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"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
Shannon Bugos

Russia, U.S. Adhere to New START Limits


December 2021

Russia and the United States are continuing to adhere to the limits on their strategic nuclear arsenals established by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) as the two countries engage in a dialogue on the future of arms control.

Under New START, Moscow and Washington exchange data twice a year to confirm that they are complying with the cap of 1,550 nuclear warheads deployed on 700 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers. The treaty also limits deployed and nondeployed heavy bombers and launchers for ICBMs and SLBMs to 800.

As of Sept. 1, the United States has 1,389 warheads deployed on 665 delivery vehicles, while maintaining 800 deployed and nondeployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and heavy bombers. Russia has 1,458 warheads deployed on 527 delivery vehicles, in addition to 742 deployed and nondeployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and heavy bombers.

Since the treaty’s implementation in February 2018, the number of deployed nuclear warheads in each country has fluctuated roughly between 1,300 and 1,450.

This latest data exchange came as the United States and Russia hold discussions within their bilateral strategic stability dialogue on the future of arms control after New START expires in 2026. The two sides last met at the end of September. (See ACT, November 2021.)

The Biden administration’s goal is to hold the third round of the dialogue since the start of the administration by the end of the year.

The dialogue is separate from more formal negotiations on an arms control agreement that could follow New START, but the Biden administration has yet to establish a timeline for transitioning the dialogue into a negotiation with Moscow.

Meanwhile, treaty inspections that had been paused since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic were scheduled to restart on Nov. 1, according to an October statement from the U.S. Defense Department. Asked for comment by Arms Control Today on Nov. 15, the State Department suggested that inspections have not resumed.

“The United States is currently exploring measures for resuming inspections while mitigating the risks to U.S. and Russian personnel,” said a State Department spokesperson.

The inspections are intended to confirm the information contained in the biannual data exchanges.
—SHANNON BUGOS

Russia, U.S. Adhere to New START Limits

NATO Concludes Annual Nuclear Exercise


December 2021

NATO has wrapped up its annual week-long nuclear deterrence exercise, called Steadfast Noon, across southern Europe with aircraft and personnel from 14 allied countries.

“The exercise is a routine, recurring training activity, and it is not linked to any current world events,” NATO said in a statement on Oct. 18 as the exercise began. “This exercise helps to ensure that NATO’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective.”

A different NATO country hosts Steadfast Noon each year.The alliance normally does not identify the host country, with the exception of last year when NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg publicly visited Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands, the main operating base for the exercise. (See ACT, December 2020.)

Hans Kristensen from the Federation of American Scientists determined that the 2021 exercise was likely hosted by Italy out of Ghedi and Aviano air bases, which are home to an estimated 15 and 20 U.S. B61-3/-4 gravity bombs, respectively. Another 65 B61-3/-4 bombs are believed to be deployed in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Turkey.

The United States is developing the more accurate B61-12, which will replace all existing gravity bombs and is scheduled to have the first production unit completed in late 2021. Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands are in the process of acquiring the new F-35A fighter jet, which conducted in September its final flight test to complete the nuclear design certification process and ensure compatibility with the B61-12. (See ACT, November 2021.)

“The combination of the F-35A and B61-12 represent a significant improvement of the military capability of the NATO dual-capable aircraft posture in Europe,” Kristensen wrote in an Oct. 20 blog post.

Steadfast Noon is designed so NATO can practice and assess its nuclear capabilities deployed in Europe. The aircraft do not carry live bombs during the exercise flights.

This year’s exercise occurred during NATO’s defense ministerial meetings, which started Oct 21. “NATO’s goal is a world without nuclear weapons,” said Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings. Yet, “a world where Russia, China, and other countries like North Korea have nuclear weapons, but NATO does not, is simply not a safer world.”
—SHANNON BUGOS

NATO Concludes Annual Nuclear Exercise

China’s Nuclear Expansion: The Challenges, Implications, and Risk Reduction Options

Sections:

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Wednesday, November 17, 2021
2:00 - 3:30pm Eastern time
via Zoom webinar

As the Biden administration continues to conduct a review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy scheduled to be completed in early 2022, China appears to be in pursuit of a significant and concerning expansion in the diversity and size of its nuclear forces.

