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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
United States

U.S. Completes INF Treaty Withdrawal


September 2019
By Shannon Bugos

Less than one year after President Donald Trump informally announced that the United States would withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the State Department announced on Aug. 2 that the move was officially complete. The treaty’s death leaves just the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in place to limit U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons deployments, and that pact is due to expire in February 2021.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears at the State Department's anniversary celebration on July 29, three days before the United States withdrew from the INF Treaty. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)For several years, the United States has alleged that Russia was in violation of the INF Treaty by testing and deploying a banned missile system, and Washington pinned its treaty withdrawal squarely on Russia. “Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in announcing the U.S. move. “Over the past six months, the United States provided Russia a final opportunity to correct its noncompliance. As it has for many years, Russia chose to keep its noncompliant missile rather than going back into compliance with its treaty obligations.”

Russia and China strongly criticized the Trump administration’s action and sought to blame the United States for the end of the treaty. “Instead of engaging in a meaningful discussion on international security matters, the United States opted for simply undercutting many years of efforts to reduce the probability of a large-scale armed conflict, including the use of nuclear weapons,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an Aug. 5 statement. He added that Moscow will mirror the development of any missiles that the United States makes.

Similarly, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Aug. 2 that “[w]ithdrawing from the INF Treaty is another negative move of the U.S. that ignores its international commitment and pursues unilateralism. Its real intention is to make the treaty no longer binding on itself so that it can unilaterally seek military and strategic edge.”

For its part, NATO supported the U.S. decision, saying in a statement that “a situation whereby the United States fully abides by the treaty, and Russia does not, is not sustainable.” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, however, lamented the end of the treaty, saying that “a piece of Europe’s security has been lost.”

Signed in 1987, the INF Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing, possessing, and fielding an illegal ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM), known as the 9M729. (See ACT, September 2014.)

In October 2018, on the sidelines of a campaign rally, Trump stated that he planned to “terminate” the INF Treaty. Since then, U.S. and Russian officials held only a few unsuccessful meetings to discuss the treaty.


 

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Pompeo announced on Feb. 2 that the Trump administration would suspend its obligations under the treaty and withdraw from agreement in six months if Russia did not return to full compliance. When formally withdrawing on Aug. 2, Pompeo argued that “Russia’s noncompliance under the treaty jeopardizes U.S. supreme interests as Russia’s development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the United States and our allies and partners.”

Trump echoed that statement in Aug. 2 comments, saying that “if [Russia is] not going to live up to their commitment, then we have to—we always have to be in the lead.” The White House previously also cited concerns about the intermediate-range missile arsenal of China, which is not party to the treaty and has deployed large numbers of missiles with ranges that Washington and Moscow were long prohibited from deploying.

Attention has now shifted to how the United States and NATO should approach a world without the agreement. The Defense Department has requested nearly $100 million in fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would exceed the range limits of the treaty.

“Sooner rather [than] later, we want to develop this capability and [make] sure we can have long-range precision fires, not just for [Europe], but for the theater that we’re deploying to as well, because of the importance of great distances we need to cover, and how important an intermediate-range conventional weapon would be to the [Pacific Command] theater,” said Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Aug. 2.

The Pentagon conducted the first test of one of these systems Aug. 18, when it fired a GLCM from San Nicolas Island, off the coast of California, to a target more than 500 kilometers away, according to an official statement. A test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile is expected in November.

With limited time remaining, New START could be extended for up to five years by agreement of the U.S. and Russian presidents. The treaty caps U.S. and Russian deployments of strategic nuclear warheads at 1,550 and intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers at 700. The treaty also has a comprehensive verification regime, including on-site inspections and routine data exchanges. (See ACT, January/February 2019.)

If New START does expire with nothing to replace it, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly half a century.

New START is the only pact left to limit U.S. and Russian nuclear weapon deployments.

Treaty Withdrawal Accelerates Missile Debate


September 2019
By Kingston Reif

Following the formal collapse of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on Aug. 2, attention has turned to how the United States and its allies in Europe and Asia should proceed in a world without the treaty, in particular whether they should pursue development of new ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles to counter Russia and China.

The United States launches a cruise missile on Aug. 18, a test that would have violated the INF Treaty. (Photo: Defense Department)No sooner had the United States officially withdrawn from the agreement than newly confirmed Defense Secretary Mark Esper called for the rapid development and fielding of U.S. missiles once prohibited by it.

