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

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Tom Z. Collina

Future of ‘3+2’ Warhead Plan in Doubt

Tom Z. Collina

Amid mounting congressional and military concern about the program’s high cost and untested approach, the Obama administration has slowed key parts of its plan announced last year to rebuild the U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads, raising the possibility that the initiative will not be fully implemented.

Announced in June 2013 by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the “3+2” strategy has a sticker price of $60 billion and calls for extending the service life of five nuclear warhead types, three of which would be “interoperable” on land- and sea-based ballistic missiles, an approach that has not been tried before. Two other warhead types would be used on bombers, and two of the seven current warhead types would be retired.

The administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2015, which was released in March, delays funding for much of the program. The administration released further details in its fiscal year 2015 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, released April 11 by the NNSA, a semiautonomous part of the Energy Department that is responsible for maintaining nuclear warheads.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on April 10, Acting NNSA Administrator Bruce Held said that the first interoperable warhead had been delayed for five years due to fiscal constraints, but warned that additional delays would “break” the stockpile strategy and “put the nation in a very difficult position.”

More delays, however, may be coming. In an April 22 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a senior Democratic congressional staffer said that the future of interoperable warheads “is uncertain because the costs seem to outweigh the benefits—very expensive, high technical risk… and no clear military requirement [for it].” He added that resolving these problems “will be very difficult, if not impossible, especially for an agency that has a long list of governance and project management problems.”

Speaking at George Washington University on March 24, former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Director Penrose “Parney” Albright, who supports the 3+2 plan, said, “I just don’t think it’s going to happen,” according to an account in the Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor.

Costs and Risks

Congress has repeatedly questioned the wisdom of the 3+2 approach, citing the cost and risks involved with the interoperable warheads. The NNSA plans to use insensitive high explosives in the first of three interoperable warheads, known as the IW-1. Such explosives are less prone to accidental detonation than conventional high explosives, but take up more space inside a warhead.

To use insensitive explosives, the NNSA would have to use parts from two different, existing warheads; those parts never have been used together. Such combinations have never been introduced into the nuclear stockpile without nuclear tests, which the United States no longer conducts. (See ACT, September 2013.)

Insensitive explosives are already used in warheads on the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and bombers but not on the Navy’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The Navy has questioned whether the use of insensitive explosives is worth the added cost for its missiles, which spend most of their time protected inside submarines under the sea.

The 2015 stockpile plan makes clear that although the administration still supports the 3+2 plan and that near-term efforts are on track, other projects have been significantly slowed. The life extension program for the Navy’s W76 SLBM warhead is on schedule for completion in 2019, and the B61-12 gravity bomb would be produced from 2020 to 2024, a slight delay. The B61 project, costing about $10 billion, would refurbish about 400 of the gravity bombs that are used on long-range bombers in the United States and tactical fighter aircraft in Europe. Under the administration’s request, the program would be funded at $643 million for fiscal year 2015, an increase of $106 million, or 20 percent, over the fiscal year 2014 congressional appropriation. (See ACT, April 2014.)

The next warheads in the 3+2 queue, however, are increasingly in doubt. A rebuilt warhead for a new Air Force cruise missile for the new long-range bomber that the Air Force is planning has been delayed by up to three years, from 2024 to 2027. The IW-1 has been delayed from 2025 to 2030. These delays mean that key development decisions will not be made until well into the next administration, increasing program uncertainty.

Donald Cook, NNSA deputy administrator for defense programs, testified before the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee on April 3 that the NNSA needed to defer development of the IW-1 “based on budget availability” and that the two warhead types it would replace, the W78 ICBM warhead and the W88 SLBM warhead, “are aging as predicted. We believe we understand where they are.” The administration’s proposed budget provides no money for the next five years for this program, which is receiving $38 million in fiscal year 2014.

Albright, who resigned in October, said the IW-1 delay could undermine the entire 3+2 strategy. According to the Monitor account, Albright noted that the NNSA plans to upgrade non-nuclear parts of the Navy’s W88 warhead and said that once that happens, the Navy “almost certainly will argue” that replacing the W88 with an interoperable warhead would cost “too much money.” Albright said the Navy would prefer to simply refurbish the W88, “which is what they did on the W76.” The W76 life extension program cost $4 billion, compared to a projected $11 billion for the IW-1.

