States should halt the implementation of New START.

However, New START establishes predictability regarding U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, which is essential especially during times of tension. The pursuit of additional arms reductions would also have important benefits.
In June 2013 after an extensive interagency review of nuclear deterrence requirements, U.S. military leaders concluded, that the U.S. nuclear arsenal will be “more than adequate” to meet security objectives when New START is fully implemented in 2018, and the force can be reduced by up to one-third, from 1,550 New START-accountable deployed strategic warheads to about 1,000.[51]

Additional U.S.-Russian reductions would draw down the largest nuclear force that could be directed against the United States. At the same time, the possibility of a nuclear attack from Russia is exceedingly remote, and, as of September 2014, Washington deployed over 200 strategic delivery vehicles more than Moscow.[52] As the new guidance states, “the need for numerical parity…is no longer as compelling as it was during the Cold War…”[53]

Today’s most pressing security threat to the United States is not nuclear war with Russia or China, but nuclear terrorism and proliferation. Excessive U.S. nuclear forces have no meaningful role to play in this regard. The United States needs to sustain a strong international coalition to secure nuclear materials across the globe and turn back nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, and continued U.S. and Russia arms reductions are essential to these goals.

In addition, by clarifying their intentions to achieve further nuclear arms reductions and taking steps in that direction, U.S. leaders can put greater pressure on China to exercise greater restraint and engage more actively in nuclear risk reduction initiatives.

Click image to enlarge.A Steady Decline
The U.S. nuclear stockpile peaked at 31,255 warheads in 1967, and has come down ever since.[54] President Richard Nixon and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev took the first step to cap U.S. and Soviet nuclear ballistic missile forces with the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) Interim Agreement. As an executive agreement, it did not require U.S. Senate approval, but it was approved by Congress in a joint resolution in 1972.

The follow-on SALT II treaty was signed by President Jimmy Carter and Brezhnev in June 1979, and was submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification shortly thereafter. But Carter removed the treaty from Senate consideration in January 1980, after the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the United States and the Soviet Union voluntarily observed the SALT II limits. By this time, the U.S. arsenal had been reduced to about 24,000 warheads.

President Ronald Reagan began talks toward the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which he and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed in 1987. Under INF, the two nations agreed to eliminate their stocks of medium-range, nuclear-capable, land-based missiles. It was the first arms control treaty to abolish an entire category of weapon systems, and established unprecedented procedures to verify firsthand that missiles were actually destroyed. The U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to the INF treaty in 1988.

Meanwhile, Reagan and his team pursued negotiations on a strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty (START) with the Soviets. Under START, President Reagan proposed major reductions, not just limitations, in each superpower’s stockpile of long-range missiles and bombers. The START I treaty was signed by President George H. W. Bush and Gorbachev in 1991, and the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent in 1992.

In late 1991, the Soviet Union broke up, creating the independent states of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. The most significant danger emanating from the former Soviet Union was the loss of control of its nuclear stockpile.

President George H. W. Bush responded with his bold Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) in September 1991, which led to the removal of thousands of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from forward deployment. Days later Moscow reciprocated, reducing the risk that these weapons would fall into the wrong hands. No formal treaty was ever negotiated or signed, nor did the Bush administration seek the approval of Congress. Under the PNIs and subsequent actions, the United States unilaterally reduced its stockpile of non-strategic warheads by 90 percent.[55]

President George H. W. Bush and new Russian President Boris Yeltsin began another round of negotiations and signed the START II treaty in early 1993. The Senate voted in approval of the treaty in 1996, but the treaty never entered into force. In 2000, the Russian Duma linked the fate of START II to the continuation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Following the Bush administration’s withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in June 2002, the Duma rejected START II.

United States President Jimmy Carter (right) and Leonid Brezhnev, First Secretary of Communist Party of the Soviet Union, shake hands after signing the SALT II treaty limiting strategic arms in Vienna, Austria, on June 18, 1979. (AFP/Getty Images)Part of the Duma’s objection to START II was that the planned reductions were not deep enough. So in March 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to begin negotiating START III, which would have reduced each side to 2,000–2,500 deployed strategic warheads by Dec. 31, 2007. Unfortunately, discussions bogged down over distinctions between strategic and theater–range interceptors under the ABM treaty, and START III was never concluded.

In May 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT or Moscow Treaty), which limited both sides’ strategic warheads to 1,700-2,200. The U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to SORT in 2003.

It is worth recalling that President Bush initially set out to reduce U.S. forces without a formal agreement. As he said in 2001: “We don’t need an arms control agreement to convince us to reduce our nuclear weapons down substantially, and I’m going to do it.”[56]

President Bush ultimately agreed to submit SORT to the Senate in part because Russia wanted a treaty, even if it was a very simple one with no verification measures. Had Russia not wanted a formal agreement, Bush would likely have reduced U.S. nuclear weapons without a formal agreement, as his father did before him.

Due, in part, to the fact that the SORT treaty relied indirectly on the verification mechanisms of START I, the United States and Russia both wanted to negotiate a new bilateral agreement before START I expired in 2009. In April 2010, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed the New START treaty to limit each side to 1,550 deployed, treaty-accountable strategic warheads by 2018. The Senate gave its advice and consent to the agreement in December 2010.

The Persistent Logic of Nuclear Reductions

It is no accident that seven U.S. presidents, (Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama) both Republicans and Democrats, and their Soviet/Russian counterparts spent significant political capital on reducing nuclear weapons.

Besides the fact that arms reduction agreements have high public approval ratings, presidents have pursued this path because nuclear arsenal reductions, particularly in the post-Cold War period, have enhanced U.S. national security in the following ways:

The United States Has More Nuclear Weapons Than Necessary to Deter Nuclear Attack
The massive build up during the Cold War and the relatively sudden collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact left the United States and Russia with nuclear arsenals that vastly outsized the threats they needed to deter. As a result, U.S. military leaders have been able to reassure political leaders that nuclear stockpiles are larger than needed to maintain the security of the United States, its allies and friends. As the Pentagon put it in its June 2013 report on nuclear employment strategy, New START force levels “are more than adequate” to meet U.S. national security needs, and can be reduced by one-third.[57]

This conclusion is unlikely to change even if Russia were to build up beyond New START levels, which is unlikely. According to a 2012 Defense Department report to Congress on Russian nuclear forces, the U.S. nuclear force posture can “account for any possible adjustments in the Russian strategic force,” including the deployment of additional warheads. The report states that even if Russia were to go “significantly above” New START limits, this would have “little to no effect on the U.S. assured second strike capabilities,” including strategic submarines at sea. The Pentagon report concludes that Russia would not be able to achieve a military advantage “by any plausible expansion of its strategic nuclear forces, even in a cheating or breakout scenario.”[58]

Russian Reductions Are Good for U.S. and International Security
U.S. arsenal reductions have encouraged corresponding reductions by Russia, thereby lowering the nuclear threat. Arms control agreements have placed limits on the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, meaning there are now significantly fewer nuclear weapons in Russia that could be used to target the United States in a nuclear war. For example, each side had more than 11,000 deployed strategic nuclear warheads in 1990. START I, which was signed in 1991, required each nation to reduce to 6,000; the 2002 SORT agreement to no more than 2,200; and the 2010 New START deal limits each side to no more than 1,550 treaty-accountable deployed strategic warheads by the year 2018.[59] In this way, Russia’s most threatening nuclear weapons have been reduced by 85 percent.

Opening meeting of the 2010 High-level Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) at the  United Nations in New York on May 3, 2010. (IAEA)Moreover, Russia is already below some of New START’s limits, with 528 strategic delivery vehicles deployed as of September 2014.[60] Russia’s stockpile is expected to decline further as its delivery systems reach the end of their lifetimes and are retired. To discourage Moscow from building back up to New START levels and from deploying new delivery systems, it is important keep the reduction process moving. For example, the United States could accelerate its reductions to complete them before New START’s 2018 deadline.[61]

To the extent that treaties have intrusive verification measures, such as the on-site inspections under New START, they increase transparency and confidence that treaty commitments are being implemented. This creates a more stable U.S.-Russian strategic relationship, with more predictability and less fear of hidden weapons and possible treaty breakout. This allows both sides to plan based on a predictable future, instead of worst-case assumptions. 

Despite disagreements, such as over Crimea, arms control has contributed to an increasingly stable U.S.-Russian relationship. As stated by the Pentagon’s new nuclear guidance, “Russia and the United States are no longer adversaries, and the prospects of military confrontation between us have declined dramatically.”[62]

As just one example of how far the U.S.-Russian relationship has come, consider that over the last 15 years the United States has produced about 10 percent of its electricity from uranium fuel recovered from 20,000 disarmed Russian nuclear warheads.[63] The fact that the United States trusts Moscow to be a reliable energy supplier, and that Moscow trusts Washington to not reconvert this fuel into weapons, speaks volumes. It defies common sense to think there is a realistic possibility that these two nations would intentionally initiate a nuclear war.

Building International Support for Nonproliferation
U.S.-Russian reductions and arms control progress have helped to build international support for stopping the spread of nuclear weapons to other states or terrorist organizations. Today, this is the most serious threat facing the United States and the world. According to the Pentagon, today’s “most immediate and extreme danger remains nuclear terrorism,” with nuclear proliferation a close second, including Iran and North Korea.[64]

The link between U.S.-Russian arms control and stopping proliferation is crucial and often misunderstood. U.S.-Russian arms control will not, by itself, convince Iran or North Korea to abandon their nuclear programs. But U.S.-Russian actions on arms control are necessary to sustain global cooperation to on proliferation hard cases, like Iran and North Korea.