Speakers

  • Gerald Brown, defense analyst at Valiant Integrated Services
  • Rose Gottemoeller, former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and deputy secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
  • Lynn Rusten, vice president of the Global Nuclear Policy Program at the Nuclear Threat Initiative
  • Daryl Kimball (moderator), executive director of the Arms Control Association

Our speakers addressed the factors that appear to be driving China to augment its nuclear capabilities and what those advancements mean for strategic and regional stability, the importance of dialogue and engagement with Beijing on nuclear risk reduction and options for doing so, and the implications of China’s nuclear advances for U.S. nuclear force posture and modernization.

The Defense Department now projects that China is expected to exceed the department’s earlier estimate that Beijing is poised to at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile over the next decade. Recent analysis of satellite imagery by respected nongovernmental organizations has revealed the construction of at least 250 new missile silos at as many as three locations across China. Beijing also conducted over the summer two tests associated with the development of hypersonic weapons, one of which potentially involved a long-range nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle that flew through low-orbit space and circled the globe.

The Pentagon’s latest annual report on China Military Power slated to be released this month highlights several of these and other Chinese nuclear advances.

The Biden administration has expressed grave concerns about China’s nuclear advances and argued that “Beijing has sharply deviated from its decades-old nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence.” The administration seeks to commence a dialogue on nuclear risk reduction with Beijing, but thus far, China has rebuffed the prospect.

Whether China implements the projected nuclear buildup over the next several years remains to be seen and is likely to be determined by several variables. These variables include the trajectory of the overall U.S.-China strategic relationship, U.S. and allied military deployments in the Indo-Pacific, and advances in U.S. long-range conventional strike and missile defense capabilities.

Description: 

As the Biden administration continues to conduct a review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy scheduled to be completed in early 2022, China appears to be in pursuit of a significant and concerning expansion of the diversity and the size of its nuclear forces.

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U.S. Hypersonic Capabilities Advance


November 2021
By Shannon Bugos

The Pentagon continued to move forward this fall with the development and initial deployment of hypersonic capabilities as part of its race to keep pace with China and Russia. At the same time, high-ranking U.S. officials raised questions about the rationale for and affordability of these programs.

Soldiers of 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade took delivery of the first prototype Dark Eagle hypersonic missiles, also known as the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon system, on Oct. 7 with a ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. (Photo by U.S. Army)“The target set that we would want to address, and why hypersonics are the most cost-effective weapons for the U.S., I think it’s still, to me, somewhat of a question mark,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said on Sept. 21, adding that he is reassessing the department’s hypersonic plans.

Gen. Mark Kelley, commander of Air Combat Command, concurred with Kendall a few days later, telling reporters that “[w]e do need to make sure we have an unambiguous, well-understood [concept of operations for hypersonic weapons] as
we go forward.”

Meanwhile, Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, lodged concerns about the price of the weapons, saying on Oct. 12 that “we need to figure out how to drive towards more affordable hypersonics.”

But Mark Lewis, former acting deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, took issue with the scrutiny of the program, telling Breaking Defense on Sept. 24 that he is “puzzled that the Air Force might be pulling back because we had done extensive studies and extensive analysis that demonstrated quite clearly the effectiveness of these systems.”

These remarks came after two failed tests earlier this year of the Air Force’s air-launched hypersonic boost-glide vehicle. (See ACT, September 2021.) In late September, the Pentagon successfully tested an air-launched hypersonic cruise missile, called the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), and completed deployment of prototype equipment for a ground-launched hypersonic glide vehicle.

All of the primary objectives for HAWC’s free-flight test—“vehicle integration and release sequence, safe separation from the launch aircraft, booster ignition and boost, booster separation and engine ignition, and cruise”—were met, according to a Sept. 27 statement by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The agency conducted the successful test with support from the Air Force.