In turn, extending the service life of the W88 separately could decrease the Air Force’s incentive to refurbish the W78, which could instead be retired and replaced by the W87 as the only ICBM warhead, Albright said.

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

In an April 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a senior Republican congressional staffer said he was concerned by the IW-1 delay, since it means also delaying refurbishment of the W78 warhead. That “adds risk to the ICBM hedge force if something ages out in the W78,” he said.

“If there isn’t meaningful work for our weapons designers, they could look outside the labs for meaningful employment,” he said.

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Pentagon Sets Numbers for New START

Tom Z. Collina

The Defense Department announced in April that it had finalized its plans for implementing nuclear arsenal reductions under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia. The final numbers differ only slightly from projections the administration made four years ago.

New START limits each side to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 long-range delivery vehicles, composed of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and bombers. The treaty also limits each country to 800 deployed and nondeployed missile launchers and bombers.

In May 2010, soon after President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed New START, the White House informed the Senate that its 700 delivery vehicles would comprise 420 Minuteman III ICBMs, 60 B-2 and B-52 bombers, and 240 Trident D-5 SLBMs, for a total of 720, or 20 more than allowed. (See ACT, June 2010.)

As of last year, the United States fielded about 450 ICBMs, 260 SLBMs, and 90 bombers, according to the State Department.

As required by the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the Pentagon issued a report last month stating that the extra 20 delivery vehicles will be taken from the overall number of ICBMs, bringing the total down to 400. The United States had previously said that all Minuteman III ICBMs are to be reduced to a single warhead and that the number of SLBM launch tubes will be reduced from 24 to 20 on each of 14 Ohio-class submarines, only 12 of which are deployed at a time.

50 ‘Warm’ Silos

The recent Pentagon announcement specifies the number of nondeployed missile launchers and bombers that the United States will retain. The major surprise, according to congressional staffers, was that the United States will maintain all 454 ICBM silos, with 400 silos holding missiles and 54 sitting empty but “warm,” meaning they can be reactivated. The 50 extra ICBMs will be kept in storage. New START places no limits on delivery vehicles in storage.

The Air Force will determine which 50 missiles will be pulled from the 450 silos currently in use across the three missile fields. Four test launchers at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California are also counted as nondeployed launchers.

The decision to keep all of the ICBM silos came after a strong push by members of Congress from the states with ballistic missile bases—Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming—against eliminating any silos.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) called the Pentagon’s announcement “a big win for our nation’s security and for Malmstrom Air Force Base,” home of the 341st Missile Wing with 150 Minuteman III missiles. “ICBMs are the most cost-effective nuclear deterrent, and keeping silos warm is a smart decision,” Tester said.

Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, Air Force commander of all U.S. ICBMs, said keeping the silos warm would avoid any personnel cuts. He told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on April 18 that “We still have to maintain 45 launch control centers, we still have to maintain the three wings, and we still need the same amount of maintenance people.”

Nominations Unblocked

Senators from the ICBM coalition had said they would block nuclear policy-related nominations unless their demands were met. For example, the only Democratic senators to vote against the nomination of Rose Gottemoeller to be undersecretary of state for arms control and international security were Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Jon Tester (Mont.), and John Walsh (Mont.), all from ICBM states. (See ACT, April 2014.) Lawmakers from ICBM states had also put a hold on the nomination of Madelyn Creedon, currently an assistant secretary of defense, for a top position with the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, and of Frank Rose to replace Gottemoeller at the State Department as an assistant secretary.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) told The Wall Street Journal on April 8 that, with the decision to preserve the ICBM silos, the coalition would lift its holds and allow the nominations to proceed.

To keep all 450 silos, the military will have to make other cuts to the nuclear force to meet the limits of 800 deployed and nondeployed launchers. The Navy will remove 40 SLBMs from two submarines in dock, a plan it had previously announced, and the Air Force will convert 30 B-52H bombers to conventional aircraft so they cannot carry nuclear weapons.