Click image to enlarge.Under the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States and Russia (and China, France, and the United Kingdom) agreed to pursue arms control and disarmament; all other signatories pledged to forgo nuclear weapons. That basic bargain is a good deal for the United States and has been reinforced repeatedly over time, such as when the treaty was extended indefinitely in 1995.

Therefore, the United States and Russia need to uphold their end of the NPT bargain to build a strong coalition of states to support U.S. efforts to control fissile materials around the world and to enforce sanctions and other measures on countries like Iran and North Korea. According to then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller, “as we think about our nonproliferation goals,” demonstrating additional progress on arms reductions “is in our interest as we look to put pressure particularly on North Korea and Iran…having a strong coalition in support of us will be vital.”[65]

As explained in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) Report, “By reducing the role and numbers of U.S. nuclear weapons—and thereby demonstrating that we are meeting our NPT Article VI obligation to make progress toward nuclear disarmament—we can put ourselves in a much stronger position to persuade our NPT partners to join with us in adopting the measures needed to reinvigorate the non-proliferation regime and secure nuclear materials worldwide against theft or seizure by terrorist groups.”[66]

As a clear example of this, the 1995 vote to indefinitely extend the NPT would not have been possible without political commitments from the nuclear powers to negotiate a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by 1996.
Similarly, the U.S. Senate’s failure to approve the CTBT in 1999 had a negative effect on international efforts to strengthen nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. According to Mohamed El Baradei, who headed the agency at the time, the Senate’s vote on the CTBT was a “devastating blow” to these efforts.[67]

Nuclear Arms Reductions Save Money
By allowing weapons to be retired and avoiding the production of new weapons, arms reductions save money. It is beyond the scope of this report to add up all the dollars saved through arms control in the past, but consider how much the United States might have spent since 1967 if it still had to support a nuclear stockpile of 31,000 warheads and their delivery systems today. And there are significant savings to be had in the future, as the United States plans to rebuild the triad of delivery systems and warheads over the next 25 years.

Arms Reductions Still Make Sense
Despite the long, proud, bipartisan history of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reductions, some now claim that the process has reached a point of diminishing returns, and that additional reductions are not in U.S. interests.
For example, as Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) wrote in February 2013, “If anything, reducing the American [nuclear] arsenal is likely to cause the very instability that the U.S. seeks to avoid.”[68]

There is no reason, however, to assume that the security logic of arms reductions does not continue to hold true. All of the reasons that arms control made sense in the past are still valid today.

As the Pentagon’s revised nuclear guidance makes clear, the United States today has more nuclear weapons than it needs to guarantee its security and that of its allies and friends. There is clear military support for a smaller stockpile.

It remains in the U.S. interest to reduce Russia’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, despite the welcome fact that the threat of nuclear attack from Moscow has decreased. Russian arsenal reductions can still reduce the consequences of possible accidental missile launches, and help serve the goal of providing better security for and ultimately eliminating weapons-usable materials.

Senator Carl Levin  (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in June 2012: “I can’t see any reason for having as large an inventory as we are allowed to have under New START, in terms of real threat, potential threat.” He added, “The more weapons that exist out there, the less secure we are, rather than the more secure we are.”[69]

Perhaps the most important reason to continue the U.S-Russian arms control process is to strengthen the international coalition against proliferation. This is where the greatest future threats to U.S. security lie. Excessively large arsenals do not stop proliferation, yet arsenal reductions can translate into greater global support for U.S. nonproliferation efforts.

Finally, fiscal pressure on the defense budget makes it unwise to maintain any military program that is larger than it needs to be. A dollar wasted on excess nuclear weapons is a dollar lost to preventing terrorism or proliferation. In 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell noted: “We have every incentive to reduce the number [of nuclear weapons]. These are expensive. They take away from soldier pay. They take away from [operation and maintenance] investments. They take away from lots of things. There is no incentive to keep more than you believe you need for the security of the Nation.”[70]

Two arguments that are often made against lowering the U.S. nuclear arsenal are that it would encourage China to build up and would cause such worry to our allies that they may decided to build their own nuclear forces. Neither argument holds water.

For decades now, China has been content with a much smaller nuclear arsenal than the United States or Russia. Beijing has a total estimated stockpile of less than 300 warheads, with about 75 of those on long-range missiles that could reach the United States.[71] Even after dropping to 1,000 deployed strategic warheads, the United States would still enjoy a 10-1 advantage. China poses no roadblock to continued nuclear reductions at this time.

A Russian Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile launcher drives at the Red Square in Moscow, on May 9, 2014, during a Victory Day parade. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)If the United States and Russia reduce their nuclear forces to around 1,000, Washington and Moscow will be in a better position to reach an understanding with China about limiting the further growth of its arsenal.
On the other hand, maintaining unnecessarily large U.S. and Russian nuclear force levels, combined with increasingly capable U.S. ballistic missile defenses, could push China to accelerate its efforts to increase the size and capabilities of its strategic nuclear force.

Some critics claim that further U.S. nuclear force reductions would drive allies that depend on the so-called U.S. nuclear “umbrella” to reconsider their nonnuclear weapon status and seek their own arsenals.

Such concerns are unfounded given the unmatched retaliatory potential of 1,000 strategic nuclear weapons, as well as the overwhelming superiority of U.S. conventional forces. Moreover, for a non-nuclear state, such as South Korea or Japan, to openly build a nuclear arsenal would be a dramatic renunciation of its commitment not to do so under the NPT. The political costs of such a decision would be huge.

Furthermore, rather than express opposition to further nuclear force reductions, U.S. allies in Europe and Japan have consistently and repeatedly called on the United States and Russia to “continue discussions and follow-on measure to the New START to achieve even deeper reduction in their nuclear arsenals towards achieving the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons“ and they “urge those not yet engaged in nuclear disarmament effort to reduce their arsenals with the objective of their total elimination.”[72]

Military, Bipartisan Support
President Obama’s efforts to reduce excess nuclear weapons stockpiles have strong military and bipartisan support. In March 2011, former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) wrote that, “Deeper nuclear reductions... should remain a priority.” They said the United States and Russia, which led the build-up for decades, “must continue to lead the build-down.”[73]

In April 2012, Gen. James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commander of U.S. nuclear forces under President George W. Bush, called for reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals by 80 percent from current levels.

Cartwright, along with others, including former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), now Secretary of Defense, wrote that the current U.S. and Russian arsenals “vastly exceed what is needed to satisfy reasonable requirements of deterrence.”[74]

A November 2012 report of the U.S. Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) on “Options for Implementing Additional Nuclear Force Reductions” suggested that with New START verification tools in place, further nuclear reductions need not wait for a formal follow-on treaty.

The ISAB report, which included William Perry (Chair) and Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft (USAF, Ret.), recommended that the United States and Russia could accelerate the pace of reductions under New START to reach the agreed limits before the 2018 deadline. The ISAB report also recommended that “The United States could communicate to Russia that the United States is prepared to go to lower levels of nuclear weapons as a matter of national policy, consistent with the strategy developed in the Nuclear Posture Review, if Russia is willing to reciprocate.”[75]

Such an initiative would also allow both sides to reduce the extraordinarily high costs of nuclear force maintenance and modernization and could help induce other nuclear-armed states to exercise greater restraint.

Conclusion
Today, it is clear that the United States can maintain a credible deterrent at lower levels of nuclear weapons than the 1,550 deployed strategic warheads allowed by New START. There is no reasonable justification today for such high numbers.

Further reductions to the U.S. nuclear stockpile would bring a variety of benefits, including the prospect of a smaller Russia arsenal, a stronger international coalition against nuclear terrorism and proliferation, and billions of dollars that could be saved or spent on higher priority defense needs. Nuclear arsenal reductions have made sense to seven presidents over five decades. They still make sense today.

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Executive Summary

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The United States currently plans to spend at least $355 billion to maintain and rebuild its Cold War-era nuclear arsenal over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion, according to another independent estimate.

These eye-popping projections come at a time when the U.S. defense budget is declining along with the role of nuclear weapons in defense strategy.

In 2011, Congress approved the Budget Control Act, which requires significant reductions in Defense Department spending from current projections over the next decade.

With this in mind, an independent Federal commission recently called the plans for modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal “unaffordable” and a threat to “needed improvements in conventional forces.”

New international security challenges are demanding U.S. military and diplomatic attention around the globe—from Russia’s interference in Ukraine, the growing threat of extreme terrorism in Iraq and Syria, and the Ebola virus in Africa.

In response, some are calling to bust the budget caps and increase defense spending. But given that Congress would need to agree to such a major change—an unlikely prospect—it would be wise to plan for fewer defense dollars over the next ten years at least.

Fortunately, there is a sizable chunk of the Pentagon budget that can be safely cut back: the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
None of the highest priority threats facing the United States can be effectively resolved with nuclear weapons or the buildup of nuclear capabilities. And the U.S. nuclear force remains far larger than is necessary to deter nuclear attack against the United States or its allies.

The Pentagon announced in 2013 that it could reduce strategic nuclear forces by one-third below levels set by the 2010 New START Treaty, continuing a historical trend. The U.S. nuclear stockpile has dropped by 80 percent since its peak in 1967, but is still a formidable force of about 4,800 warheads.

