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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Shannon Bugos

The Future of New START and U.S. National Security

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020
10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Eastern
via Zoom Webinar

With the expiration date for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) less than a year away, the Arms Control Association hosted a discussion with former senior officials on the national security case for the extension of New START, the costs of failing to do so, and why extension is the best next step toward more ambitious arms control talks with Russia and other nuclear-armed states.

Key quotes from the speakers and useful resources are listed below. Some answers to additional questions that participants submitted but that the speakers were unable to address due to time constraints can be found here.

 

Key Quotes

Admiral (ret.) Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007-2011

“Put me down in the column of extension, and the reason for that is the clock is running. Certainly in my experience, getting to the right specifics in a very complex treaty takes a long time. And I would opine at this point we don’t have time to renegotiate—or to negotiate—a new treaty as an option.”

“One of the things that is incredibly important about this treaty is the details of verification, an aspect of which, in addition to national technical means, is spoken to by on-the-ground inspections. I come from a place where there is nothing better than being physically in place in time.”

"Trying to get something done with China between now and February is virtually impossible.”

Rose Gottemoeller, former NATO Deputy Secretary-General, former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and the lead negotiator for New START

“Nowhere is military predictability more important than in the nuclear realm. Our presidents can give a potent sign that they take this matter seriously by an early extension of New START. It would be an act of global leadership, reassuring our publics as they grapple with sickness and uncertainty.”

“Rapid fire negotiation of a follow on agreement was always a difficult proposition, especially the effort to engage the Chinese. Without the potential for hands-on diplomacy, I really think it’s become mission impossible. Extending New START would not only give time for all of the issues to be brought to the table and new actors to be engaged, but also would allow us to get through this pandemic.”

“The last point I would like to emphasize is the firm support for New START extension among U.S. allies, and not only our allies in Europe and North America, but also the ones in Asia. The allies are keen to see the last legally binding nuclear arms reduction treaty remain in force in order to ensure the continuation of a predictable nuclear environment in their regions and to give sufficient time for new negotiations to take place.”

Lt. Gen. (ret.) Frank Klotz, former U.S. Undersecretary of Energy for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration from 2014-2018, and commander of Air Force Global Strike Command from 2009-2011

“Although limiting the number and types of Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons would certainly benefit the security interests of the United States, as well as those of its European and Asian allies, it does not logically follow that the existing limits on longer-range systems imposed by New START should be allowed to lapse because an agreement on shorter-range nuclear weapons has not yet been reached. If that were to happen, there would be more rather than fewer categories and numbers of Russian nuclear weapons that would be unconstrained, including systems that could directly threaten the U.S. homeland. From a military perspective, that hardly makes any sense.”

“Rather than being relevant to the immediate debate on the treaty’s extension, the issue of Russia’s novel nuclear delivery systems is more a matter of those Russian capabilities that might need to be addressed in any follow-on nuclear arms control arrangements.”

“Allowing New START to lapse without replacement would be a grave mistake in terms of our national security.”

Resources

Description: 

Special briefing with Admiral (ret.) Michael Mullen, Rose Gottemoeller, and Lt. Gen. (ret.) Frank Klotz

Country Resources:

Potential U.S. Open Skies Withdrawal Announcement Coming Soon | U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch

Potential U.S. Open Skies Withdrawal Announcement Coming Soon The United States could officially submit its intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty by the end of September, despite strong support for the treaty in Congress and from allies and former U.S. officials. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper have decided to move forward with a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, the Guardian reported April 5. The report indicated that a statement of intent would be forthcoming soon, with official notification to withdraw coming likely by the end of September. Per the...

Extend New START--The World Can't Afford a U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Race Too

News Source (Do Not Use): 
Just Security
News Date: 
April 10, 2020 -04:00

Trump Still Wants Multilateral Arms Control


April 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States is open to meeting with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council to discuss nuclear arms control and will soon put forward a trilateral arms control proposal with Russia and China, President Donald Trump said in February. China, however, has continued to express its opposition to trilateral talks with Russia and the United States, and it has not yet responded to U.S. overtures to begin a bilateral strategic security dialogue.

President Donald Trump takes questions from the media in the White House briefing room on Feb. 29. He said the five permanent members of the UN Security Council will likely discuss nuclear arms control this year. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)At the same time, the Trump administration continued to deflect questions about its stance on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in 2021.

Trump told reporters on Feb. 29 that Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France “all want to now discuss arms control” and that the leaders of those countries will likely discuss the subject at the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

Russian President Vladimir Putin first proposed the idea of a summit of those nations earlier this year to discuss a broad range of security topics, including arms control. “We have discussed this with several of our colleagues and, as far as I know, have received a generally positive response to holding a meeting of the heads of state of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council,” Putin stated during a late January trip to Israel.

In a March 5 statement commemorating the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Trump said he “will be proposing a bold new trilateral arms control initiative with Russia and China to help avoid an expensive arms race and instead work together to build a better, safer, and more prosperous future for all.”