On Aug. 18, the Defense Department conducted its first test of such a missile, a ground-launched variant of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile. In a statement, the department said the “test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight.” The missile was launched from a MK-41 launcher affixed to a mobile trailer.

The test was not of an operational system that the Pentagon plans to field, but rather a political signal that the United States can and will pursue such systems in the absence of the INF Treaty.

The MK-41 launcher is the same launcher, albeit in a different configuration, that is currently fielded in Romania and will soon be fielded in Poland as part of NATO’s missile defense system. Russia long has claimed that this launcher was a violation of the INF Treaty.

A test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile with a range of about 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers is scheduled for later this year.

U.S. plans have raised concerns among friendly and rival nations. Several U.S. allies, for example, sought to distance themselves from Esper’s comments, triggering questions of whether the United States can persuade them to host new intermediate-range missiles. In addition, Russia and China have strongly criticized the prospect of new U.S. missile deployments, creating fears about a new, more dangerous phase of global great-power military competition.

In Congress, lawmakers are divided largely along party lines on the wisdom of withdrawing from the treaty and the case for adding the missiles to the U.S. military arsenal.

Esper told reporters on Aug. 2 that he would like to see the deployment of U.S. conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Europe and Asia, ideally as soon as possible.

The Defense Department requested nearly $100 million in its fiscal year 2020 budget to develop three types of intermediate-range missiles. (See ACT, May 2019.) The INF Treaty required the United States and Russia to eliminate permanently all their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Esper noted, however, that a decision to deploy such missiles would likely be years away, given that it will take time to develop new missiles and a plan for their use, as well as consult with allies in Europe and Asia about potentially basing them on their territory.

Supporters of pursuing the missiles have argued that the weapons would provide more U.S. military options against Russia and especially China, which was not a party to the treaty and has deployed large numbers of missiles with ranges that Washington and Moscow were long prohibited from deploying.

According to one recent study published by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, such missiles “could arrest, if not reverse, the erosion of longstanding American military advantages, enhance warfighting, shore up the U.S. competitive position, and ultimately strengthen deterrence, the cornerstone of U.S. global strategy.”


 

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Critics have countered that the U.S. military can deter any Russian or Chinese aggression by continuing to field ground-, air-, and sea-launched missiles that were never limited by the accord. They have also said that such intermediate-range weapons would need to be deployed on the territory of allies neighboring Russia or China to be of meaningful military value. So far, no country has said that it would be willing to host such missiles.

 

A Question of Basing

In Europe, several countries, including Poland, have made it clear that any deployment of new INF Treaty-range missiles would have to be approved by all NATO members. (See ACT, March 2019.)

At the June meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance is considering several potential paths in a world without the INF Treaty, including additional military exercise programs; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities; air and missile defenses; and conventional capabilities. (See ACT, July/August 2019.)

Stoltenberg has repeatedly stated that NATO does not intend to deploy new nuclear missiles in Europe, but has been silent on whether the alliance is considering the deployment of conventional variants.

Although countering Russia was the administration’s primary rationale for withdrawing from the treaty, proponents of developing intermediate-range missiles see the greatest utility for them in Asia. Where the Pentagon could base the missiles in East Asia, outside the U.S. territory of Guam, remains to be seen. Despite concerns about China’s growing military power and more assertive behavior in the region, allies such as Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea have not appeared eager to host them.

Following Esper’s comments, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that basing intermediate-range missiles has “not been asked of us,” is “not being considered,” and has “not been put to us.” A South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson said, “We have not internally reviewed the issue [of basing U.S. intermediate-range missiles] and have no plan to do so.”

Russia and China Object

Russia and China threatened to respond to any U.S. INF Treaty-range missile deployments.

“If Russia obtains reliable information whereby the United States completes the development of these systems and starts to produce them, Russia will have no option other than to engage in a full-scale effort to develop similar missiles,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Aug. 5.

He added that Russia “will not deploy them in any given region until U.S.-made intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles are deployed there,” but Stoltenberg criticized this proposal, saying that “to offer a moratorium to replace an effective, legal ban is not credible.”