The increasingly high cost of nuclear weapons, combined with shrinking budgets and stockpiles, should compel the executive branch, Congress, and the American public to rethink current plans to rebuild U.S. nuclear forces in the years ahead. 



Now is the time to reevaluate these plans before major budget decisions are locked-in. Acquisition programs are just getting off the ground and can be scaled back. The Obama administration is conducting an interagency review of long-term nuclear weapons modernization plans with a view toward finding needed savings.

A mock-up of a B61-12 gravity bomb awaits testing by engineers from Sandia National Laboratories in a wind tunnel at the Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee on February 20. (NNSA)

The current nuclear shopping list is long. The Navy wants to buy 12 new ballistic missile submarines with a total production cost of about $100 billion. The Air Force is seeking up to 100 new, nuclear-capable strategic bombers that would cost about $80 billion, as well as land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and new air-launched cruise missiles. The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is pursuing a $60 billion plan to upgrade five nuclear warhead types, including the B61 gravity bomb.

The Navy and the Air Force say that planned budgets will not pay for these systems, and are seeking additional funds. It is not clear where that money would come from.

This report outlines common sense ways to save roughly $70 billion over the next decade across all three legs of the “triad” and the warheads they carry. The Pentagon can scale back or delay expensive new delivery systems and take a more disciplined approach to rebuilding nuclear warheads, as follows:

  • Scale-back plans to replace the existing fleet of Ohio-class nuclear-armed submarines by buying eight boats instead of twelve (saves $16 billion over ten years);
  • Delay plans for building new nuclear-capable bombers ($32 billion in savings);
  • Cancel the air-launched cruise missile ($3 billion in savings);
  • Scale-back the B61 bomb life extension program ($4 billion in savings);
  • Refurbish existing land-based ballistic missiles rather than build an entirely new system ($16 billion in savings).

Click to enlarge.The United States can save this money while still maintaining the triad of delivery systems and the number of nuclear warheads it plans to deploy under the 2010 New START Treaty by fielding warheads in a more cost-effective way. Additional nuclear stockpile cuts, such as those proposed by President Obama in 2013, would allow for more savings.

To address high priority and emerging threats, the United States does not have to break the congressional budget deal and increase defense spending. Instead, Washington can safely reduce spending on nuclear weapons and redirect funds to where they are needed most.

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Introduction

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Over the next 30 years, the United States plans to rebuild its “triad” of nuclear delivery systems—land-based missiles, submarines, and bombers—and the warheads they carry. But the expected price tag for this new generation of weapons is rising just as the defense budget is tightening. Current plans to modernize the triad are simply not sustainable in an age of budget constraints.

Faced with increasing pressure to reduce military spending, a bipartisan, independent report commissioned by Congress and the Defense Department recently called the Obama administration’s plans to rebuild the nuclear arsenal “unaffordable” and a threat to “needed improvements in conventional forces.”[1]

The July report, “Ensuring a Strong U.S. Defense for the Future” by the National Defense Panel, found that current plans to modernize all three legs of the nuclear triad would have a “substantial cost” of $600 billion to $1 trillion over 30 years.

The panel, which supports retaining the triad, states that “the merits of some aspects of this expensive recapitalization can be debated,” and calls on the administration and Congress to “urgently and jointly” conduct a nuclear review to “find cost-efficient ways to modernize the force.”

The Barack Obama administration is already moving in this direction, and announced in August that it is overseeing an interagency review of its multibillion-dollar plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.[2] “This is Obama’s legacy budget,” a senior administration official told the New York Times. “It’s his last chance to make the hard choices and prioritize.”[3]

U.S. nuclear weapons do not address today’s most pressing security threats, including extreme terrorism, unsecured nuclear material and dangerous pathogens, and the further spread of nuclear weapons. Moreover, the size of the U.S. nuclear force exceeds what the U.S. military believes is necessary to deter nuclear attack against the United States and its allies.

The United States needs to sustain a strong international coalition to secure nuclear materials across the globe and turn back nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. Continued U.S. and Russian arms reductions are essential to achieving these goals in the future.

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, the United States can ill-afford to spend more than necessary on nuclear weapons, especially if it comes at the expense of other, more urgent defense and national security programs.

Contrary to the claims of some, nuclear weapons are not “cheap.” Independent estimates of total U.S. spending on nuclear weapons, which include significant costs borne by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), add up to $355 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and may rise to $1 trillion over 30 years as older delivery systems and warheads are replaced.[4]

For example, the U.S. Navy wants 12 new ballistic missile submarines that would cost about $100 billion to build. The Air Force is seeking up to 100 new, nuclear-capable strategic bombers for at least $80 billion, as well as new land-based ballistic missiles and air-launched cruise missiles. NNSA plans to spend more than $60 billion for a new family of “interoperable” warheads for the arsenal.

Meanwhile, sequestration limits on defense spending will force budget trade-offs among various Pentagon programs. For example, the defense budget still needs to be cut by $115 billion from 2016-2019 to meet sequester targets, or about $29 billion per year on average. The actual funding shortfall could be as large as $200-300 billion, according to some estimates.[5]

Now is the time to reevaluate these plans, before major budget decisions are made. This report outlines ways to save roughly $70 billion over the next decade across all three legs of the triad and the warheads they carry. To save needed funds, the Pentagon can scale back or delay expensive new delivery systems and take a more disciplined approach to rebuilding the nuclear warheads that will remain in the arsenal even as deeper nuclear reductions are pursued in the years ahead.

The money-saving approach described here would not require the United States to negotiate new nuclear arms reduction agreements, but only to take advantage of those already in force. Even if the United States stays at nuclear warhead levels set by the 2010 New START Treaty indefinitely, it can save billions by buying fewer delivery systems, delaying procurement schedules, and scaling back warhead rebuilds. Additional nuclear stockpile cuts, such as those proposed in 2013 by President Obama, would allow for more savings.

Over the last 40 years, the United States and Russia have reduced their stockpiles of nuclear weapons to the benefit of U.S., Russian and global security. Successive administrations, on a bipartisan basis, have reduced the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a way to verifiably draw down Russia’s arsenal, build international support for nonproliferation, and save money. These rationales still hold true today.

Current tensions between the United States and Russia over Ukraine and Moscow’s compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty may delay future arms control agreements, but should not reverse the overall trend toward smaller nuclear arsenals. The United States and its allies have responded to Russian moves in Ukraine and Crimea primarily with diplomacy and economic tools and secondarily by shoring up NATO conventional forces. Beyond symbolism, nuclear forces have not played a role in the crisis.

The U.S.-Russian arms reduction process has weathered similar crises, such as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Russian non-compliance with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in the 1980s, and U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002. Further U.S. and Russian nuclear arms reductions are likely, with or without treaty negotiations, because they are in the mutual security interest of both nations.

Some members of Congress, however, claim that arms reductions have gone far enough and, despite their long history of success, should not continue.

These arguments ignore the fact that additional arms reductions have important benefits, including the prospect of a smaller Russian arsenal, engaging other nuclear-armed states in the nuclear-risk reduction enterprise, building a stronger international coalition against nuclear terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons, and saving tens of billions of dollars.

Nuclear arms control has made sense to seven presidents of both parties over five decades. It still makes sense today.

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Media Advisory: Experts to Discuss Prospects for a Nuclear Deal with Iran and a New Report on Cutting the Costs of Modernizing the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal at Annual Meeting

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As negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran reach a critical phase this week in Vienna, experts speaking at the Arms Control Association's annual meeting on Oct. 20 will discuss the prospects for a nuclear deal with Iran.

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For Immediate Release: October 15, 2014

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, 202-463-8270 x102; Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, x104; Timothy Farnsworth, Communications Director, x110.

(Washington, D.C.)-As negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran reach a critical phase this week in Vienna, experts speaking at the Arms Control Association's annual meeting on Oct. 20 will discuss the prospects for a nuclear deal with Iran by the Nov. 24 deadline.

Robert Einhorn, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, Elizabeth Rosenburg, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and Ali Reza Nader, senior international policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, will share their thoughts on the progress made to date and the remaining obstacles in the negotiations between Iran, the United States and its P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) on a nuclear agreement.

At the meeting, the Arms Control Association will also release The Unaffordable Arsenal, a new report on reducing the costs of the bloated nuclear weapons stockpile. Written by former Research Director Tom Collina and the research staff, the report argues that the increasingly high cost of nuclear weapons, combined with shrinking budgets and stockpiles, should compel the United States to rethink current plans to rebuild its nuclear forces in the years ahead.

Collina, now the policy director at the Ploughshares Fund, will discuss common sense ways to save roughly $70 billion over the next decade across all three legs of the nuclear triad and its associated warheads.

In a keynote address, Lord Des Browne, vice chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and former secretary of state for defense of the United Kingdom, will share his thoughts on what needs to be done to make progress to reduce nuclear dangers and strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation system ahead of the 2015 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.  

The annual meeting will be held 9:30a.m.-2:30p.m. on Oct. 20 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave, N.W., Washington D.C. For more details on the agenda, click here. Journalists are welcome to attend on a complimentary basis. Please contact Timothy Farnsworth to register.
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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

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NNSA's '3+2' Nuclear Warhead Plan Does Not Add Up

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In March, the Obama administration announced it would delay key elements of its "3+2" plan to rebuild the U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads amidst growing concern about the program's high cost and its technically ambitious approach.