Under the treaty, the United States does not have to reach New START limits until February 2018. It plans to make “many reductions toward the end” of the implementation period, according to the Pentagon announcement. The treaty specifies that each party can decide for itself how to structure its forces to comply with the limits.

Defense officials said the force structure plan was announced now because the first submarine is scheduled for maintenance in October and the number of launch tubes needs to be reduced from 24 to 20 during that time. The submarine conversions need to be planned within a strict schedule, officials said.

The Pentagon report said implementation of New START would cost $301 million from 2014 to 2018.

According to State Department figures released April 1, the United States remains above New START limits with 1,585 strategic warheads deployed on 778 delivery vehicles. Russia is below treaty limits with 1,512 warheads on 498 delivery vehicles.

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Nuclear Powers Meet in Beijing on NPT

Tom Z. Collina

Meeting for the fourth time since the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, the five countries that the treaty recognizes as nuclear-weapon states met in Beijing on April 14 and 15 to review their progress toward fulfilling the nuclear disarmament commitments they made at the 2010 conference.

The conference’s final document calls on the five states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to report on their progress in getting rid of nuclear weapons and preventing their use. The report is to be delivered at an April 28-May 9 preparatory meeting in New York for the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

In an April 15 joint statement, the five states said they had given each other their “national reports consistent with [the NPT] reporting framework” and planned to report to the preparatory meeting on transparency, confidence building, and verification.

The five countries “reaffirmed their commitment to the shared goal of nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament as provided for in Article VI of the NPT.” They said they plan to continue to seek progress on the “step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament, which is the only practical path to achieving a world without nuclear weapons and in keeping with our NPT obligations.”

This is likely to be a controversial position at the preparatory meeting, where many states without nuclear weapons believe that the step-by-step process is too slow. The steps in that process include the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which China, the United States, and six other key countries have not ratified, thereby preventing the treaty from entering into force; a fissile material cutoff treaty, the negotiation of which has been blocked by Pakistan at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva; and reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons below the levels set by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Because of the downturn in U.S.-Russian relations, such reductions now appear a distant prospect.

Countries impatient for progress on nuclear disarmament are supporting a series of conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use. The first two conferences took place in Norway in March 2013 and Mexico in February of this year; a third is to be held in Austria Dec. 8-9.

The five nuclear-weapon states said they intend to meet again in London in 2015.

Meeting for the fourth time since the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, the five countries that the treaty recognizes as nuclear-weapon states met in Beijing on April 14 and 15 to review their progress toward fulfilling the nuclear disarmament commitments they made at the 2010 conference.

Klotz Starts at Nuclear Arms Agency

Tom Z. Collina

Retired Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz was sworn in as the new head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on April 17.

Klotz, who was approved by the Senate on April 8, takes over at a troubled time for the agency, which oversees the production and maintenance of U.S. nuclear warheads. In March, a congressionally mandated panel found that the NNSA, a semiautonomous part of the Energy Department, has “failed” in its mission to effectively oversee U.S. nuclear weapons operations.

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved Klotz’s nomination in January, after the White House chose him for the post in August. He replaces acting administrator Bruce Held, who will return to his position as associate deputy secretary. The NNSA has not had a permanent administrator since Thomas D’Agostino stepped down in January 2013.

Klotz was commander of Air Force Global Strike Command from 2009 to 2011 and served from 2001 to 2003 as the director for nuclear policy and arms control on the National Security Council, where he represented the Bush administration in talks that led to the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. Earlier in his career, he served as the defense attaché at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

Klotz will have to deal with calls for “drastic reforms” at the NNSA to address “systemic” management problems, according to preliminary findings of the Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise.

“The unmistakable conclusion of our fact-finding is that, as implemented, the ‘NNSA experiment’ involving creation of a semiautonomous organization has failed,” former Lockheed Martin Chairman and CEO Norm Augustine and retired Adm. Richard Mies, the co-chairmen of the bipartisan panel, told the House Armed Services Committee on March 26 in a written summary of the panel’s initial conclusions. The panel’s final report is expected this summer.