Trump, who first proposed a trilateral approach to arms control nearly a year ago, said such an approach is needed because, “[o]ver the next decade, China seeks to at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile while Russia is developing expensive and destabilizing new types of delivery systems.” (See ACT, May 2019.)

Neither the president nor other officials have provided a timeline for when the administration might release a proposal.

Nevertheless, “we’re optimistic that it will be possible to engage both with Russia and with China, and to bring those bilateral engagements forward into a trilateral engagement that will ultimately result in the kind of agreement that President Trump has tasked us with trying to come to,” a senior State Department official told reporters on March 9. “So we are cautiously optimistic and hope very much to be engaged with both, not just one, of those two parties in the very near future,” the official added.

Beijing, however, has continued to express no interest in a trilateral approach. “China has repeatedly reiterated that it has no intention of participating in the so-called trilateral arms control negotiations,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on March 6.

In addition to pursuing trilateral talks with Russia and China, Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, invited China last December to begin a bilateral strategic security dialogue.

China has yet to respond to the offer. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on March 6 that “China is always open to bilateral exchange with the U.S. in the field of strategic security.”

The Trump administration’s continued pursuit of arms control discussions with Russia and China comes as the clock continues to tick toward the February 2021 expiration of New START. The United States and Russia can exercise the option to extend the agreement by up to five years by mutual agreement.

The administration has yet to make its decision regarding the future of the accord. The senior State Department official said the administration is evaluating a decision on extension in the context of whether prolonging New START aids or sets back the pursuit of limits on additional types of Russian nuclear weapons not covered by the treaty and bringing China into the arms control process.

“We are not forecasting what that answer is,” the official said.

The official would not comment on the administration’s specific goals for trilateral arms control or whether the administration would consider extending New START to buy additional time to engage China.

The official added that there remains plenty of time to extend the treaty before it expires and that an extension could be quickly accomplished with “nothing more than an exchange of diplomatic notes.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Feb. 19 that if the United States chooses to extend New START, then a new agreement should “capture the new Russian strategic weapons. I also believe that the Russians should bring underneath that treaty the nonstrategic nuclear weapons. And then, of course, the Chinese.”

Moscow has expressed its readiness to extend New START immediately and without any preconditions, but warned that time is running out and any proposal to include Russian weapons not covered by the treaty would require an amendment to the agreement. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

Vladimir Leontyev, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, said in February that the United States rejected a proposal from Russia to hold “a lawyers’ meeting to…work out an understanding of the technical aspect of the extension process.”

“No follow-up agreement is in sight, and it is clear that there is no chance of producing anything meaningful over the time left” before the treaty expires, Leontyev noted.

Russia has also maintained that it “will not try to convince China” to join trilateral talks, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “If the Americans are quite sure that it makes no sense to take any further steps on the New START…without China, let them get down to business on this all on their own,” he said on Feb. 10.

A reported hindrance to the U.S. effort to negotiate a more comprehensive replacement for New START has been the Trump administration’s inability to find a lead negotiator for the undertaking. Politico reported on Feb. 12 that the administration has offered the role to several potential candidates but struggled to find someone to take it. The Guardian reported on March 4 that the White House had chosen Marshall Billingslea, the current assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department, for the role.

New START caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers, and 800 deployed and nondeployed missile launchers and bombers each. It also put into place a rigorous inspections and verification regime, on which the U.S. military relies for knowledge about the Russian arsenal.

 

The extension of New START remains up in the air as the Trump administration pushes talks with China.

U.S. Questioning Open Skies Treaty


April 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The U.S. Defense Department is halting funding to replace the Pentagon’s aging aircraft used for flights under the Open Skies Treaty until the Trump administration decides the future of U.S. participation in the pact, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Congress in March.

Navy Lt. Bethany Baker monitors the path of an OC-135B aircraft during a January 2016 flight over Haiti unrelated to the Open Skies Treaty. The Pentagon has elected not to upgrade the aircraft as the Trump administration assesses the U.S. role in the Treaty. (Photo: Perry Aston/U.S. Air Force)“Until we make a final decision on the path forward, I am not prepared to recapitalize aircraft,” Esper told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a March 4 hearing. “We still have the means to conduct the overflights,” he added, “[b]ut at this time, we’re holding until we get better direction.”

The Trump administration has yet to make a final decision on whether to remain a party to the treaty. The administration has reportedly warned allies that it could withdraw from the agreement if its concerns about Russian noncompliance and other shortcomings are not allayed. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

“In due course, we will be getting together to do that, to decide the best path forward for our nation,” Esper said at a Feb. 20 press briefing.

Esper has not disclosed how he is advising President Donald Trump on the agreement, but told senators that he has “a lot of concerns about the treaty as it stands now.”

The United States maintains two Boeing OC-135B aircraft based at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska for treaty overflight missions. Congress appropriated $41.5 million last year to continue replacement efforts for these aircraft. The Air Force was planning to seek $76 million in fiscal year 2021 to continue the replacement process, but the final budget request published in February did not include any request for funding.