“The HAWC free-flight test was a successful demonstration of the capabilities that will make hypersonic cruise missiles a highly effective tool for our war-fighters,” said Andrew Knoedler, HAWC program manager in the DARPA Tactical Technology Office. “This brings us one step closer to transitioning HAWC to a program of record that offers next-generation capability to the U.S. military.”

DARPA announced in September 2020 that it had completed two captive-carry tests of two HAWC variants, but “dumb mistakes” and “basic errors” prevented the free-flight test of one of those missiles last December, according to an Air Force Magazine report.

The Army also made recent progress by completing delivery of prototype hardware for its Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) system, also known as Dark Eagle, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

“Delivery of the hardware began in March 2021 and finished at the end of September 2021,” the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office said in an Oct. 7 press release. The delivery did not include missiles but rather “a battery operations center, four transporter erector launchers, and modified trucks and trailers that make up the LRHW ground equipment.” The Army plans to field an operational first battery, which would include missiles, in fiscal year 2023.

“Today marks an important milestone in equipping our nation’s first hypersonic battery,” said Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, who oversees the critical technologies office, in the press release. “Now, soldiers can begin training.” The training began the week of Oct. 18, and the Army unit will be involved in a series of upcoming flight tests, he added on Oct. 11.

The LRHW system features the common hypersonic glide body, which is shared with the Navy for its sea-launched hypersonic weapons capability, called the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) system, that is scheduled to achieve an initial operating capability in fiscal year 2025. The two services jointly tested the system in March 2020. (See ACT, April 2020.)

In October, the Pentagon also conducted three successful tests of “advanced hypersonic technologies, capabilities, and prototype systems” related to the LRHW and CPS programs in Virginia and an additional failed hypersonic weapons test as part of “a data collection experiment” in Alaska, Reuters reported.

The Pentagon has prioritized the rapid deployment of hypersonic weapons in part to compete with similar Chinese and Russian capabilities.

Moscow fielded the Avangard, a hypersonic glide vehicle, in 2019. Beijing displayed a ballistic missile designed to carry a hypersonic glide vehicle, the DF-17, during its 2019 military parade. In the summer of 2021, China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle, apparently carried on a rocket, that flew through low-orbit space and circled the globe, according to U.S. intelligence sources.

“From the perspective of proliferation, the Chinese and the Russians both have invested significant amounts and made significant progress” with respect to hypersonic weapons, said Brig. Gen. John M. Olson, the Air Force’s acting chief technology and innovation officer, on Sept. 28. “As a nation, [the United States has] taken a substantive early lead and turned that into a national effort to get…caught up and drive forward across the industrial base and the services.”

 

The Pentagon continued to move forward with the development and initial deployment of hypersonic capabilities as part of its race to keep pace with China and Russia.

China Tested Hypersonic Capability, U.S. Says


November 2021
By Shannon Bugos

China has tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle, carried on a rocket, that flew through low-orbit space and circled the globe before striking within two dozen miles of its target, U.S. intelligence sources told the Financial Times.

The DF-17 Dongfeng medium-range ballistic missile, pictured in a military parade in 2019, may be China's most well-known hypersonic system, although it is not believed to be the one involved in the July 27 test. (Photo by Zoya Rusinova\TASS via Getty Images)Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declined to comment on the Oct. 16 report about the July 27 test. “What I can tell you is that we watch closely China’s development of armaments and advanced capabilities and systems that will only increase tensions in the region,” he told reporters on Oct. 18. “China is a challenge, and we’re going to remain focused on that.”

On the same day, State Department spokesperson Ned Price emphasized the need for “pursuing practical measures with [Beijing] to reduce nuclear risk.”

“We have reached out” to China, he told reporters. “We have made very clear our interest in engaging with [Beijing], as responsible countries would and do, in the context of these powerful weapons and weapons systems.”