Past proposals for NNSA reforms have included eliminating Energy Department oversight, increasing contractor independence, boosting the department’s oversight, and placing the agency under Pentagon control.

Retired Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz was sworn in as the new head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on April 17.

GOP Presses Obama on INF Treaty Concerns

Tom Z. Collina

Republicans in the House and Senate introduced identical resolutions March 25 calling on President Barack Obama to hold Russia accountable for “being in material breach of its obligations” under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John Cornyn (R-Tex.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), David Vitter (R-La.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) introduced the Senate resolution. Reps. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), Ted Poe (R-Tex.), and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) introduced the bill in the House.

The resolutions come in response to what Republican lawmakers say was the Obama administration’s weak action in following up on U.S. suspicions that Moscow has tested cruise missiles banned by the INF Treaty. The accord prohibits the United States and Russia from testing or fielding ballistic or cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The Obama administration confirmed these concerns in January, but has not publicly concluded that a violation has taken place. (See ACT, March 2014.)

The possibility of the treaty violation has been an issue in the confirmation process for some Obama administration nominees (see).

In light of Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea, “Russian cheating cannot be interpreted in anything but the most sinister terms,” Rubio and the House members said in a March 25 press release. “Cheating is not a separate issue, but is rather recognized as an equal part of [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin’s long-term plan for a resurgent Russia.”

The resolutions call on Obama to demand that Russia “completely and verifiably eliminate” the missiles in question, not to reduce U.S. nuclear forces further or engage in arms control negotiations with Russia until this elimination has occurred, and to consider whether the United States should remain a party to the INF Treaty if Moscow is still in violation a year from now. The United States and Russia are currently reducing their nuclear forces under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and Obama had been proposing an additional round of negotiated arsenal cuts.

“We have introduced this resolution because the viability of future arms control agreements depends on the reliability of current ones,” Rubio and his colleagues said. “There is simply no point in having treaties unless both sides treat them with the utmost fidelity, and act in a manner binding to the agreement.”

Republicans in the House and Senate introduced identical resolutions March 25 calling on President Barack Obama to hold Russia accountable for “being in material breach of its obligations” under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Gottemoeller Confirmed by Senate

Tom Z. Collina

In the face of accusations that the administration had withheld information from Congress on possible Russian violations of an arms treaty, the Senate on March 6 voted to confirm President Barack Obama’s choice to be his top arms control official.

Rose Gottemoeller, first nominated in September 2012 to replace Ellen Tauscher as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, had been serving as acting undersecretary and as assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance. She was the main U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which the Senate approved in December 2010.

The Senate approved Gottemoeller’s nomination by a nearly party-line vote, 58-42, with the support of 50 Democrats, six Republicans, and two independents. Three Democrats and 39 Republicans were opposed.

The Republicans voting for Gottemoeller were Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). The Democrats opposing her were Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Jon Tester (Mont.), and John Walsh (Mont.).

After being approved twice by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, once last October and again in February, Gottemoeller’s nomination was held up by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and others over concerns that the administration had dragged its feet in informing them about Russia’s possible violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. (See ACT, March 2014.)

In a Feb. 28 statement, Rubio and Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and James Risch (R-Idaho) accused Gottemoeller of “failing to quickly pursue evidence of Russia’s [non]compliance with multiple arms control agreements and her delay in making the Senate aware of these violations.”

The three senators also said they were “frustrated” that the administration did not make a written commitment that “any future U.S. nuclear reductions would be carried out only through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate” and not by unilateral or other means that did not involve a treaty, such as reciprocal reductions carried out by the United States and Russia in 1991.

At Gottemoeller’s confirmation hearing Sept. 26, Rubio pressed her on the issue of unilateral cuts. Gottemoeller replied that the administration had already begun to pursue an arms control treaty with Russia, a process she described as “a difficult slog.” She said that “unilateral reductions are not on the table,” but did not rule them out in the future. (See ACT, November 2013.)