U.S. lawmakers criticized the administration’s actions. “By not recapitalizing the Open Skies aircraft, we are adding risk to our aircrews,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) in a statement to Defense News. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Feb. 28 opposing a potential withdrawal of the United States from the Open Skies Treaty.

“If this administration moves forward with a precipitous unilateral withdrawal from the treaty the United States will be less safe and secure,” they wrote.

But Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) sent a letter to Trump on March 12 calling on him to withdraw from the agreement.

“It is well past time to withdraw,” they wrote, citing concern about the costs of the OC-135B replacement efforts and suggesting that the United States receives few benefits from the accord.

The senators also referenced Russia’s noncompliance with the treaty as grounds for withdrawal. The United States asserts that Russia is violating the agreement by restricting observation missions over Kaliningrad to flying no more than 500 kilometers and by establishing a 10-kilometer corridor along Russia’s border with the Georgian border-conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The Defense Department has responded by restricting flights over the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii and the missile defense interceptor fields in Fort Greely, Alaska.

Meanwhile, Vayl Oxford, director of the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, commented on Feb. 11 before the House Armed Services Committee that the United States has had “a lot of consultation with our treaty partners” who view Open Skies as “very valuable.”

Oxford also said that “[i]f we fly all the missions currently planned this year, it’d be the busiest Open Skies season ever.”

James Gilmore, U.S. representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, on March 2 described Russian support for a recent mission that took place over Kaliningrad as “very cooperative.”

Gilmore also noted that Russia will no longer raise an “objection” for the United States and its allies to “fly over one of their major exercises,” as was reported.

“However, we don’t believe that that’s good enough,” he noted. “We think that we have to be holding the Russians strictly to account on the Open Skies Treaty.”

The widening impact of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is creating further complications. Citing the “serious public health risk posed by the spread of COVID-19,” on March 16, the chair of the Open Skies Consultative Commission, Belarus, requested a suspension of all Open Skies flights until April 26, according to a statement. The other parties agreed and have notified their suspension of flights, according to diplomatic sources.

Signed in 1992, the treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed, observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. The treaty entered into force in January 2002 and currently has 34 states-parties, including the United States and Russia. Since 2002, there have been nearly 200 U.S. overflights of Russia and about 70 overflights conducted by Russia over the United States.

The Pentagon is no longer seeking to update its aircraft used to photograph Russian military sites.

Pentagon Tests Hypersonic Glide Body


April 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States successfully tested a common hypersonic glide body (C-HGB) in a flight experiment on March 19 in Hawaii, demonstrating the Trump administration’s intention to match Chinese and Russian weapons advancement. The data collected from the experiment will support the development of several new hypersonic weapons systems, according to the Defense Department.

The Army and Navy jointly conducted the test from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

A missile carrying a common hypersonic glide body launches from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii on March 19. (Photo: Oscar Sosa/U.S.Navy)“This event is a major milestone towards the department’s goal of fielding hypersonic warfighting capabilities in the early to mid-2020s,” said the Pentagon on March 20.

Hypersonic weapons travel at least five times the speed of sound. Hypersonic glide vehicles are distinguished from traditional ballistic missiles by their ability to maneuver and operate at lower altitudes.

The Pentagon, with the support of Congress, is proposing to accelerate the development of conventionally armed hypersonic glide vehicles and cruise missiles to keep pace with Russia and China as they develop such weapons and to augment U.S. conventional war-fighting capabilities. Some experts, however, have questioned the military rationale for the weapons and warned that they could increase the risk of rapid escalation in a conflict or crisis. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

The Trump administration is requesting $3.2 billion for fiscal year 2021 to accelerate the development of hypersonic weapons, an increase of $600 million above the previous fiscal year.

The United States has hypersonic weapons programs underway for all of the armed services. The Army is requesting $801 million for the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon system and aims to begin fielding it in fiscal year 2023. The Navy is requesting $1 billion for the Conventional Prompt Strike program and has set a target deployment date of fiscal year 2028.

“The Navy and Army are working closely with industry to develop the C-HGB with Navy as the lead designer, and Army as the lead for production,” said the Pentagon after the flight experiment. “Each service will use the C-HGB, while developing individual weapon systems and launchers tailored for launch from sea or land.”

In addition to the Army and Navy programs, the Air Force is pursuing the Advanced Rapid Response Weapon system, for which it requested $382 million in fiscal year 2021.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) monitored the March 19 test in order to “inform its ongoing development of systems designed to defend against adversary hypersonic weapons.” The MDA asked for $207 million for fiscal year 2021 for developing hypersonic defense technology. (See ACT, March 2020.)

The Defense Department has expressed varying rationales for the development of hypersonic weapons.

Michael Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, told the House Armed Services Committee on March 11 that the United States needs to develop hypersonic weapons “to allow us to match what our adversaries are doing.”