Putin said on Aug. 21 that the U.S. test of a ground-launched Tomahawk missile “means a new threat appearing that we must respond to.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that the U.S. test of a Tomahawk missile from the MK-41 launcher vindicated Russia’s charge that those launchers fielded in Europe violated the treaty.

“We have been objecting for years that the MK-41, according to the manufacturer’s description, can launch not only anti-ballistic missiles, but also combat cruise missiles,” Lavrov told reporters on Aug. 21.

Fu Cong, director-general of the arms control department at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, warned China’s “neighbors to exercise prudence and not to allow the U.S. deployment of intermediate-range missiles on their territory.”

“If the U.S. deploys [intermediate-range] missiles in this part of the world, at the doorstep of China, China will be forced to take countermeasures,” he added.

Meanwhile, North Korea said on Aug. 14 that any deployment of U.S. intermediate-range missiles in South Korea would be “a reckless act of escalating regional tension, an act that may spark off a new Cold War and arms race in the Far Eastern region.”

The Debate in Congress

The Trump administration’s push for new intermediate-range missiles has been controversial in Congress. The Democratic-led House version of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and defense appropriations bill eliminated the Pentagon’s funding request for the missiles.

The administration has yet to answer repeated congressional calls for information on its decision to withdraw from the treaty or a strategy to prevent Russia from deploying additional and new types of intermediate-range missiles in the absence of the agreement.

The House version of the NDAA would prohibit the Pentagon from spending money to develop new missiles until it meets several conditions. These include presenting a detailed arms control proposal to replace the INF Treaty, demonstrating what military requirements will be met by new intermediate-range missiles, and identifying which countries would be willing to host the missiles. The draft legislation requires that any potential European deployment have the support of NATO.

The bill also requires the Pentagon to conduct an analysis of alternatives that considers other ballistic or cruise missile systems, including sea- and air-launched missiles, that could meet current capability gaps due to the restrictions formerly imposed by the now-defunct INF Treaty.

Given the Republican-led Senate’s support for developing the intermediate-range missiles, the issue is likely to be a contentious one when the two chambers try to reconcile their versions of the defense authorization and appropriations bills in the coming weeks.

The United States acts quickly to test a weapon once prohibited by the INF Treaty.

Bolton Renews New START Criticism


September 2019
By Kingston Reif

National Security Advisor John Bolton has continued to disparage the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), casting further doubt on the future of the agreement as the Trump administration seeks a more comprehensive nuclear arms control deal.

National Security Advisor John Bolton (right) listens to U.S. President Donald Trump at a July 18 White House meeting. Recent Bolton comments have created doubt that the United States will seek to extend New START. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Echoing comments he made in a June interview with the Washington Free Beacon, Bolton told the Young America Foundation’s annual National Conservative Student Conference on July 30 that “while no decision has been made,” New START is “unlikely to be extended.” (See ACT, July/August 2019.)

New START “was flawed from the beginning,” Bolton said, noting that it “did not cover short-range tactical nuclear weapons or new Russian delivery systems.”

“Why extend a flawed system just to say you have a treaty,” he added. “We need to focus on something better, and we will.”

New START caps deployed U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 warheads, 700 missiles and heavy bombers, and 800 missile launchers and bombers each. The treaty is slated to expire in February 2021, but can be extended for up to five years by agreement of the U.S. and Russian presidents.

Previously, Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed interest in an extension, but Russia has raised concerns about U.S. implementation of the treaty that it says must be resolved.

Other administration officials have echoed Bolton’s criticism. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Aug. 2 that New START should include the new longer-range strategic weapons Russia is developing, Russia’s larger arsenal of shorter-range nonstrategic weapons, and other nuclear powers, namely China.

Bolton’s latest denunciation of the treaty came just days before the U.S. withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on Aug. 2. New START is now the only remaining agreement constraining the size of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. If the treaty disappears with nothing to replace it, there will be no legally binding limits on the size of the two arsenals for the first time in nearly half a century.


 


Despite Bolton’s criticism, U.S. military leaders continue to tout the benefits of the treaty, including Vice Admiral David Kriete, deputy commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM).

“When it comes to…New START…from a STRATCOM perspective, we like the idea of arms control agreements, particularly with Russia, that provide us with some level of assurance that at least a portion of their nuclear forces are capped,” he told reporters July 31.

He added that New START “has a very, very robust verification regime…. If we were to lose that for any reason in the future, we would have to go look for other ways to fill in the gaps for the things we get from those verifications.”