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Volume 5, Issue 6, May 6, 2014

In March, the Obama administration announced it would delay key elements of its "3+2" plan to rebuild the U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads amidst growing concern about the program's high cost and its technically ambitious approach.

Now, the administration and Congress should use this opportunity to reevaluate the program and shift to a more straightforward and affordable path for maintaining the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

Announced last summer by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the 3+2 strategy has a sticker price of $60 billion and calls for extending the service life of five nuclear warhead types, three of which would be "interoperable" on land-based and sea-based ballistic missiles. Two other warhead types would be used on bombers, and two types would be retired. (See Table)

Congress, on a bipartisan basis, has been skeptical of 3+2 from the start, particularly the proposal for interoperable warheads. The Senate Appropriations Committee wrote last year that the concept "may be unnecessarily complex and expensive, increase uncertainty about certification" and "fail to address aging issues in a timely manner."

In response to congressional concerns, the NNSA budget request for fiscal 2015 delays funding for much of the 3+2 program, putting the future of the plan in doubt.

Speaking at George Washington University in March, former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Director Parney Albright, who supports the 3+2 plan, said, "I just don't think it's going to happen."

It is time to rethink the 3+2 plan. It is too expensive to survive in the current budget climate, takes unnecessary risks with warhead reliability, and has no clear military requirement. It is a solution in search of a problem.

The good news is that we don't need 3+2. The current warhead life extension program (LEP) is successfully refurbishing warheads, and there is no need to adopt a more risky and exorbitantly expensive approach. NNSA can and should stick with the traditional path to warhead maintenance, and save tens of billions of dollars.

No Rush to Refurbish

For fiscal year 2015 and beyond, the administration has delayed key parts of the 3+2 plan. Near-term efforts remain on track, but future projects have been significantly slowed.

For the next ten years, the ongoing life extension for the Navy's W76 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warhead is on schedule for completion in 2019, and the B61-12 gravity bomb would be produced from 2020 to 2024, a slight delay.

However, the next warheads in the 3+2 queue have been significantly delayed. A rebuilt warhead for a new cruise missile for the Air Force's proposed long-range bomber has been pushed back by up to three years, from 2024 to 2027. The first interoperable warhead, called the IW-1, has been moved from 2025 to 2030. These delays mean that key development decisions have been pushed into the next administration, increasing uncertainty about whether these programs will continue.

These delays will not put the reliability of the stockpile at risk. NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Donald Cook testified before the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee on April 3 that the two warhead types IW-1 would replace, the W78 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) warhead and the W88 SLBM warhead, "are aging as predicted." NNSA budget documents also state that the W78 warhead, the older of the two, is "aging gracefully."

Interoperable Warheads

Much of the congressional concern about the 3+2 plan stems from NNSA's proposal to develop interoperable warheads to be used on both ICBMs and SLBMs, which has not been done before and would be prohibitively expensive.

The "Hedge." NNSA's primary rationale for the 3+2 approach is that it would eventually help reduce the number of non-deployed warheads that are stored as a "hedge" in case there is a catastrophic failure with one or more warhead types. Recent NNSA budget documents state that, "Three interoperable ballistic missile warheads with similar deployed numbers will allow for a greatly reduced technical hedge for each system to protect against a single warhead failure."

Reducing the hedge is a worthwhile goal, but we don't need the 3+2 plan to get there.

First, the probability of a technical surprise that would disable an entire class of warheads is exceedingly remote. The NNSA's stockpile surveillance and stewardship programs are designed to prevent such surprises.

Second, the United States maintains--at great expense--a "triad" of delivery platforms, which allows for an inherent hedge. In the highly unlikely event that any one leg of the triad becomes inoperable or unreliable, the other two legs are there.

Third, given that the 3+2 plan would not be completed for 30 years or more, potential reductions to the hedge stockpile are highly uncertain and would be far in the future if they happen at all. There is no guarantee that promised hedge reductions would ever materialize as a direct result of the 3+2 plan.

Insensitive Explosives. Another rationale for interoperable warheads is to have the entire stockpile use insensitive high explosives. Such explosives are in principle a good idea, as they are less prone to accidental detonation than conventional explosives, but they are less energetic and take up more space inside a warhead.[1] Thus, insensitive explosives cannot easily replace conventional ones.

To get around this problem, NNSA is proposing to use parts from two different, existing warheads: a primary from the W87 ICBM warhead, which already has insensitive explosives, and possibly a secondary from the W80 cruise missile warhead.[2] But those parts have never been used together, and such combinations have never been introduced into the nuclear stockpile without nuclear tests, which the United States no longer conducts.

Thus, the IW-1, with a projected price tag of $11 billion, could introduce unwelcome concerns about reliability into an otherwise well-tested and reliable stockpile.

What would be achieved for the added risk and cost? Not much.

The IW-1 would replace the W78 ICBM warhead and the W88 SLBM warhead, neither of which has insensitive explosives. But other warheads on the Air Force's ICBMs and bombers do have insensitive explosives, so this is really a Navy issue. However, the Navy is questioning whether the high cost of insensitive explosives is worth the limited benefit for its warheads, which spend most of their time protected inside missiles, inside submarines, under the sea.

In a September 2012 memo to the Nuclear Weapons Council, a joint Defense and Energy Department group that coordinates management of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, the Navy said it does "not support commencing the [IW-1] effort at this time." In response, the council decided in December 2012 to study an option for the Navy's W88 warhead that would not be interoperable.

NNSA plans to upgrade non-nuclear parts of the Navy's W88 warhead anyway, and once that happens, Livermore's Albright noted that the Navy "almost certainly will argue" that replacing the W88 with an interoperable warhead would cost "too much money."

Instead, Albright said the Navy would prefer to simply refurbish the W88, "which is what they did on the W76." The W76 life extension is expected to cost $4 billion, or one-third the price of IW-1.

In turn, doing an independent W88 refurbishment should decrease the Air Force's incentive to refurbish the W78, which could instead be retired and replaced by the W87 as the only ICBM warhead. The Air Force no longer needs two warhead types for ICBMs, and there are enough W87s to go around. IW-1 would thus be unnecessary.

Beyond that, the proposed IW-2 and IW-3 warheads are distant prospects, with no production planned until 2034 or later, at costs of $15 and $20 billion, respectively.

A Better Way

There is a relatively simple alternative to the 3+2 plan. Instead of developing unproven interoperable warheads by mixing and matching parts from different weapons, NNSA could do things the time-tested way. The Navy's $4 billion W76 SLBM warhead life extension program (LEP) does not introduce any new fancy bells and whistles. This should be the model for future life extensions. But first, the Pentagon should reassess the need for warhead types before they are refurbished.

Step 1: Retire Where Possible. For starters, there is no need to rebuild the W78 or W80 warheads, and both should be retired. Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, we can no longer remain on autopilot, replacing nuclear systems just because we had them before. Each replacement system must have its mission justified as if it were new.

For the W78, a smaller ICBM force means there is no need keep two different ICBM warheads. The W87, also used on ICBMs, is newer and has all modern safety features. In the unlikely event of a problem with all W87 warheads, the United States would still have the submarine and bomber legs of the triad to deter any potential attacks. Enough W87 warheads have been produced (more than 500) to arm the entire ICBM fleet. Retiring the W78 would allow the IW-1 project to be cancelled, saving $11 billion.

As for the W80, there is no need for a new air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), and thus no need to rebuild this warhead. Despite the House defense bill's call to accelerate this warhead program by one year to 2025, the United States no longer needs a bomber with stand off nuclear missiles that are shot from afar, like the ALCM. The new Air Force bomber will be designed to penetrate enemy air defenses, so it needs bombs that can be dropped from above, like the B61. Moreover, the United States has other standoff weapons if needed, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Cancelling the ALCM would save $7 billion for the warhead and another $10 billion or so for the missile.

Step 2: Keep it Simple. The remaining warheads would undergo traditional life extensions as needed. Future LEPs should not introduce technical, schedule and cost risks inherent to interoperable warheads, which are just asking for trouble.

Nor should NNSA conduct the $8-10 billion B61-12 LEP as planned. Consolidating four bomb-types into one is overly complex and expensive. NNSA should scale back this program by refurbishing the strategic B61-7, and separately refurbish or retire the tactical bombs, which could save up to $5 billion.

Once the W78 and W80 warheads are retired, the remaining arsenal would include the W87 (LEP completed in 2004), the W76 (LEP to be finished by 2019), the B61 (LEP about to begin), and the W88 (partial upgrade about to begin). This "2+1+1" plan would maintain warheads for all three legs of the triad: SLBMs would carry both the W76 and W88, ICBMs would carry the W87 only, and bombers would carry rebuilt B61 bombs only.

Assuming an average cost of $5 billion per LEP, based on the cost of the W76 LEP plus inflation, refurbishing this four warhead-type stockpile under this approach would cost roughly $20 billion over 30 years or more, or one-third the cost of NNSA's $60 billion plan.

In addition, by taking a more straightforward approach to LEPs, NNSA could reuse existing plutonium parts, know as "pits," rather than producing new ones, and delay the need to spend billions to expand the U.S. pit production capacity. The House defense bill calls for accelerating pit production, but this would be expensive and unnecessary.

The NNSA's 3+2 program does not add up. The United States can maintain its nuclear warheads through traditional life extensions without resorting to expensive, risky schemes. NNSA needs to rethink the program and come back to Congress with a proposal better suited to today's fiscal and political realities.--TOM Z. COLLINA

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ENDNOTES

1. Insensitive high explosives help to reduce the risk of plutonium dispersal. The risk of an accidental nuclear explosion is already very low.
2. The W87 warhead is too big to fit on the Trident II D5 SLBM, so only the primary would be used.