Last October, China included the Dongfeng-17, a medium-range ballistic missile armed with a hypersonic glide vehicle, in a military parade. Last December, Russia announced that it had begun deploying the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle on an existing long-range ballistic missile. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

The Defense Department has also emphasized a specific military need for hypersonic weapons.

The department said on March 20 that the weapons would provide “the warfighter with an ability to strike targets hundreds and even thousands of miles away, in a matter of minutes, to defeat a wide range of high-value targets.”

“These capabilities,” said Michael White, assistant director for hypersonic weapons in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, “help ensure that our warfighters will maintain the battlefield dominance necessary to deter, and if necessary, defeat any future adversary.”

A March 19 test shows the U.S. aim to keep up or surpass Chinese and Russian technology developments.

Surging U.S. Nuclear Weapons Budget a Growing Danger

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Volume 12, Issue 3, March 19, 2020

The projected cost to sustain and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal continues to grow. And grow. And grow some more. The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget request released in February reinforces what has long been forewarned: The administration’s excessive strategy to replace nearly the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal at roughly the same time is a ticking budget time bomb, even at historically high levels of national defense spending.

“I am concerned that … we have underestimated the risks associated with such a complex and time-constrained modernization and recapitalization effort,” Adm. Charles Richard, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 13.

Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe, the director of the Navy strategic systems programs, put it even more bluntly to the House Armed Services Committee on March 3. There is a “pervasive and overwhelming risk carried within the nuclear enterprise as refurbishment programs face capacity, funding, and schedule challenges,” he said.

Adm. Richard and Vice Adm. Wolfe support the administration’s modernization approach and believe that delays to the effort could undermine the U.S. nuclear deterrent. But their warnings should prompt renewed questions about whether the spending plans are necessary and sustainable. The need for a fundamental reassessment is magnified by the rising human and financial toll that the novel coronavirus is inflicting on the national economy. The threat to worker safety and health posed by the disease could exacerbate the execution challenges identified by Adm. Richard and Adm. Wolfe.

Last year, Congress supported the administration’s nuclear budget priorities despite strong opposition from the Democratic-led House. But the costs and opportunity costs of the plans are real and growing – and the biggest modernization bills are just beginning to hit. Scaling back the proposals for new delivery systems, warheads, and their infrastructure would make the nuclear weapons modernization effort easier to execute and save scores of billions of taxpayer dollars that should be spent on addressing higher priority national and health security challenges. Such adjustments would still leave ample funding to sustain a devasting U.S. nuclear deterrent.

The Fiscal Year 2021 Nuclear Budget Request

The administration is requesting $44.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 for the Defense and Energy Departments to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear delivery systems and warheads and their supporting infrastructure, a larger-than-anticipated increase of about $7.3 billion, or 19 percent, from the fiscal year 2020 level. This includes $28.9 billion for the Pentagon and $15.6 billion for the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The proposed spending on nuclear weapons constitutes about 6 percent of the total national defense request, up from about 5 percent last year. By 2024, projected spending on the nuclear arsenal is slated to consume 6.8% of total national defense spending. The percentage will continue to rise through the late-2020s and early-2030s when modernization spending is slated to peak.

The largest increase sought is for the NNSA nuclear weapons activities account. The budget request calls for $15.6 billion, an astonishing increase of $3.1 billion, or 25 percent, above the fiscal year 2020 appropriation and $2.8 billion above the projection for 2021 in the fiscal year 2020 budget request. Over the next five years, the NNSA is planning to request over $81 billion for weapons activities, a nearly 24 percent increase over what it planned to seek over the same period as of last year.

To put the NNSA weapons activities request in perspective, $15.6 billion is almost twice as much as the $8.3 billion emergency spending bill signed into law March 6 to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus through prevention efforts and research to quickly produce a vaccine for the deadly disease.

The budget request would support continued implementation of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which called for expanding U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities. In addition to continuing full speed ahead with the previous administration’s plans to upgrade the arsenal on a largely like-for-like basis, the Trump administration proposed to develop two new sea-based low-yield nuclear options (one of which it has already begun deploying) and lay the groundwork to grow the size of the warhead stockpile.

The projected long-term cost of the proposed nuclear spending spree is even more staggering. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected last year that the United States is poised to spend nearly $500 billion, after including the effects of inflation, to maintain and replace its nuclear arsenal between fiscal years 2019 and 2028. This is an increase of nearly $100 billion, or about 23 percent, above the already enormous projected cost as of the end of the Obama administration. Over the next 30 years, the price tag is likely to top $1.5 trillion and could even approach $2 trillion.

These big nuclear bills are coming due as the Defense Department is seeking to replace large portions of its conventional forces and must contend with internal fiscal pressures, such as rising maintenance and operations costs. In addition, external fiscal pressures, such as the growing national debt and the significant economic contraction caused by the coronavirus pandemic, are all likely to limit the growth of – and perhaps reduce – military spending. Indeed, the Trump administration is recommending a lower national defense budget top line in fiscal year 2021 than Congress provided last year.