Trump told reporters at the White House on Aug. 2 he has “been speaking to Russia about…a pact for nuclear—so that they get rid of some, we get rid of some.”

“We’d probably have to put China in there,” he added, claiming that “China was very, very excited about talking about it, and so is Russia.”

Trump administration officials have provided few details on how they would persuade Russia to limit broader categories of weapons and China to participate in arms control talks for the first time. (See ACT, June 2019.)

Fu Cong, director-general of the arms control department at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on Aug. 6 that “given the huge gap between the nuclear arsenals of China and that of the U.S. and the Russian Federation, I don’t think it is reasonable or even fair to expect China to participate in an arms reduction negotiation at this stage.”

Despite White House opposition, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are expressing their support for New START.

By a vote of 236–189, the House on July 11 approved an amendment to the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act offered by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) that would express the view of Congress that the United States should seek to extend New START unless Russia is determined to be violating the agreement or a better agreement is negotiated. Every Democrat, along with five Republican lawmakers, voted to approve the amendment.

The provision, which is based on a bipartisan “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” bill originally introduced in May by Engel and Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), would also require several briefings and reports, including an intelligence assessment of how the expiration of New START would affect the size and posture of Russian nuclear forces and the additional intelligence capabilities the United States would need to compensate for the loss of the treaty’s extensive transparency and on-site monitoring provisions.

In addition, the provision would prohibit the use of fiscal year 2020 funds to withdraw from the treaty unless Russia is determined to be in material breach of the agreement.

The Senate version of the defense authorization bill does not include similar language, but some senators are speaking up.

On Aug. 1, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced legislation modeled after the Engel-McCaul bill that calls for an extension of the treaty.

Prospects for extending the treaty appear to be weakening under U.S. criticism.

Kim, Trump Maintain Hope for Nuclear Talks


September 2019
By Catherine Killough

A new letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to U.S. President Donald Trump could raise hopes that stalled U.S.-North Korean nuclear negotiations could resume in late August, Trump said Aug. 9. Both leaders apparently remain open to diplomacy, even though North Korea has conducted multiple missile launches since July and the United States and South Korea announced plans to resume joint military exercises.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Kim Jong Un meet briefly on the North Korean side of the demilitarized zone on June 30. The North Korean visit was the first by a sitting U.S. president. (Photo: Dong-A Ilbo via Getty Images)“He really wrote a beautiful, three-page—I mean, right from top to bottom—a really beautiful letter. And maybe I’ll release the results of the letter, but it was a very positive letter,” Trump told White House reporters.

Kim is planning to stop testing missiles when U.S.-South Korean military exercises conclude at the end of August, Trump said. The ongoing exercises are a modified version of the annual large-scale Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises that Trump previously labeled “provocative” and canceled at the 2018 Singapore summit.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry initially raised objections to U.S.-South Korean plans to resume military exercises in July, asserting they would constitute “a breach of the main spirit of the June 12 DPRK-U.S. Joint Statement.” In the press conference following the Singapore summit, Trump stated, “We will be stopping the war games,” but offered few details on the suspension of future exercises.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry warned, “With the U.S. unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justifications to follow through on the commitments we made with the U.S. as well,” most likely referring to Kim’s voluntary moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing in April 2018.

North Korea has not technically violated that moratorium, but it has conducted six rounds of short-range ballistic missile tests in the span of a month. The increasing frequency of tests may be North Korea’s attempt to build leverage ahead of the possible resumption of nuclear negotiations with the United States.

South Korea has sought to assure Pyongyang that the joint military exercises are part of preparations for the transfer of wartime operational control from the United States to South Korea.

Meanwhile, Trump continues to characterize joint military exercises as costly to the United States and argues that South Korea should contribute more to defense burden-sharing costs. “We get virtually nothing” for stationing U.S. forces in South Korea, Trump said on Aug. 7. South Korea currently covers about half of the overall cost to host the U.S. military, in addition to having funded the nearly $10 billion expansion of the U.S. Army base at Camp Humphreys.

This month, Washington and Seoul restarted negotiations on the Special Measures Agreement, a U.S.-South Korean military spending pact, which expires on Dec. 31. The financial dispute could pose a strain on the alliance and further complicate diplomatic efforts with North Korea as Kim has also set a deadline “for a bold decision” from the United States by the end of the year.