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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today

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<strong>NUCLEAR WEAPONS MODERNIZATION</strong></br></br>

Congress Fully Funds B61 Bomb

Congress gave full funding to the program to rebuild the B61 nuclear gravity bomb, but required detailed reports on alternatives and the eventual retirement of a different bomb, the B83.

Tom Z. Collina

Striking a compromise on a controversial issue, Congress in January passed legislation to provide $537 million, the full amount the Obama administration had requested, for the program to rebuild the B61 nuclear gravity bomb and require the administration to submit detailed reports on alternatives to this plan. Congress also mandated the eventual retirement of a different gravity bomb, the B83, once the B61 is ready for service.

These items were part of an omnibus appropriations bill signed by President Barack Obama on Jan. 17. The new law is a $1.1 trillion conglomeration of 12 appropriations bills that had to be passed to keep the government open for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The legislation includes $7.8 billion for nuclear weapons activities conducted by the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

One of the key nuclear policy questions left unresolved last year was how much money the NNSA would be allowed to spend to extend the service life of about 400 B61 gravity bombs. About half of the B61s are stored in European NATO countries for use on tactical, or short-range, aircraft; the rest are stored in the United States for use on strategic, or long-range, bombers.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees NNSA nuclear weapons funding, cited her concerns about the bomb’s declining military utility and increasing cost as she led efforts in the Senate last year to scale back the B61 life extension program (LEP). In June the full Senate Appropriations Committee voted to provide $369 million, slicing off one-third of the Obama administration’s request for fiscal year 2014. The full House of Representatives, citing the need to support U.S. allies in NATO, voted to provide $560 million for the B61. (See ACT, September 2013.) House and Senate leaders agreed on $537 million.

According to congressional staffers, it became clear during the drafting of the omnibus bill that House Republicans would prioritize the B61 above all other defense issues and would not agree to anything less than full funding. In exchange, Senate Democrats secured commitments on at least two issues they had raised last year: a cost review of the B61 LEP and retirement of the B83.

Last April, Feinstein announced that the NNSA had studied other options for the B61 LEP, some of which would cost much less than the NNSA’s projection of $8 billion for its chosen plan. (See ACT, May 2013.) Seeking more-complete information on these options and others, the appropriations act requires the secretary of energy to provide Congress with detailed alternatives and cost comparisons for each major warhead LEP including the B61, by April 1. There are four other warheads in the life extension queue.

Last November, Feinstein received a letter from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz reminding her that she had expressed conditional support last year for the B61 project if it would lead to the “eventual retirement” of the B83, a one-megaton weapon deployed on B-2 bombers. In the letter, Hagel and Moniz wrote that the B61 LEP would “allow us to pursue retirement” of the B83. To reinforce this commitment, the appropriations act limits funding for maintenance of the B83 to $40 million, out of a possible $55 million, until a joint Pentagon-NNSA panel certifies that the B83 will be retired by 2025 or as soon as “confidence in the B61-12 stockpile is gained.” Four current versions of the B61 would be replaced by the new B61-12. (See ACT, December 2012.)

The appropriations act appears to have set back NNSA plans to develop warheads that would be “interoperable” on land- and sea-based ballistic missiles. Known as the “3+2” plan, the NNSA had wanted to produce three interoperable warheads costing $12-14 billion each over 25 years. But the spending legislation cuts the budget for the first such warhead almost in half, to $38 million, and specifies that the money should be used to study options to rebuild a warhead deployed on land-based ballistic missiles, but did not mention making it interoperable with other systems.

According to congressional staffers and media reports, the administration is expected to announce in March that the 3+2 plan has been delayed by five years. Donald Cook, head of the NNSA weapons program, appeared to lend credence to those reports when he told the Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor last month that work on the first interoperable warhead had been delayed because the warheads it would replace are not aging as quickly as the NNSA had thought they would. “We’ll adjust our resources as they’re available, but there is not an impending crisis,” Cook said.

Potentially setting back Air Force plans to deploy the B61-12 in Europe, the appropriations act cuts the Pentagon’s request for a new tail kit for the B61 by half, to $33 million. The legislation also eliminated the Pentagon’s $10 million request to assess the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s capability to deliver the B61. The tail kit is expected to cost $1 billion or more.

The NNSA plans to field the rebuilt B61-12 starting in 2020, although President Barack Obama said in Berlin last June that he will work with NATO allies “to seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe.” The B61 is only U.S. nuclear weapon in Europe.

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U.S. Nuclear Modernization Programs

January 2014

Press Contact: Tom Z. Collina, Research Director, (202) 463-8270 x104.

January 2014

Please click here for a chart of current modernization programs.

The United States military maintains a modern arsenal of about 2,000 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and Strategic Bombers. The Departments of Defense and Energy currently spend approximately $23 billion per year to maintain and upgrade these systems.[i]

For Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, nuclear weapons activities in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the U.S. nuclear stockpile and production complex, will be funded at $7.78 billion, an 11.6 percent increase over FY 2013 at a time when other defense budget accounts are in decline.[ii]

The U.S. military is in the process of modernizing all of its existing strategic delivery systems and refurbishing the warheads they carry to last for the next 20-30 years or more. These systems are in many cases being completely rebuilt with essentially all new parts.

This effort includes:

  • Modernized Strategic Delivery Systems: U.S. nuclear delivery systems are undergoing continual modernization, including complete rebuilds of the Minuteman III ICBM and Trident II SLBM. The service lives of Trident Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines are being extended. Additionally, a new submarine, the SSBNX, which will replace the existing Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, is undergoing development and is expected to cost about $100 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The B-2 strategic bomber, a relatively new system, is being upgraded, as is the B-52H bomber. The Air Force is also planning a new Long Range Bomber and a new cruise missile to replace the Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM).
  • Refurbished Nuclear Warheads: The U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads and bombs is continually refurbished through NNSA’s Life Extension Program (LEP). Existing warheads are certified annually to be safe and reliable. The JASON panel of independent scientists has found “no evidence” that extending the lives of existing U.S. nuclear warheads would lead to reduced confidence that the weapons will work. The panel concluded in its September 2009 report that “Lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence.”[iii] The United States does not need to resume nuclear test explosions, nor does it need to build new “replacement” warhead designs to maintain the reliability and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.
  • Modernized Production Complex: The nuclear weapons production complex is being modernized as well, with new facilities planned and funded. The FY 2014 NNSA budget includes $309 million for the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The total construction cost for UPF is estimated at $6.5 – 7.5 billion, according to an independent study conducted by the Corps of Engineers.[iv]

The following is a status update of existing programs to enhance the nuclear stockpile and modernize the delivery systems that make up each element of the U.S. nuclear triad:

1. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

The United States Air Force currently deploys 450 Minuteman III ICBMs located at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming; Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana; and Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

Today's Minuteman weapon system is the product of almost 40 years of continuous enhancement. A $7 billion life extension program is underway to keep the ICBMs safe, secure and reliable through 2030.[v] This modernization program includes the following enhancements to the Minuteman III missiles:

  • Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting (REACT) Service Life Extension Program: The first REACT system was installed in the Minuteman III in the 1990s. REACT reduces the time required to re-target the missiles. In 2006 the Air Force began modernizing REACT to extend its service life. The Air Force completed the effort in 2006.
  • Safety Enhanced Reentry System Vehicle (SERV): SERV modifies the reentry vehicles for the W-87’s that were removed from the Peacekeeper missiles and redeployed on the Minuteman III.
  • Propulsion Replacement Program (PRP): The PRP replaces the propellant in the Minuteman III.
  • Guidance Replacement Program (GRP): The GRP extends and improves the reliability of the Minuteman III guidance sets.
  • Propulsion System Rocket Engine Program (PSRE): PSRE is designed to replace the post-boost propulsion system components on the Minuteman III missiles.
  • Solid Rocket Motor Warm Line Program: In FY 2009 Congress approved an Air Force program to continue producing the solid rocket motors for the Minuteman III in order to preserve the manufacturing capabilities.

This modernization program has resulted in an essentially “new” missile, expanded targeting options, and improved accuracy and survivability. The Air Force is currently exploring whether to extend service of the Minuteman III missile or to field a new system. The Air Force is conducting an Analysis of Alternatives to determine if a new ICBM will be needed. An new missile and rebuilt warhead could cost $10 billiion over the next ten years.[vii]

The Air Force is also upgrading the Minuteman’s nuclear warheads by partially replacing older W78 warheads with newer and more powerful W87 warheads, formerly deployed on the now-retired MX Peacekeeper ICBMs. The W87 entered the U.S. stockpile in 1986, making it one of the newest warheads in the arsenal with the most modern safety and security features, including insensitive high explosive and a fire-resistant pit design, which can help to minimize the possibility of plutonium dispersal in the event of an accident. Under a 2004 LEP, the W87 warhead was refurbished to extend its service life past 2025.

There is no evidence to suggest that the W87—or any current U.S. nuclear warhead, for that matter—cannot be refurbished indefinitely. The Air Force and Navy are also exploring a joint LEP to field a common, refurbished warhead to replace the W78 and W88 (see SLBMs, below).[viii]

2. Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) and Submarines

The United States Navy currently deploys 288 Trident II D5 SLBMs on 12 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) based out of Bangor, Washington (7 boats) and Kings Bay, Georgia (5 boats). The Ohio-class submarines have a service life of 42 years; two twenty year cycles with a two year mid-life nuclear refueling. The total fleet includes 14 boats; due to the refueling process, only 12 SSBNs are available for deployment at any given time.