“The Pentagon must come to terms with the reality that future defense budgets are likely to be flat, which will force leaders to make some tough choices,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Feb. 6.

The costs and risks of the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans are compounded by its hostility to arms control. The administration withdrew the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August 2019 and has shown little interest in extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). If New START expires in February 2021 with nothing to replace it, the incentives for the United States and Russia to grow the size of their arsenals beyond the treaty limits would grow. A new quantitative arms race would cause the already high costs of the modernization effort to soar even higher.

Triad Budget Rises as Planned

The budget request contains large but planned increases to maintain the schedule of Pentagon programs to sustain and rebuild the U.S. triad of nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers.

The request includes $4.4 billion for the Navy program to build 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). The Air Force is seeking $2.8 billion to continue development of the B-21 Raider strategic bomber, $500 million for the long-range standoff weapon program to replace the existing air-launched cruise missile, and $1.5 billion for the program to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile with a missile system called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). The Pentagon is also asking for $4.2 billion to sustain and upgrade nuclear command, control, and communications systems.

Collectively, the request for these programs is an increase of $3.2 billion, or more than 30 percent, above the fiscal year 2020 level.

Over the next five years, the Pentagon is projecting to request $167 billion to sustain and modernize delivery systems and their supporting command and control infrastructure. The Columbia-class, GBSD, and B-21 programs could each cost between $100-$150 billion after including the effects of inflation and likely cost overruns, easily putting them among the top 10 most expensive Pentagon acquisition programs.

 
 

 

NNSA Budget Explodes

The NNSA budget submission includes large unplanned cost increases for several ongoing warhead life extension programs, the acceleration of the W93 program to develop a newly-designed submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead, the expansion of the production of plutonium pits for nuclear warheads to at least 80 per year, and other large infrastructure recapitalization projects.

The factors driving the NNSA to request such large unplanned increases are unclear. The agency said last year that its fiscal year 2020 budget plan was “fully consistent” with the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review and “affordable and executable.” Under that proposal, the NNSA did not plan to request more than $15 billion for the weapons activities account until 2030.

Several major ongoing programs would reportedly be delayed in the absence of the increase, which would suggest that they have encountered cost overruns. 

It is unlikely that the NNSA will be able to spend such a large increase in one year. Allison Bawden, a director at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told the House Armed Services Committee on March 3 that spending the requested amount “will be very challenging.” This view is supported by the fact that the weapons activities account is sitting on approximately $5.5 billion in unspent carryover balances from previous years.

Despite massive budget increases since the Trump administration took office, the executability of NNSA’s plans is highly questionable. The ambition of the agency’s modernization program is unlike anything seen since the Cold War. Bawden noted that the GAO is “concerned about the long-term affordability of the plans.” Former NNSA administrator Frank Klotz said in a January 2018 interview before the release of the Nuclear Posture Review that the agency was already “working pretty much at full capacity.”

According to Bawden, the tightly coupled nature of the NNSA’s modernization program is such that “any delay could have a significant cascading effect on the overall effort.” The agency has consistently underestimated the cost and schedule risks of major warhead life extension programs and infrastructure recapitalization projects. An independent assessment published last year found “no historical precedent” for the NNSA’s plan to produce 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030. The assessment also stated that the agency had never completed a major project costing more than $700 million in fewer than 16 years.

This chart shows the NNSA’s future-years nuclear security program (FYNSP) for each fiscal year starting with FY 2017. The FYNSP reflects what the agency estimates its budget will be for that current fiscal year and the four succeeding fiscal years.Moreover, while the NNSA’s five-year spending projection sustains the enormous fiscal year 2021 funding proposal, outyear funding is slated to grow at a set rate of 2.1 percent. In other words, the outyear projections aren't based on what NNSA believes it will actually need. Several major NNSA efforts, such as developing a warhead for a new sea-launched cruise missile and the full scope of the plutonium pit production and uranium enrichment recapitalization plans, are not yet part of the budget. In sum, if "past is precedent," the outyear projections will exceed growth with inflation.

Nuclear Force Modernization Cannibalizes Conventional Military Modernization

The damaging opportunity costs of the administration’s decision to prioritize nuclear weapons are on full display in the budget request. The Navy has long been warning that the planned recapitalization of the ballistic missile submarine force will pose a particularly significant affordability challenge. The request includes funding to purchase the first submarine in the class over the next three years.

“[W]e must begin a 40-year recapitalization of our [SSBN] force,” Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly wrote in a Feb. 18 memo directing the Navy to identify $40 billion in savings over the next five years. “This requirement will consume a significant portion of our shipbuilding budget in the coming years and squeeze out funds we need to build a larger fleet.”

The Navy is requesting $19.9 billion for shipbuilding in fiscal year 2021, a decrease of $4.1 billion below the fiscal year 2020 level.