The administration is still seeking Senate confirmation of other senior officials for positions dealing with nuclear weapons policy, including Adam Scheinman, currently senior adviser to the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, to be special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation; Frank Rose, deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy, to take Gottemoeller’s assistant secretary position; Frank Klotz, former commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, to be head of the National Nuclear Security Administration; and Brian McKeon, staff director of the National Security Council, to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy.

These nominees have been approved by the relevant Senate committees except for McKeon, who was grilled on the INF Treaty issue during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 25. Because he was one of the administration’s main liaisons with the Senate during the New START ratification debate in December 2010, some senators asked him why the issue was not brought to their attention at that time.

McKeon testified that U.S. intelligence agencies might have “flagged” the possible INF Treaty violation “literally the day before” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on New START on Sept. 16, 2010. “I believe...that the [intelligence community] and the executive branch were committed to providing timely information about potential concerns,” McKeon said.

McKeon, blaming bureaucracy for the delay, said that “[o]ne of the great joys of working in the executive branch as opposed to the legislative branch is you get to coordinate your letters with about 50 people. And the clearance process took longer than I would have liked.”

Not satisfied with that response, Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wrote a March 6 letter asking Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) not to approve McKeon until he provides additional information on the issue.

Ayotte and Wicker wrote that they were “convinced” that “the administration did not inform the Senate, as was its obligation, of a potential material breach of one arms control treaty while asking for the ratification of another.”

Despite concerns that the Obama administration had withheld information on possible Russian treaty violations, the Senate voted in March to confirm Rose Gottemoeller as Obama’s top arms control official.

U.S. Nuclear Arms Spending Set to Rise

Tom Z. Collina

Despite pressure to reduce military budgets, the Obama administration is planning to increase spending significantly to modernize nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and to maintain nuclear warheads in the decades ahead, according to budget documents released in March.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testified before the House Armed Services Committee on March 6 that “tough, tough choices are coming” if the Pentagon is forced to make deep spending cuts as required by law. The services are considering cutting 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers and retiring an aircraft carrier, among other money-saving steps.

But the Pentagon is not proposing to scale back its highest-priority nuclear modernization programs. The Pentagon’s proposed $496 billion budget for fiscal year 2015, released March 4, would “preserve all three legs of the nuclear triad,” Hagel said, and includes hefty down payments for new delivery systems. The nuclear warhead programs, overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous unit of the Energy Department, also would get a budget increase. The administration would pay for these increases in part by cuts to some lower-priority programs.

Submarines, Bombers, and Missiles

The Defense Department is just beginning a decades-long effort to modernize the triad of long-range nuclear delivery systems, which includes submarines, bombers, and land-based missiles. These programs are in the early stages of development and will see major cost growth as they move into the production phase over the next 10 to 20 years.

The highest-priority and most costly program is the Navy’s plan to replace its current fleet of 14 Ohio-class strategic submarines with 12 new subs, called the SSBN(X). Under the administration’s request, the program would receive $1.3 billion for fiscal year 2015, an increase of $190 million, or 11 percent, over the fiscal year 2014 appropriation. The 12-sub fleet would cost about $100 billion to produce, with the first boat entering service in 2031. To afford the SSBN(X), the Navy is seeking an infusion of $60 billion over 15 years from outside its budget. It is not clear where this money will be found. (See ACT, October 2013.)

The Air Force is seeking to build as many as 100 new strategic bombers under a program that would get $914 million in fiscal year 2015, an increase of $554 million, or 150 percent, from the fiscal year 2014 appropriation. The Air Force plans to spend $11.4 billion on the program over the next five years, and the fleet would cost up to $80 billion to build.

The Air Force also wants a new air-launched cruise missile and possibly a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The program to develop the cruise missile, which would be carried by the new bomber, is one area where funding would be reduced. It would get $5 million in fiscal year 2015, the same amount that Congress provided in 2014, but the start of hardware development was delayed from 2015 to 2018, which would push it into the next administration. Because of the delay, the projected spending for the next five years has dropped sharply, from $1 billion to $221 million.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee on March 5 that the Defense Department deferred the cruise missile program last December “due to concerns over [the NNSA’s] funding profile for the associated warhead” and the need to address other funding priorities such as the tail kit assembly for the B61 gravity bomb.