The Ohio-class SSBNs were first deployed in 1981, and will reach the end of their services at a rate of approximately one boat per year between 2027 and 2040. The Navy plans to replace each retiring boat, starting in 2031, with a new class of ballistic missile submarine, referred to as the SSBNX or the Ohio-class replacement.[ix] The Navy orginally planned to begin using the replacement boats in 2029, but in 2012 the Pentagon announced a two year delay to the SSBNX program. This would push back completion of the first SSBNX to 2031. The FY 2014 budget was funded at $1.1 billion for the SSBNX. The Navy ultimately wants 12 boats with the lead boat costing $13.3 billion and each subsequent boat $7 billion for a total procurement cost of about $85 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.[x] Research, development and evaluation of the SSBNX will cost an additional $10-15 billion, for a project total of about $100 billion. The Navy anticipates lower costs. The total lifecycle cost of the SSBNX program is estimated at $347 billion.[xi]

Taking into account the delay, the Navy now plans to purchase the first SSBNX in 2021, the second in 2024, and one per year between 2026 and 2035. The first boat is scheduled to become operational in 2031. As a result, the Navy will field 10 ballistic missile submarines between 2030 and 2040.

Each Ohio-class submarine serves as a launch platform for up to 24 SLBMs loaded with up to eight warheads each. Under the New START treaty, by 2018 the Navy plans to deploy 20 SLBMs on each Ohio class submarine rather than the full 24. This will result in a total of 240 deployed SLBMs. The SSNBX will carry up to 16 SLBMs, for a maximum of 192 deployed SLBMs when the fleet is fully converted to the SSBNX in 2040.

First deployed in 1990, the force of Trident II D5 missiles has been routinely tested and evaluated. It is currently being modernized to last until 2042.[xii] The Trident II D5 LEP is underway to modernize key components, notably the electronics. In 2008, 12 life-extended variants of the D5 were purchased; 24 D5s will be produced each year through 2012 for a total of 108 missiles at a total cost of $15 billion. The FY 2012 budget included $980 million for the Trident II LEP. The first modified D5s were deployed in 2013.

The D5 SLBMs are armed with approximately 768 W76 and 384 W88 warheads. In 2009, NNSA began delivery of the W76-1, a refurbished version of the W76 that extends its service life for an additional 30 years. According to NNSA, the W76 LEP is refurbishing the nuclear explosive package, the arming, firing, and fusing system, the gas transfer system, and associated cables, elastomers, valves, pads, cushions, foam supports, telemetries, and other miscellaneous parts.[xiii] This $4 billion program will run through 2018, delivering up to 2,000 W76-1 warheads.[xiv]

The W88 entered the stockpile in 1989, making it the newest warhead in the arsenal. The W88 was the last U.S. warhead produced before the Rocky Flats Plants - which made plutonium “pits” - was shut down in 1989. NNSA re-established pit production capacity at Los Alamos National Laboratory with the first “certifiable” pit in 2003, and new production resumed in 2007.[xv] A new plutonium research and pit production facility, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR), had been planned for Los Alamos, but was put on hold for budget reasons. Funding for construction of the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was funded at $309 million for FY 2014.

With the rebuilt Trident D5 missile in service to 2042, the W76-1's life extended to 2040-50, the relatively new W88 in service, and a new class of SSBNs lasting into the 2070s, the U.S. Navy’s Trident Fleet will be kept robust and modern well into the 21st century.

3. Strategic Bombers

The United States Air Force currently deploys 18 B-2 Spirit bombers at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, and 76 B-52H bombers at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, that can be equipped for nuclear missions. In 2008 the Air Force created a designated bomber squadron at Minot Air Force Base to focus on the nuclear mission.[xvi] Although all 76 B-52Hs will remain nuclear capable, this squadron will focus on the nuclear mission by running a greater number of nuclear training exercises and missions. The squadron began its operations in 2010 and is comprised of 22 B-52Hs.

The Air Force is developing a new long range penetrating bomber with nuclear capabilities. The 2012 Aircraft Procurement Plan anticipates a procurement of 80-100 bombers at an estimated per unit cost of $550 million, for a total of $40-60 billion. The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review initially called for procurement of the bomber by 2018. The Pentagon’s FY 2014 budget is $359 million for research and development of the bomber. The Air Force plans to spend $32.1 billion over the next ten years on research and development for the new bomber.[xvii]

The Air Force continually modernizes the B-2 fleet, which first became operational in 1997 and is expected to last through 2058. In testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Major General William Chambers stated that the B-2 is “capable of long-range delivery of direct attack munitions in an anti-access environment.” To enable the B-2 to continue operating in high threat environments, Chambers testified that, “we have programs to modernize communication, offensive, and defensive systems.”[xviii] According to the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) the Pentagon will invest over $1 billion over the next five years on upgrades to its survivability and "mission effectiveness." The B-2 modifications include an incremental three-part program to update the Extremely High Frequency Satellite Communications and Computer Upgrade program (EHF SATCOM). Increment 1 will upgrade the B-2’s flight management computers. Increment 2 provides more secure and survivable strategic communications by integrating the Family of Beyond-Line-of-Sight Terminals with the low observable antenna. Increment 3 connects the B-2 with the Global Information Grid. The Air Force also began procuring components for a Radar Modernization Program (RMP) in FY 2009. The RMP includes replacing the original radar antenna and upgrading radar avionics.[xix]

The B-2 carries the B61 and B83 strategic bombs. The B61 has several mods, 3, 4, 7, 10, and 11. B61-3 and B61-4 are non-strategic weapons deployed in Europe for NATO aircraft as part of the U.S.’s extended nuclear commitment. The B61-7 and B61-11 are strategic weapons deployed on the B-2. An LEP recently extended the life of the B61-7 for an additional 20 years by refurbishing the bomb’s secondary stage (canned subassembly) and replacing the associated seals, foam supports, cables and connectors, washers, o-rings, and limited life components. NNSA intends to start replacing B61 mods 3, 4, and 7 in 2020. NNSA intends to combine these mods into a single bomb, the B61 mod 12. The LEP will refurbish the warheads with new firing, arming, and safety components, updated radar components, permissive action link components and equipment, modified power supplies, thermal batteries, join test assemblies, weapon trainers, and test and handling gear. [xx] The LEP will also modify the B61 for compatibility with the new Joint Strike Fighter. The LEP will extend the life of the B61s for 30 years. According to the NNSA, the First Production Unit will be completed in FY 2019. Completion of the LEP is scheduled for FY 2022 – FY 2023, and will cost an estimated $10 billion dollars.[xx.1] The FY 2014 budget has increased to $537 million, reflecting a decision to ramp up system engineering and development components for refurbishing the warhead.

The B83 was first produced in 1983, making it one of the newer weapons in the stockpile. The B83 has the most modern safety and security features, including insensitive high explosive and a fire-resistant pit.

The B-52H fleet, first deployed in 1961, has an on-going modification program, beginning in 1989, incorporating updates to the global positioning system, updating the weapons capabilities to accommodate a full array of advanced weapons developed after the procurement of the B-52H, and modifying the heavy stores adapter beams to allow the B-52H to carry up to 2,000 pound munitions and a total of 70,000 pounds of mixed ordnance armaments. In 2009 the Air Force testified before the House Armed Forces Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces on the current initiatives to update the capabilities of the B-52H. These modification programs include: the addition of satellite and nuclear survivable and secure wideband high data rate communications, Sniper and LITENING advanced targeting pods, upgrades to computer and data transfer units, and the integration of smart weapons.[xxiii] In FY 2011 the Air Force added to its modernization efforts for the B-52H, receiving funding for the Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT) program, which updates the B-52 computer infrastructure.

The 2010 NPR states that some B-52Hs will be converted to a conventional-only role. The 1251 Report indicates that the Air Force plans to retain at least some B-52Hs for the nuclear mission through 2035. This time frame could be extended, as the modernization programs for the B-52H will keep it in service into the 2040s.

The B-52H carries the air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), first deployed in 1981. Each ALCM carries a W80-1 warhead, first produced in 1982. NNSA is requesting $46 million for work on the W80 in FY 2013. In 2006 the United States had 1,142 ALCMS. According to a statement made by Major General Roger Burg, the ALCM fleet would be reduced to 528 and consolidated at Minor Air Force Base. A LEP is in place to extend the ALCM to 2030, but there are concerns at the Pentagon as to the feasibility of an LEP on the ALCM given that the components are becoming obsolete and unaffordable.[xxiv] NNSA originally planned to begin the research for the W80 LEP in FY 2022. The Department of Defense, however, indicated that it does not support a W80 LEP.[xxv]

The Air Force is currently researching a replacement for the ALCM, the Long Range Standoff missile, or LRSO. The Air Force plans for initial production of the new cruise missile around 2025, if it decides to move forward with the LRSO. [xxvi] Defense officials say that the LRSO could eventually cost $10-20 billion.