Possibly in the hopes of holding a fourth summit, Trump and Kim have avoided trading direct insults and even held a brief meeting on June 30 at the Demilitarized Zone, where Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea. The two leaders praised the strength of their relationship and agreed to restart working-level talks, but there were few official remarks regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program or the prospects for advancing denuclearization and peace.

In a recent sign that preparations for working-level talks are underway, Stephen Biegun, U.S. special representative for North Korea, visited Seoul in late August to meet with Japanese and South Korean officials “to further strengthen coordination on the final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea, according to the State Department.

The announcement came as reports have emerged that Biegun is under consideration to succeed the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Russia. If confirmed, it is not clear who would take the U.S. lead on working-level negotiations with North Korea.

As U.S. and North Korean leaders make nice, a next round of nuclear negotiations remains unscheduled.

Boeing Bows Out of New ICBM Competition


September 2019
By Kingston Reif

The Boeing Co. announced in July that it would not bid on the contract to develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system amid controversy in Congress about the project’s rationale and viability.

A Minuteman III missile stands ready in its silo in North Dakota. Plans to replace the land-based component of U.S. nuclear weapons were disrupted in July, when Boeing Co. announced it would not bid on the program. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Getty)“After numerous attempts to resolve concerns within the procurement process, Boeing has informed the Air Force that it will not bid [on] Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) under the current acquisition approach,” said Todd Blecher, a company spokesman.

First reported by Inside Defense on July 24, the company’s exit leaves Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. as the only company left competing for the contract.

In August 2017, the Air Force selected Boeing and Northrop to proceed with development of the Minuteman III ICBM replacement. (See ACT, October 2017.) On July 16, the Air Force issued a request for proposals for the EMD contract to produce and deploy the system. The service planned to award the contract in the summer of 2020.

Boeing complained, however, that Northrop had “unfair advantage” in the competition after acquiring last year the firm Orbital ATK, one of the nation’s two producers of solid rocket motors. Boeing has asked the Pentagon to adjust the bid acquisition parameters, but it remains to be seen how the Defense Department will respond.

If the department stays the course and moves ahead without competition, it would have less leverage to control costs. There is no precedent for the absence of competition for a development contract the size of the GBSD program.

The Defense Department is planning to replace the Minuteman III missile, its supporting launch control facilities, and command-and-control infrastructure. The plan is to purchase 666 new missiles, 400 of which would be operationally deployed through 2070.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request included $570 million for research and development for the GBSD program and $112 million to continue the design of the W87-1 warhead to replace the W78 warhead currently carried by the Minuteman III. (See ACT, April 2019.)

The Air Force initially estimated the cost of the GBSD program at $62 billion after inflation, but the Pentagon in August 2016 set the estimated acquisition cost of the program at $85 billion. The $85 billion estimate is at the lower end of an independent Pentagon cost estimate that put the acquisition price tag as high as $150 billion. (See ACT, March 2017.)


 


The Defense Department completed another independent cost estimate of the program in June, but has yet to disclose whether the projected cost of the program has changed.

The Air Force argues that a new ICBM is necessary because the fleet of 400 deployed Minuteman III missiles is aging into obsolescence and losing its capability to penetrate adversary missile defenses. According to the report of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the life of the Minuteman III “cannot be extended further.”

A 2014 Air Force analysis, however, did not determine that extending the life of the Minuteman III is infeasible. Instead, the study found that the price to build a new missile system would be roughly the same as the cost to maintain the Minuteman III.

The service arrived at this conclusion by comparing the total life-cycle cost of the two options through 2075 and assuming a need to deploy 450 missiles for the entire 50-year service life of the new missile system.

Critics of the GBSD program claim that if the requirements for 450 missiles, a 50-year service life, and new capabilities are relaxed, then it is possible to extend the life of the Minuteman III for a period of time beyond 2030 and at less cost than the current approach.

The Congressional Budget Office projected in 2017 that $17.5 billion in fiscal year 2017 dollars could be saved through 2046 by delaying development of a new ICBM by 20 years and instead extending the life of the Minuteman III by buying new engines and new guidance systems for the missiles. (See ACT, December 2017.)