The shipbuilding budget also paid the price for the enormous unplanned increase for the NNSA. The agency’s budget submission was reportedly a controversial issue within the Trump administration and was not resolved until days before the Feb. 10 public release of the budget. President Trump ultimately signed off on adding over $2 billion to the NNSA’s weapons activities account, forcing a late scramble to make room for the additional funding.

Though the Pentagon has not confirmed the exact amount that was taken to pay for the increase, members of Congress and media reports indicate that the increase for the NNSA prevented the Navy from adding a second Virginia-class attack submarine to the shipbuilding budget. The decision to cut an attack submarine to pay for a budget increase the NNSA said last year it didn’t need is hard to square with the Pentagon’s top overall defense priority of preparing for great power competition with China.

Nuclear Weapons Aren’t Cheap

The Pentagon argues that even at its peak in the late-2020s, spending on nuclear weapons is affordable because it will consume a peak of roughly 6.4 percent of total Pentagon spending in 2029. But this figure is misleading for several reasons. For starters, the figure doesn’t include spending at the NNSA. When NNSA spending is included, nuclear weapons already account for 6 percent of the total FY 2021 national defense budget request. Regardless, even 6 percent of a budget as large as the Pentagon’s is an enormous amount of money. By comparison, the March 2013 congressionally mandated sequester reduced national defense spending (minus exempt military personnel accounts) by 7 percent. Military leaders and lawmakers repeatedly described the sequester as devastating.

Meanwhile, a better measure of the opportunity costs of prioritizing nuclear modernization is to compare spending on that modernization to overall Defense Department acquisition spending. The Pentagon is requesting $17.7 billion for nuclear weapons research, development, and procurement in fiscal year 2021. This amount already accounts for 7.3 percent of the total requested Pentagon acquisition spending. While the Pentagon is projecting a decline in total acquisition spending over the next five years, nuclear acquisition spending is primed for a major increase. The CBO estimated in 2017 that by the early 2030s, spending on nuclear weapons would rise to 15 percent of the Pentagon’s total acquisition costs.

Pentagon officials also repeatedly claim that unless they get every penny that they are asking for to modernize the arsenal, the arsenal will begin to erode into obsolescence. But this is a false choice. The right question is whether the administration’s approach is necessary, sustainable, and safe, especially in the absence of any negotiated restraints on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. And the right answer is that the administration’s current path is unnecessary, unsustainable, and unsafe – and must be rethought.

Recommendations for Congress

The bottom line is that Trump administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans cannot be sustained without significant and sustained increases to defense spending – which are unlikely to be forthcoming – or cuts to other security priorities. The current approach is a costly and irrational recipe for nuclear modernization program delays and scope reductions.

But while the plans pose significant challenges, they need not prevent the United States from continuing to field a powerful and credible nuclear force sufficient to deter or respond to a nuclear attack against the United States and its allies. The administration inherited a larger and more diverse nuclear arsenal than is required for deterrence and its approach to modernization and arms control would increase the risks of miscalculation, unintended escalation, and accelerated global nuclear competition.

Instead, the United States could save at least $150 billion in fiscal year 2017 constant dollars through the mid-2040s by adjusting the current modernization approach while still retaining a triad and deploying the New START limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. Such an approach would reflect a nuclear strategy that reduces reliance on nuclear weapons, emphasizes stability and survivability, de-emphasizes nuclear warfighting, reduces the risk of miscalculation, and is more affordable and executable.

The options include:

  • Buying 10 instead of 12 new Columbia class ballistic missile submarines;
  • Extending the life of the existing Minuteman III ICBM instead of building a new missile and reducing the size of the ICBM force from 400 missiles to 300 missiles (for a detailed discussion of the case for this option, see here);
  • Foregoing development of new nuclear air- and sea-launched cruise missiles;
  • Scaling back plans to build newly-designed ICBM and SLBM warheads;
  • Aiming for a pit production capacity of 30-50 pits per year by 2035 instead of at least 80 pits per year by 2030;
  • Foregoing development of a new uranium enrichment facility; and
  • Retiring the megaton-class B-83 gravity bomb.

Simply reverting to the fiscal year 2020 budget plan for NNSA weapons activities would save over $15.5 billion over the next five years.

Now is the time to re-evaluate nuclear weapons spending plans before the largest investments are made. Of course, pressure on the defense budget cannot be relieved solely by reducing nuclear weapons spending. A significant portion of the overall cost of nuclear weapons is fixed. That said, changes to the nuclear replacement program could make it easier to execute and ease some of the hard choices facing the overall defense enterprise.

In addition to pursuing adjustments to the scope and scale of the modernization program, Congress should also take steps to improve its understanding of the long-term budget challenges. These include:

  • Holding in-depth hearings on U.S. nuclear weapons policy and spending;
  • Requiring the Defense and Energy Departments to prepare a report on options for reducing the scale and scope of their nuclear modernization plans and the associated cost savings;
  • Mandating unclassified annual government updates on the projected long-term costs of nuclear weapons;
  • Requiring an independent report on alternatives to building a new ICBM;
  • Tasking the GAO to annually assess the affordability of the Defense and Energy Department’s modernization plans; and
  • Requiring the NNSA to perform detailed work examining the estimated life of plutonium pits.