Russia, meanwhile, dismissed any concern over the report. “We have allied and partner relationships with China,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Oct. 19. “China is developing its armed forces and weapon systems without going beyond the scope of any international commitments.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed the claim it tested a new weapon. “This was a routine test of space vehicle to verify technology of spacecraft’s reusability,” said spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Oct. 18.

U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall in September seemed to hint at China’s development of a system like the one reported by the Financial Times. He said Beijing is developing capabilities that may allow for “the potential for global strikes, strikes from space.” Kendall specifically referenced the concept of the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS), which was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and was operationally deployed in the 1970s to bring a missile into Earth’s low orbit. Such a trajectory would allow the missile system to come from the south via Antarctica and evade the Arctic, where U.S. early-warning radar detection is concentrated.

But following news of the July test, Kendall attempted to clarify his remarks. “People have been interpreting my remarks as telegraphing something…[but] the point I was trying to make, I think, was there are a lot of things that are in the realms of feasibility, and…we need to worry about that,” he said on Oct. 18.

Michael Griffin, former undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, described the test as “a really big deal.”

“I’m not one to mince words—it is an arms race,” Griffin told NPR on Oct. 20, “and critically, we didn't start it.”

Some experts suggest that the impetus for Beijing’s possible development of this system can be tied partly to its concerns about U.S. missile defenses. “This is almost certainly, on a technical and strategic level at least, motivated by concerns about a potential breakthrough in U.S. missile defense capabilities,” tweeted Ankit Panda, the Stanton Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on Oct. 18.

The Financial Times, citing two sources, reported on Oct. 20 that Beijing conducted a second test of a hypersonic system on Aug. 13, but there were no additional details.

The alleged tests come after recent revelations that China has constructed at least 250 new missile silos at as many as three locations across China, which fueled concerns of a rapid nuclear build-up in the third-largest nuclear-weapon state. (See ACT, September 2021.)

“It almost seems like we can’t go through a month without some new revelation coming about China,” said Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, on Oct. 18. “I am not surprised at reports like this. I won’t be surprised when another report comes next month.”

China has tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle, U.S. intelligence sources told the
Financial Times.

U.S., Russia Establish Strategic Stability Groups


November 2021
By Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia established two working groups during a September strategic stability dialogue as a next step to make meaningful progress on arms control for the first time in nearly a decade.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (left) and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, leaders of their respective delegations, bump elbows  in front of their national flags before a round of strategic stability talks in Geneva on July 28. (Photo by U.S. Mission Geneva)The two countries released a joint statement following the Sept. 30 meeting in Geneva, which described the dialogue as “intensive and substantive” and officially named the Working Group on Principles and Objectives for Future Arms Control and the Working Group on Capabilities and Actions With Strategic Effects.

“The delegations additionally agreed that the two working groups would commence their meetings, to be followed by a third plenary meeting,” the statement said. The date of the third meeting is yet to be announced.

After the dialogue, a senior U.S. administration official told Reuters there was “a detailed and dynamic exchange” and “the discussion was very interactive and broad based and we think we were able to cover a variety of issues.”

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman led the U.S. delegation alongside Bonnie Jenkins, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov led the delegation from Moscow.

“It is no surprise that the dialogue proves that the two sides have many discords, disagreements, and contradictory views on things, and only a few points of convergence,” Ryabkov told the Geneva Centre for Security Policy on Oct. 1. But “it is just the beginning of the journey. If political will and readiness for creative diplomacy prevail on both sides, then there are no unbridgeable gaps.”

The first round of the strategic stability dialogue under the Biden administration took place in July. (See ACT, September 2021.) President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed during their June summit to relaunch the dialogue to “seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.” (See ACT, July/August 2021.)

Jenkins outlined the Biden administration’s goals for the dialogue on Sept. 6, saying that U.S. efforts “are guided by several key concepts,” which include seeking to limit new kinds of intercontinental-range nuclear delivery systems; address all nuclear warheads, such as nonstrategic, or tactical, nuclear weapons; and maintain the limits imposed by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). She added that the administration has also made pursuing new risk reduction measures with China a “priority.”