US NUCLEAR MODERNIZATION PROGRAMS

Department of Defense Programs

System

Modernization Plan

Costs

Length of Deployment

Additional Information

Minuteman III ICBM

Modernization and Replacement Program

$7 billion

through 2030 and possibly longer

Modernizes the propellant, guidance systems, propulsion system, targeting system, reentry vehicles and continues work on the rocket motors

Next ICBM

ICBM follow on study

$10 billion (FY 2014-2023)

 

Analysis of Alternatives will be completed in 2014, at which point the Air Force will determine if it will go forward with the program

B-2 Bomber

Modernization Program

$9.5 billion (FY 2000-2014)

2050s

Improves radar and high frequency satellite communications capabilities for nuclear command and control

B-52H Bomber

On-going modifications

 

2040s

Incorporates global positioning systems, updates computers and modernizes heavy stores adapter beams, and a full array of advance weapons

Long Range Strike Bomber

Research and development phase

$32 billion (FY 2014-2023)

 

The exact specifications of the new bomber are yet to be determined

Long Range Standoff Cruise Missile

Replacement for the ALCM

$10-20 billion (estimated)

 

Air Force is completing the Analysis of Alternatives.

SSBNX

New ballistic missile submarine

$100 billion (estimated)

2031 - 2080s

Replacement submarine for the existing Ohio-class SSBN

Trident II D5 SLBM LEP

Modernization and life extension

 

2042

 

 

Department of Energy - NNSA Weapons Activities

System

Modernization Plan

Costs

Length of Deployment

Additional Information

W76

Life Extension Program

$4 billion

2040-2050

Scheduled for completion in 2018

B61 - 3/4/7/10

Life Extension Program

$10 billion

2040s

Scheduled for completion in 2023

W78

Life Extension Program

$5 billion

2050s

Scheduled for completion in 2025

W88

Life Extension Program

 

 

Scheduled to begin in FY 2016 and end in FY 2031

 



[i] Congressional Budget Office, Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2014 to 2023, Dec. 2013.

 

[ii] FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill.

 

[iii] Lifetime Extension Program (LEP) Executive Summary, JSR-09-334E, The MITRE Corp., JASON Program Office, September 9, 2009, p. 2.

 

[iv] Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Water and Energy Development, Senate Report 112-75, September 7, 2011,

http://thomas.loc.gov/home/approp/app12.html

 

[v] Jason Simpson, “Kehler: Air Force Investigating Minuteman III Follow-On System,” Inside the Air Force, October 8, 2009.

[vi] Amy F. Woolf, “U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues,” Congressional Research Service, March 10, 2011.

[vii] Congressional Budget Office, Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2014 to 2023, Dec. 2013.

[viii] http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2013_09/Pentagon-Defends-3%202-Plan-for-Warheads

[ix] Ronald O’Rourke, “Navy SSBN (X) Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress”, Congressional Research Service, April 22 2011.

 

[x] Congressional Budget Office, “An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2013 Shipbuilding Plan” July, 2012.

 

[xi] Christopher Castelli, “New Nuclear Subs Will Cost $347 Billion to Acquire, Operate” Defense News, February 16, 2011,

http://defensenewsstand.com/NewsStand-General/The-INSIDER-Free-Article/dod-new-nuclear-subs-will-cost-347-billion-to-acquire-operate/menu-id-720.html

 

[xii] Dana J. Johnson, Christopher J. Bowie, and Robert P. Haffa, “Triad, Dyad, Monad? Shaping the US Nuclear Force for the Future,” Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies, December 2009.

 

[xiii] National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), “Life Extension Programs,” http://nnsa.energy.gov/defense_programs/life_extension_programs.htm.

 

[xiv] Report to Congress on Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for FY 2011.” Director, Warfare Integration (OPNAV N8F), Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, February 2010,

http://www.militarytimes.com/static/projects/pages/2011shipbuilding.pdf.

[xv] Los Alamos Study Group, “Plutonium Pit Production — LANL's Pivotal New Mission”, http://www.lasg.org/campaigns/PUPitProd.htm.

[xvi] Amy F. Woolf, “U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues,” Congressional Research Service, March 10, 2011.

[xvii] Congressional Budget Office, Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2014 to 2023, Nov. 2013, p. 72.

[xviii] Major General William A. Chambers, Assistant Chief of Staff, Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration, “Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Budget Request for Department of Energy Atomic Energy Defense Activities and Department of Defense Nuclear Forces Programs”, Statement before the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, April 5th, 2011.

 

[xix] Department of the Air Force Presentation to the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces, United States House of Representatives, Subject: Air Force Programs, Combined Statement of: Lieutenant General Daniel J. Darnell, Air Force Deputy Chief Of Staff For Air, Space and Information Operations, Plans And

Requirements, Lieutenant General Mark D. Shackelford, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition , Lieutenant General Raymond E. Johns, Jr., Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans And Programs, May 20, 2009, pp. 14-15.

 

[xx] Department of Energy Fiscal Year 2012 Congressional Budget Request, National Nuclear Security Administration, February 2011.

[xx.1] Hearing transcript, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Water and Energy Development, July 25, 2012.

 

[xxi] Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Water and Energy Development, Senate Report 112-75, September 7, 2011,

http://thomas.loc.gov/home/approp/app12.html

 

[xxii] House Appropriations Subcommittee on Water and Energy Development, House Report 112-118, June 15, 2011,

http://thomas.loc.gov/home/approp/app12.html

 

[xxiii] Department of the Air Force Presentation to the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces, United States House of Representatives, Subject: Air Force Programs, Combined Statement of: Lieutenant General Daniel J. Darnell, Air Force Deputy Chief Of Staff For Air, Space and Information Operations, Plans And

Requirements, Lieutenant General Mark D. Shackelford, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Lieutenant General Raymond E. Johns, Jr., Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans And Programs, May 20, 2009, pp. 15-16.

 

[xxiv] Dana J. Johnson, Christopher J. Bowie, and Robert P. Haffa, “Triad, Dyad, Monad? Shaping the US Nuclear Force for the Future,” Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies, December 2009, p. 18.

 

[xxv] Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Report 109-274, June 26, 2006,

http://thomas.loc.gov/home/approp/app07.html

[xxvi]Amy F. Woolf, “U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues,” Congressional Research Service, March 10, 2011.

 

US NUCLEAR MODERNIZATION PROGRAMS

Department of Defense Programs

System

Modernization Plan

Costs

Length of Deployment

Additional Information

Minuteman III ICBM

Modernization and Replacement Program

$7 billion

through 2020 and possibly 2050

Modernizes the propellant, guidance systems, propulsion system, targeting system, reentry vehicles and continues work on the rocket motors

Next ICBM

ICBM follow on study

$26 million for FY 2012-2014


Analysis of Alternatives will be completed in 2014, at which point the Air Force will determine if it will go forward with the program

B-2 Bomber

Modernization Program

$9.5 billion (FY 2000-2014)

2050s

Improves radar and high frequency satellite communications capabilities for nuclear command and control

B-52H Bomber

On-going modifications


2040s

Incorporates global positioning systems, updates computers and modernizes heavy stores adapter beams, and a full array of advance weapons

Long Range Penetrating Bomber

Research and development phase

$40-60 billion (estimated)


The exact specifications of the LRPB are yet to be determined

Long Range Standoff Cruise Missile

Replacement for the ALCM

1.3 billion (estimated)


Air Force is completing the Analysis of Alternatives. If they choose to go forward production is estimated to begin in 2025

SSBNX

New ballistic missile submarine

$96-101 billion

2029 - 2080s

Replacement submarine for the existing Ohio-class SSBN

Trident II D5 SLBM LEP

Modernization and life extension


2042







Department of Energy - NNSA Weapons Activities

System

Modernization Plan

Costs

Length of Deployment

Additional Information

W76

Life Extension Program

$4 billion

2040-2050

Scheduled for completion in 2018

B61 - 3/4/7

Life Extension Program

$4 billion

2040s

Scheduled for completion in 2022/2023

W78

Life Extension Program

$5 billion

2050s

Scheduled for completion in 2025

W88

Life Extension Program



Scheduled to begin in FY 2016 and end in FY 2031

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Scale Back the B61 Nuclear Bomb

Description: 

This week, House and Senate appropriators will vote on how much money to spend on the B61 gravity bomb, a $10 billion program to upgrade a weapon that President Obama said last week he wants to reduce. Given the high cost of this effort, the declining military justification, and the fact that less expensive alternatives exist, Congress should scale back this program dramatically.

Body: 

Volume 4, Issue 6, June 25, 2013

This week, House and Senate appropriators will vote on how much money to spend on the B61 gravity bomb, a $10 billion program to upgrade a weapon that President Obama said last week he wants to reduce. Given the high cost of this effort, the declining military justification, and the fact that less expensive alternatives exist, Congress should scale back this program dramatically.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) plans to extend the service life of 400 B61 bombs for an estimated cost of $10 billion, or $25 million per bomb. NNSA is requesting $537 million for the program in fiscal year 2014, a 45 percent increase over the 2013 appropriation.

This is just the beginning of an expensive series of Life Extension Programs (LEPs) in the pipeline. According to the FY2014  Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, NNSA wants to upgrade four additional warhead types between now and 2038, each of which will cost more than the B61. All told, NNSA plans to spend more than $65 billion on upgrading five warhead types over the next 25 years, requiring a significant increase in annual funding.

Given the current fiscal climate, such spending plans are not realistic. For example, the GOP-controlled House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee voted last week to cut the administration's request for NNSA weapons activities by $193 million. The subcommittee had specific concerns about the life extension programs, and required NNSA to prepare a report on alternatives to its plans. The House and Senate Energy and Water subcommittees are expected to complete their bills this week.