Citing concerns about the need for and ability to execute the GBSD program as planned, the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and defense appropriations bill passed by the Democratic-led House this summer eliminated the Pentagon’s funding request to proceed to the main development phase of the GBSD program.

Both bills also halved the funding request for the W87-1 warhead and cut $241 million from the Energy Department’s request of $712 million to expand the production of plutonium pits to at least 80 per year in support of the W87-1 life extension program.

A draft version of the House NDAA also would have required an independent study on the benefits, risks, and estimated cost savings of extending the life of the Minuteman III through 2050 and delaying the GBSD program. The provision was stripped out during the House Armed Services Committee’s markup of the bill in June.

An amendment to restore the provision on the House floor failed by a vote of 164–264.

The Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee fully funded the administration’s request for the GBSD program, W87-1 warhead, and plutonium-pit production.

Pentagon plans to replace U.S. ICBMs are disrupted by contractor difficulties.

Trump Vetoes Challenge to Arab Arms Sales


September 2019
By Ethan Kessler

Some congressional efforts to curb U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates met an end on July 29, when three Senate votes failed to override President Donald Trump’s vetoes of bipartisan resolutions blocking portions of “emergency” arms exports to the two Arab powers. None of the votes achieved the needed two-thirds majority, with the largest override support garnering 46 of 87 senators voting.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appears at a May hearing in Washington. He authored three resolutions on Middle East arms sales that President Donald Trump vetoed on July 29. (Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images)On May 24, the Trump administration originally announced more than $8 billion in potential exports to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, citing a rarely used emergency provision of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) to skirt congressional review. The Senate approved resolutions to block the issuance of licenses on all 22 agreements related to the exports, and the House concurred on July 17 on three of the most controversial, addressing the provision of precision-guided munitions to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi and their coproduction in Saudi Arabia. (See ACT, July/August 2019.)

All Democratic and independent senators present voted on July 29 to override Trump’s veto, joined by Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Mike Lee (Utah), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Todd Young (Ind.). Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) voted to override on the last vote after missing the first two. All Republicans voting to override also voted on June 20 to pass at least two of the three resolutions.

In a speech on the Senate floor before the votes, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee and author of all three resolutions, said the Trump administration’s “willingness to turn a blind eye to the wholesale slaughter of civilians [in Yemen] and the murder of journalists and move forward with the sale of these weapons will have lasting implications for America’s moral leadership on the world stage.”

The resolutions were vetoed by Trump five days previously, marking only the third veto of his presidential term and the second regarding U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict, now in its fifth year. White House statements accompanying the veto called the joint resolutions “ ill-conceived and time-consuming” and said they “directly conflict with the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States” and continued claims that the weapons were needed as a “bulwark against the malign activities of Iran and its proxies in the region.”

In other efforts to restrain the administration, the House-approved version of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act contains language to prohibit exports of air-to-ground weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Pending negotiations with Senate leaders will determine if the prohibition will continue to stand.

A majority of U.S. senators backed a Congressional effort to limit U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but President Trump’s veto holds.

U.S. Nuclear Warhead Costs Still Rising


September 2019
By Kingston Reif

The estimated cost of sustaining U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure continues to rise, according to the Energy Department’s latest annual report on the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan. Prepared by the department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the July report illustrates the rising cost of the government’s nuclear mission as the Trump administration implements the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, which calls for expanding U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities. (See ACT, March 2018.)

The fiscal year 2020 iteration projects more than $392 billion in spending, after inflation, on agency efforts related to sustaining and modernizing the nuclear weapons stockpile over the next 25 years. This is an increase of $13 billion from the 2019 version of the plan. (See ACT, December 2018.)

The NNSA states that the projected growth in spending is “affordable and executable,” but the projected cost of the plan falls at the low end of an estimated range of $386 billion to $423 billion. The agency has historically struggled to complete large infrastructure and facility recapitalization projects on time and on budget.

Overall, the Trump administration is requesting $37.3 billion in fiscal year 2020 for the Defense and Energy departments to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear delivery systems and warheads and their supporting infrastructure, an increase of about $2 billion from the fiscal year 2019 appropriation. (See ACT, April 2019.)

Of that amount, the NNSA is requesting $12.4 billion for its weapons program, an increase of $1.3 billion from the fiscal year 2019 appropriation and $530 million from the projection for fiscal year 2020 in the fiscal year 2019 budget request.