Russia has sought to develop “a new security equation” that addresses all nuclear and non-nuclear, offensive and defensive weapons that affect strategic stability. That would include U.S. missile defense systems, which Washington has resisted putting on the table.

The new groups are different than those established by the Trump administration that focused on nuclear warheads and doctrine, verification, and space. The new working group on future arms control might aim, for instance, to outline the scope of what agreement could follow after New START expires in 2026. Ryabkov has said that what may come next could be “a legally binding document, perhaps not one, but several texts, both legally and politically binding, if such an option is deemed preferable by both parties.”

The other new working group on capabilities and actions with strategic effects might cover discussion on issues such as long-range conventional or dual-capable precision fires, such as hypersonic weapons, and tactical nuclear weapons.

It remains unclear whether or how the Biden administration plans to transition the strategic stability dialogue to more formal negotiations on an arms control agreement or other arrangement to follow New START. Biden said in June that “we’ll find out within the next six months to a year whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters.”

Following the September meeting, Ryabkov described the Biden administration’s “concepts and ideas” as “immature at this stage” due to the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review. “We take it as it is and believe that, in the meantime, there is enough space for intense discussions,” he told the Geneva Centre on Oct. 1.

Ryabkov reiterated Moscow’s rejection of a 2020 proposal that paired a one-year extension of New START with a one-year freeze on the numbers of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads. (See ACT, November 2020.) At the time, New START was set to expire in February 2021. But the Trump administration also requested that the freeze contain detailed definitions and verification measures, which prompted Russia to dismiss the proposal.

“It was a one-time offer,” said Ryabkov after the September dialogue, and the United States “missed the opportunity.” Last year, he had said that, by adding other terms to the freeze, the Trump administration “will immediately destroy the possibility of reaching the agreement.”

New START, signed in 2010, caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed delivery vehicles and heavy bombers each. The Bilateral Consultative Commission, the treaty implementing body, restarted its meetings for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic on Oct. 5-14 in Geneva. “The U.S. and Russian delegations continued the discussion of practical issues related to the implementation of the treaty,” the U.S. State Department said a statement. But on-site inspections conducted under the treaty have not resumed.

The United States and Russia established two working groups as a next step to make meaningful progress on arms control for the first time in nearly a decade.

U.S. Discloses Nuclear Stockpile Numbers


November 2021
By Shannon Bugos

The Biden administration has publicly released the total number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile, a sharp reversal of the previous administration’s refusal to do so for the past three years.

“Today, as an act of good faith and a tangible, public demonstration of the U.S. commitment to transparency, we will present data which documents our own record of continued progress toward the achievement of the goals” of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), said Bonnie Jenkins, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, on Oct. 5.

The U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads was at 3,750 as of September 2020, according to the administration document. This number captures active and inactive warheads, but not the roughly 2,000 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement. The document lists stockpile numbers going back to 1962, including the warhead numbers from the years when the Trump administration refused to declassify the information.

“This number represents an approximate 88 percent reduction in the stockpile from its maximum (31,255) at the end of fiscal year 1967, and an approximate 83 percent reduction from its level (22,217) when the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989,” the document said.

Despite a significant overall reduction, the updated figures show the scale of reductions to the stockpile has diminished in recent years and even reflect a 20 warhead increase between September 2018 and September 2019 under the Trump administration.

The Biden administration also disclosed how many nuclear warheads the Energy Department has dismantled each year since 1994, for a total of 11,683. The Obama administration decided in 2010, for the first time, to release the entire history of the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. The Trump administration declassified the stockpile data for 2017, but did not do so again for the following years.

On Oct. 6, Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, praised the Biden moves, saying that “such transparency measures are going to be crucial for future nuclear arms reductions.” But Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lambasted the decision in an Oct. 5 statement: “China and Russia failed to reciprocate any transparency when the United States did this during the Obama era, and instead embarked on major, opaque expansions and modernizations of their nuclear forces.”

The Biden administration, reversing its predecessor, has publicly released the total number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile.

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