Also, lawmakers should more aggressively highlight the relationship between arms control and upgrading the arsenal. The administration’s current one-sided approach both compounds the dangers of the spending plans and flies in the face of longstanding Congressional support for the pursuit of modernization and arms control in tandem.

If the administration continues to insist on nuclear weapons modernization without arms control, then Congress should make it clear that it will not allow the president to increase the size of the arsenal above the New START limits and will be further emboldened to seek to restrain the administration’s excessive and unsustainable spending plans.—Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, and Shannon Bugos, research assistant

Description: 

The Trump administration’s excessive strategy to replace nearly the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal at roughly the same time is a ticking budget time bomb, even at historically high levels of national defense spending.

Country Resources:

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, March 13, 2020

Trump Officials Remain Bullish on Trilateral Arms Control and Bearish on New START President Donald Trump said recently that he is open to meeting with the other heads of state of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to discuss arms control and will soon put forward a trilateral arms control proposal with Russia and China. But China continues to express its opposition to trilateral talks and has yet to respond to U.S. overtures to begin a bilateral strategic security dialogue. At the same time, the U.S. administration continues to deflect questions about its stance on the New...

U.S.-Russia Talks to Begin Soon, U.S. Says


March 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia are nearing the start of new arms control talks, but China is presently uninterested in limiting its nuclear forces, U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said last month.

White House National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien participates in a February event in Washington. He acknowledged publicly for the first time in February that China is not interested in arms control talks with the United States or Russia. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)“We’ll be sitting down with our Russian colleagues very soon,” O’Brien said Feb. 11. “We’ll have to wait and see how those negotiations play out.”

He also acknowledged—the first time an administration official has done so—that China has no interest in joining the negotiations. “So far, and this is not surprising, the Chinese are not interested in arms control,” he said.

O’Brien’s admission stands in contrast to repeated statements from U.S. President Donald Trump that China is eager to join arms control talks. Beijing is “extremely excited about getting involved,” Trump claimed last December.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), signed in 2010, will expire on Feb. 5, 2021, unless the United States and Russia mutually agree to extend it by up to five years.

Moscow stands ready to extend New START immediately and without any preconditions, according to remarks Russian President Vladimir Putin made in late 2019, but the Trump administration has yet to make its decision regarding the future of the accord. During his Feb. 11 remarks, O’Brien said he would not “get into conditions or that sort of thing in this context or in this forum” on potential U.S. preconditions for extending New START. U.S. officials have previously said Washington prefers to seek a more comprehensive deal that covers additional types of nuclear weapons and includes China.

Senior administration officials addressed bringing China into the arms control process at a Feb. 14 background briefing for reporters at the White House, but the administration has not yet put forward a proposal for a new accord. “Now is the time for China to put its money where its mouth is and prove that it is a responsible international actor,” said one official, Reuters reported.

“On New START, we have made no decision on a possible extension as we are focused on addressing a broader range of threats beyond just the weapons subject to the treaty,” another official said.

For its part, China has consistently expressed its opposition to trilateral talks with the United States and Russia. “This position is very clear and has been widely understood by the international community, including Russia,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters on Jan. 22. The United States “constantly makes an issue of China on this to dodge and shift its responsibilities for nuclear disarmament,” he said.

Robert Wood, the U.S. permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, claimed on Jan. 21 that Washington and Moscow had reached an “understanding” about pursuing trilateral talks with China. “Hopefully over time and through the influence of others besides the United States, [China] will come to the table,” he said.

Soviet Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, however, stated on Feb. 10 that Moscow “will not try to convince China” to join the talks. “If the Americans are quite sure that it makes no sense to take any further steps on the New START…without China, let them get down to business on this all on their own,” he said. “Even if a multilateral process gets under way, it will be utterly protracted,” and “we ought to have a safety net in an extended New START.”

“We have told the Americans as much,” he said. “They are still silent.”

In addition to pursuing trilateral talks with Russia and China, Christopher Ford, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said on Dec. 20 that the United States had invited China to begin a bilateral strategic security dialogue. Fu Cong, director of the arms control department at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, remarked on Feb. 12 at a conference of nuclear-weapon states in London that Beijing will answer Ford’s proposal “soon.”

Another reported hindrance to the U.S. effort to negotiate a more comprehensive replacement for New START is the Trump administration’s inability to find a lead negotiator for the undertaking. The administration has offered the role to several potential candidates, but no one has agreed to take it, Politico reported on Feb. 12.

Calls from key foreign leaders and former officials to extend New START have intensified amid the administration’s continued indecision on the future of the accord.