Moreover, NNSA's plans do not reflect the reality that U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals are declining in size. President Obama announced just last week in Berlin that deployed strategic nuclear weapons can be reduced by one-third below New START treaty levels while ensuring a strong strategic deterrent. He said that he intends to seek negotiated strategic nuclear reductions with Russia.

Tactical B61s: No Need

President Obama also said in Berlin that he will "work with our NATO allies to seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe." The B61 is the only U.S. nuclear weapon in Europe, with about 180 stored in five NATO countries. It would be a waste of scarce resources to spend billions of dollars upgrading B61 tactical (or short range) bombs that may soon be retired.

With the Cold War over, the Warsaw Pact long gone, and the threat of a Soviet land-attack across central Europe no longer a possibility, there is no military justification for keeping B61 tactical bombs in NATO. These weapons should be returned to the United States and kept in secure storage. We can continue to reassure our NATO allies, and deter any nuclear weapons threat against NATO with nuclear weapons based in the United States and on submarines at sea.

Ruud Lubbers, Dutch prime minister from 1982 to 1994, recently confirmed that B61s are still stored in the Netherlands and said that the bomb is "an absolutely pointless part of a tradition in military thinking."

Strategic B61 Life Extension: Less Costly Alternatives

In addition to the tactical bombs, another 200 B61s are carried by strategic (or long range) B-2 bombers based in the United States, and while they may be reduced in the future, most are likely to remain in service. But even in this case, NNSA's $10 billion, gold-plated life extension plan can be scaled back. There are cheaper options that would save billions of dollars.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, said in April that NNSA has studied another option for the B61 LEP that would cost billions less. This option, known as the triple alteration or "triple-alt," would replace only three key bomb parts that are said to be nearing the end of their useful lives in the next ten years.

B61 bombs, like all modern nuclear weapons, have certain parts that have a predictable service life and are replaced on a regular basis. The triple-alt plan would replace the bomb's neutron generator, power source, and radar system. This plan would extend the life of B61 bombs for another 10 years, according to NNSA, and would cost approximately $3 billion, according to the Defense Department.

In contrast, the scope of NNSA's $10 billion LEP goes well beyond these three components and involves replacing hundreds of other parts, such as switches, foams, cables, and the bomb's uranium secondary. Many of these parts can wait until we have a better idea of how many B61 bombs are needed for the future. In all likelihood NNSA will be able to reduce the number of bombs to be upgraded, and save money.

Spending $10 billion on upgrading 400 B61 bombs would be a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars. Instead, we can delay the tactical bomb upgrades for a year or more to see if progress can be made in removing B61s from Europe. As for the strategic version, we should be able to scale back the effort significantly. The scope and cost of the B61 LEP can be reduced by half or more, saving billions of dollars.--TOM Z. COLLINA

###

The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today

What's New Section: 
<strong>U.S. NUCLEAR POLICY</a></strong><br/><br/>

Cartwright Urges Nuclear Spending Cuts

As the possibility of automatic cuts looms over the ongoing debate on reducing U.S. defense spending, the former head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) has called for cutting the nuclear weapons budget by roughly $120 billion over the next two decades.

Tom Z. Collina

As the possibility of automatic cuts looms over the ongoing debate on reducing U.S. defense spending, the former head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) has called for cutting the nuclear weapons budget by roughly $120 billion over the next two decades.

Gen. James Cartwright, who oversaw U.S. nuclear weapons under President George W. Bush and served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until he retired last year, testified before the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee July 25 that his proposal to reduce U.S. nuclear forces by 80 percent from current levels could save about $100 billion in delivery system costs and $20 billion in nuclear warhead costs. Cartwright presented testimony jointly with former U.S. ambassador to Russia and the United Nations Thomas Pickering.

Cartwright chaired a panel that in May called for deep reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, doing away with all intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and removing the threat of a “decapitating” first strike against Russia. (See ACT, June 2012.) The panel would keep 900 warheads in the U.S. force, compared to about 5,000 today, with half of them deployed but off alert and half in storage.

Cartwright testified that, of the 900 warheads, 720 would be assigned to Trident Ohio-class submarines, with future sub production reduced from 12 to 10. The remaining 180 warheads would be assigned to 18 B-2 bombers. B-52 bombers no longer would carry nuclear warheads, and the order for the planned new strategic bomber would shrink from up to 100 planes to about 30. In addition, all Minuteman ICBMs would be retired, the Minuteman’s replacement canceled, and all tactical nuclear weapons eliminated.

At the hearing, Cartwright and Pickering did not release a detailed accounting of their budget estimate. However, according to preliminary estimates provided by Global Zero, which sponsored the May report, savings over 10 to 15 years would come largely from taking U.S. nuclear weapons out of NATO ($3 billion), eliminating current ICBMs and canceling a new version ($13 billion), scaling back current Ohio-class submarines and buying fewer new ones ($25 billion), retiring B-52 bombers and the associated refueling tanker fleet ($12 billion), and reducing investments in nuclear command, control, and communications and in early-warning satellites. Over 15 to 20 years, buying only 30 new bombers instead of 100 would save about $38 billion, Global Zero said.

The $10 Billion Bomb

In addition to saving $100 billion on delivery systems, Cartwright and Pickering estimated saving $20 billion from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous part of the Energy Department that oversees the nuclear weapons production complex. Half of this amount would be saved by decreasing the number of warhead types in the U.S. active stockpile from seven today to four by 2022, which would reduce the need to refurbish warheads through the life extension program (LEP), Cartwright and Pickering said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the energy appropriations subcommittee, opened the July 25 hearing by revealing that NNSA estimates for the cost of the B61 bomb LEP had doubled from $4 billion to $8 billion. Moreover, she said that an independent Defense Department review pegged the cost at $10 billion. This new price tag requires the NNSA to find billions of dollars “at a time when budgets are shrinking and sequestration is a real possibility,” she said.

Sequestration is a mechanism under which congressional funding of government agencies is cut automatically if it exceeds the amount that Congress had previously budgeted. Under the 2011 Budget Control Act, growth in the Pentagon budget will be reduced by roughly $500 billion over the next decade if Congress cannot find an alternative way to cut the federal deficit by January. Although sequestration once was considered an unlikely prospect, congressional inability over the last eight months to agree on how to tackle the deficit has increased anxieties in Washington that the automatic cuts actually may occur. Even if full sequestration is avoided, the Pentagon may face hundreds of billions of dollars in budget cuts beyond the approximately $490 billion in spending-growth reductions that are already planned.

The NNSA could save money by not building a new $6 billion plutonium facility, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility Replacement (CMRR), at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Cartwright said. The new facility would not be needed for a 900-warhead stockpile, which would require only 18 new plutonium “pits,” or warhead cores, per year, not 80 as currently planned, Cartwright said. Even so, Cartwright said that, through extra shifts and additional equipment, the capacity of the current facility could be increased from 20 pits “to perhaps as high as 80 per year.”

The Obama administration announced in February that it had decided to delay construction of the CMRR by five years to redirect money to other programs, such as the $7 billion Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee. (See ACT, March 2012.) According to an April Los Alamos study on alternatives to the CMRR, which was not made public until August, the lab could support a production rate of 30 pits per year with assistance from other labs, such as Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, at a cost of $800 million over 10 years.

‘Not Your Father’s Nuclear Force’

Speaking to reporters Aug. 8 in Omaha, current STRATCOM head Gen. Robert Kehler said he agreed with the administration’s decision to give construction of the uranium facility priority over the CMRR. He also said that some of the need for pits could be met by reusing existing ones in storage rather than new production. “We don’t differentiate at all” between new pits and reused ones, he told reporters.

Kehler, seeking to show how STRATCOM has moved away from Cold War thinking, told a July 12 forum in Washington that “this is not your father’s nuclear force” and said that the U.S. nuclear stockpile had been reduced by 75 percent from the day the Berlin Wall fell. These are “very positive changes,” he said.

Regarding the triad of submarines, bombers, and ICBMs, Kehler said that “the triad is not a theological argument for me.” He said the triad continued to serve the country well today, but “it may not be true in the future.” Kehler said that if the president determines that U.S. deterrence needs have changed, “then we will make the adjustments that are necessary.”

On ICBMs, which Cartwright recommended retiring, Kehler said, “[T]here’s a big difference between a force that you can use promptly and one that you must use promptly. And I no longer see us in a scenario where we must use ICBMs promptly.” This reflects confidence among officials that U.S. submarine-based nuclear forces could survive a Russian first strike, and thus U.S. ICBMs would not have to be launched on warning of an attack.

Kehler said that the threat of a sudden nuclear war involving Russia and the United States “has receded by almost every measure” and is “at the lowest level that I have seen in my 37 years in the United States Air Force and military.”

Meanwhile, a State Department advisory group said that the United States and Russia could avoid “costly or destabilizing modernization efforts” by accelerating reductions under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and pursuing additional arsenal cuts.

The comment came in an Aug. 14 draft report by the department’s International Security Advisory Board. Arms Control Today obtained a copy of the draft report.

That preliminary report was drafted for the advisory board by a study group that is chaired by Harvard professor Graham Allison and includes former top officials of U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories. For the near term, the report recommends that Russia and the United States seek additional reductions below New START levels on the basis of a mutual understanding rather than a formal treaty. Such reductions “could improve stability by reducing Russia’s incentive to build a new heavy ICBM,” they wrote.

It is not clear when the final report will be released.

 

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