A major source of projected growth in the new stockpile plan is in the area of nuclear warhead life-extension programs. The total cumulative costs over 25 years for these programs increased by approximately $4 billion from the 2019 estimate.

The plan attributes the higher projected costs to “2018 Nuclear Posture Review implementation, refined requirements that increase scope complexity, accelerated production schedule milestones, updated assumptions for future warheads, and the escalation costs of a future year replacing a lower-cost early year.”

The estimated cost under the plan to upgrade the warhead for the existing air-launched cruise missile rose to $11.2 billion, an increase of $1.2 billion from the estimated cost as of last year’s plan.


 


The estimated cost of the B61 life extension program held steady at $7.6 billion, but the department reported that the program “is experiencing an unresolved technical issue related to the qualification of electrical components used in non-nuclear assemblies,” which is expected to delay the previously planned first production-unit date of March 2020. (See ACT, June 2019.) The plan states that additional “testing is required to ascertain the impacts and whether a change in initial operational capability dates are necessary.”

The NNSA Office of Cost Estimating and Program Evaluation projected in 2017 a total program cost of approximately $10 billion and a two-year delay to the agency’s first production-unit date. (See ACT, June 2017.)

The stockpile plan notes that the NNSA’s goal remains to produce at least 80 plutonium pits per year as directed in the Nuclear Posture Review. (See ACT, June 2018.)

That goal may be difficult to reach. The Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research organization, reported in April that the agency’s 80-pit goal by 2030 cannot be met. The institute’s study found “no historical precedent to support” achieving such a capability by 2030.

In addition, the stockpile plan reveals that the NNSA and Pentagon have established a “Deeply Buried Target Defeat Team…to determine future options for defeating such targets.” This suggests the administration could consider the development of a new earth-penetrating nuclear weapon. (See ACT, December 2005.)

The Trump administration forecasts spending $392 billion next year to maintain U.S. warheads.

U.S. University to Speed Hypersonic Development


September 2019
By Michael T. Klare

Texas A&M University will build one of the world’s largest wind tunnels on behalf of the U.S. Army Futures Command as part of an accelerating U.S. effort to develop hypersonic weapons, according to an August announcement. The unusual partnership of the university, the Army, and the state of Texas represents a throwback to the Cold War, when prominent educational institutions built and managed major military research facilities, such as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, established by the University of California, Berkeley, in 1952.

Texas A&M University plans to augment its existing wind tunnel facilities, such as the Oran W. Nicks Low Speed Wind Tunnel shown here, with a long wind tunnel to test hypersonic aircraft. (Photo: Texas A&M University) In its announcement, University officials described plans to construct a “ballistic aero-optics and materials” (BAM) test facility for $130 million on a 2,000-acre campus near the small city of Bryan, about 100 miles east of Austin.

“Texas A&M will be the hypersonics research capital of the country with the planned construction of [the BAM] facility,” said Katherine Banks, the school’s vice chancellor and dean of engineering. The facility will consist of an above-ground tunnel 1 kilometer long and 2 meters in diameter, making it one of the largest such installations in the world. According to Defense One, the university will contribute $80 million toward construction costs with $50 million more provided by the state; additional sums will come from the Futures Command, which will operate the facility.

As U.S. military leaders appear determined to outpace China and Russia in the exploitation of advanced military technologies, and now unfettered by the defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Defense Department is accelerating its drive to develop and deploy hypersonic weapons, projectiles that can fly at five times the speed of sound or faster, evading most air defenses. (See ACT, June 2019.) Many such projectiles, some of which with ranges that would have been limited by the INF Treaty, are being rushed into development, and the Pentagon is planning to procure vast numbers of these munitions as soon as they are deemed ready for combat.

The United States needs “many dozens, many hundreds, maybe thousands of assets,” said Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, on Aug. 7. “This takes us back to the Cold War where at one point we had 30,000 nuclear warheads and missiles to launch them. We haven’t produced on that kind of scale since the [Berlin] Wall came down.”

To satisfy this requirement, analysts say the arms industry will have to overcome numerous technical issues involving the design and production of hypersonic weapons. Projectiles flying at hypersonic speeds encounter immense pressures and temperatures in the Earth’s atmosphere, deforming even specialized materials and distorting electronic and communications links. Long before such weapons can be deployed, therefore, they must be rigorously tested under realistic conditions. This is normally done in wind tunnels, but hypersonic weapons fly so fast that few such facilities are capable of providing the necessary test environment. The BAM facility is planned to supplement hypersonics testing at NASA’s Ames Research Center, located at Moffett Field, Calif., where the Pentagon currently conducts the bulk of its hypersonic testing.