“It is critical that the New START…be extended beyond 2021,” said French President Emmanuel Macron in a Feb. 7 speech on defense and deterrence. The uncertainty regarding the treaty’s future, he said, contributes to “the possibility of a return of pure unhindered military and nuclear competition by 2021.” Macron joined other U.S. allies, such as Finland, Germany, and the United Kingdom, in endorsing the treaty’s extension.

The Aspen Ministers Forum, a group of former foreign ministers from around the world, released a statement on Feb. 10 also supporting prolonging the treaty. “Extending New START would lay solid groundwork and build momentum towards increased international cooperation in the new decade,” they stated.

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia resumed their dialogue on strategic security on Jan. 16 in Vienna. The State Department said the two sides discussed “nuclear stockpiles and strategy, crisis and arms race stability, and the role and potential future of arms control, including the importance of moving beyond a solely bilateral format.” The dialogue will continue, and the two sides will “begin expert-level engagement on particular topics in the near future,” according to the State Department.

In remarks to the press after the January meeting, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov commented that the talks were “difficult” and that Russia does not have a clear understanding of Washington’s overall strategic plan for arms control.

New START caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers, and 800 deployed and nondeployed missile launchers and bombers each. It also put into place a rigorous inspections and verification regime, on which the U.S. military relies for knowledge about the Russian arsenal.

While declining to share his advice to the Trump administration on New START’s extension, Gen. John Hyten, current vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), recently emphasized the importance of the accord.

“If you’re the STRATCOM commander, New START is really important,” Hyten said Jan. 17. “It allows you to posture your force and understand what you have to do in order to deter the adversary, Russia in this case, and tells you what you have to do. It also gives you insight into the Russian nuclear forces because of the verification regime.”

Hyten expressed concern about Russian nuclear weapons not covered by the treaty, such as new strategic nuclear weapon delivery vehicles that Moscow is developing and Russia’s larger arsenal of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, estimated at 2,000 warheads. “We have to make sure that when we sit down with Russia, we talk about all the nuclear weapons that are out there,” he said.

 

A dialogue may be advancing between the United States and Russia, but China appears unwilling to discuss any limits to its nuclear arsenal.

U.S. Deploys Low-Yield Nuclear Warhead


March 2020
By Shannon Bugos

The U.S. Navy has fielded a low-yield nuclear warhead for some of its submarine-launched ballistic missiles for the first time, the Defense Department confirmed in February. The move, first proposed in the Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report, “strengthens deterrence and provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon,” said John Rood, undersecretary of defense for policy, in a Feb. 4 statement.

The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee returns to base in Kings Bay, Georgia in 2011. The boat is reportedly the first to have some of its missiles armed with low-yield nuclear warheads. (Photo: James Kimber/U.S. Navy)The new type of warhead, called the W76-2, “demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario,” Rood added. The warhead is estimated to have an explosive yield of five kilotons, roughly one-third the yield of the bomb that the United States dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Feb. 7 that “the bottom line” is that the new warhead gives the president “options [that will] allow us to deter conflict” and “if necessary…fight and win.”

The NPR report said the W76-2 would “ensure a prompt response option that is able to penetrate adversary defenses” and “help counter any mistaken perception of an exploitable ‘gap’ in U.S. regional deterrence capabilities.” The report argued that the low-yield warhead would counter Russia’s alleged “escalate-to-deescalate” strategy of threatening to employ tactical nuclear weapons in a conventional confrontation so as to deter further aggression and deescalate the conflict “on terms favorable to Russia.” Moscow denies having this strategy.

Russia criticized the new warhead’s deployment. The decision “reflects the fact that the United States is actually lowering the nuclear threshold and that they are conceding the possibility of them waging a limited nuclear war and winning this war. This is extremely alarming,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov on Feb. 5.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), an opponent of the NPR report’s call for new low-yield warhead capabilities, described the administration’s decision to deploy the W76-2 as “misguided and dangerous.”

“This destabilizing deployment further increases the potential for miscalculation during a crisis,” Smith said in a Feb. 4 statement.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the panel’s ranking member, supported the deployment, saying that the weapon “enhances U.S. deterrence and tells Russia that any attempt to use nuclear weapons as part of an escalate-to-deescalate approach will not
be successful.”

Although the W76-2 was a controversial issue in Congress in 2019, lawmakers ultimately approved the Trump administration’s request for nearly $30 million to support fielding of the warhead in fiscal year 2020. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

The Federation of American Scientists first reported on Jan. 29 that the W76-2 had been deployed at the end of 2019 on the USS Tennessee, a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine based at Kings Bay Submarine Base in Georgia.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced in February 2019 the successful completion of the first warhead at the Pantex plant in Texas and stated that it was on track to “deliver the units” to the U.S. Navy by the end of fiscal year 2019. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that the NNSA has since produced about 50 W76-2 low-yield warheads.

 

The U.S. Navy has begun to field a new warhead on a U.S. ballistic missile submarine.

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