Texas A&M University expands its aerospace engineering capacity to support U.S. military goals.

U.S. Hosts Nuclear Disarmament Working Group


September 2019
By Shannon Bugos

Aiming to break loose stagnant progress toward nuclear disarmament, officials from more than 40 nations agreed to an initial framework of a U.S. initiative during a two-day meeting in Washington ending July 3. The U.S. State Department hosted the plenary meeting for participants of its Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) initiative.

The officials discussed “ways to improve the international security environment in order to overcome obstacles to further progress on nuclear disarmament,” according to the State Department’s media note released on the first day. As stated in a summary report of the working group obtained by Arms Control Today, three particular topic areas were identified: the reduction of the perceived incentives for states to acquire or increase their nuclear stockpiles, the involvement of multilateral institutions in nuclear disarmament, and potential interim measures to reduce risks related to nuclear weapons.

Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, opened the session saying he wanted the process “to be as free and open an engagement as possible…. While no one should be asked to abandon strongly held policy views, I would encourage you to focus more upon how we can build a better world together than upon trading recriminations about the present.”

The United States first proposed the CEND initiative at the May 2018 meeting of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee, held in advance of the NPT’s 2020 review conference. (See ACT, July/August 2019.) U.S. officials characterized the initiative as an effort to hold a dialogue on the “discrete tasks” necessary in order “to create the conditions conducive to further nuclear disarmament.”

The recent meeting, consisting of about 100 representatives from nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states, as well as non-NPT nations, was randomly divided into three groups and rotated through each of the three topic areas. Afterward, a subject matter expert in each group summarized the areas of convergence that emerged from each session.

On the issue of reducing incentives to acquire or retain nuclear weapons, the participants agreed to future discussion of the need for states to clearly articulate the full scope of threats they perceive from others, according to the summary report. Additionally, the officials agreed on their desire to buttress existing arms control, nonproliferation, and security mechanisms, as well as compliance with them. Some participants, for example, expressed support for two existing agreements: the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which curbed Iran’s nuclear program, and the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which they encouraged the United States and Russia to extend.

The summary reported that the discussion of the role of multilateral and other types of institutions found general agreement that the CEND initiative could provide “an innovative format for strengthening existing forums.” Other areas of convergence included the need to reaffirm the importance of the NPT as the “cornerstone” of the global nonproliferation and disarmament architecture and to develop a list of practical measures, such as negotiating and implementing confidence-building measures, to improve the security environment.

Lastly, the risk reduction discussion identified the need to manage and prevent conflict from escalating to nuclear war, according to the summary report. Increased dialogue and communication were noted as potential areas for future work, particularly in respect to having nuclear-armed states provide greater detail on what is feasible for nuclear risk reduction. The most discussed options among participants for specific risk-reduction measures included improving crisis communication channels, standardizing pre-launch notifications to prevent misunderstandings, and eliminating certain categories of nuclear weapons or launch systems.

The next meeting of the CEND initiative has not been announced, but some reports have indicated it will take place later this year in Europe. Finland, the Netherlands, and South Korea will serve as co-chairs of the three discussion subgroups, and three additional co-chairs are expected to be named.

A new survey finds that some global tech firms have no policies to ensure their applications are not used for lethal autonomous weapons.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Resigns


Jon Huntsman Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Russia, has announced his resignation effective Oct. 3. He stated in his Aug. 5 resignation letter that his time in Moscow had been a “historically difficult period in bilateral relations.” His service, beginning March 2017, was marked by infighting within the U.S. government over the correct approach to diplomacy with Russia. It also coincided with the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a decision he described in December 2018 as necessary “to preserve the viability and integrity of arms control agreements more broadly.”

“We must continue to hold Russia accountable,” he said in his resignation letter.

Huntsman previously served as U.S. ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011 and to Singapore from 1992 to 1993. Political observers have speculated that he may seek to become the governor of Utah, a post he has already won twice. The White House has not yet nominated Huntsman’s replacement.
—OWEN LeGRONE

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Resigns

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