The Air Force is building a new tail kit for the refurbished B61, which would make the bomb more accurate. The Air Force is requesting $198 million for the tail kit, a five-fold increase of $165 million over fiscal year 2014. The tail kit will cost an estimated $1.1 billion to build.

The Air Force is still deciding what to do about its aging Minuteman III ICBMs. A decision is expected in June whether to extend the life of the current missile or replace it with a new one, either silo based or mobile. A recent RAND Corp. study recommended upgrading the current missile, which it found to be “a relatively inexpensive way to retain current ICBM capabilities.” The study authors said that a new missile would not be needed unless new military requirements emerged that were “beyond what an incrementally modernized Minuteman III can offer.”

Warheads Get a Boost

Nuclear warhead maintenance and infrastructure, funded by the NNSA, would receive $8.3 billion in fiscal year 2015, which is $534 million, or 6.9 percent, above the fiscal year 2014 appropriation. The NNSA plans to spend $45.7 billion on nuclear weapons over the next five years, an average of more than $9 billion per year.

The NNSA weapons budget would increase spending to rebuild the B61 gravity bomb, but cut funding for other projects.

The B61 life extension program (LEP) would refurbish about 400 of the gravity bombs that are used on long-range bombers in the United States and tactical fighter aircraft in Europe. The program would be funded at $643 million for fiscal year 2015, an increase of $106 million, or 20 percent, over fiscal year 2014.

Cost overruns have made the program controversial in the Senate, which last year provided only two-thirds of what the administration requested. But the fiscal year 2014 omnibus appropriations bill, passed in January after House-Senate negotiations, provided the full amount. (See ACT, March 2014.) The fiscal year 2015 budget request delays first production of the rebuilt bomb by one year, from 2019 to 2020. The program would receive $3.4 billion over the next five years and cost a total of $8-10 billion to build.

The nuclear weapons budget would zero out initial funding for a new program to rebuild four other warhead types in the arsenal. Called the “3+2” plan, this program would develop “interoperable” warheads that could be used on more than one delivery system, at an estimated cost of about $14 billion per warhead type over 25 years. (See ACT, September 2013.)

The first interoperable warhead, called the IW-1, would have replaced the land-based W78 and sea-based W88 warheads and would have been used on ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. But the proposed budget provides no money for this program, which is receiving $38 million in fiscal year 2014, and no money for the next five years. According to the NNSA, the IW-1 would have cost $14 billion to produce.

Similarly, the NNSA has delayed developing a $12 billion warhead for the Air Force’s new cruise missile by three years. Although this warhead would get just $9 million in fiscal year 2015, the program to build it is projected to ramp up and receive $482 million over the next five years.

The NNSA has not yet decided which warhead to use on the new cruise missile. In November 2013, according to NNSA budget documents, the Nuclear Weapons Council, a joint NNSA-Pentagon working group, “eliminated the B61 as an option” to be the cruise missile warhead and is now developing variations of the W80 and W84 “for further consideration.” The W80 is used on the current air-launched cruise missile, slated for retirement in 2030, and the W84 was used on the ground-launched cruise missile, which was removed from Europe under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The ground-launched missiles were dismantled, but the warheads were stored.

Scandals Prompt Pentagon Nuclear Review

Tom Z. Collina

In the wake of recent reports that some Air Force nuclear missile operators have been cheating on performance tests and failing to follow safety rules, the Defense Department announced Jan. 23 that it is launching a review of all U.S. nuclear forces, to be completed in three months.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a Jan. 24 press conference that he is “deeply concerned” about “the overall health and the professionalism and discipline of our strategic forces.”

At the Jan. 23 announcement event, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that the review would look not just at the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force, the main source of the problems, but at the “whole nuclear force,” including the Air Force’s long-range bombers and the Navy’s strategic submarines.

All of the cheating incidents to date involving ICBM launch officers have occurred at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, where 150 Minuteman III long-range missiles are based. In response to the cheating scandal, nearly half of the 190 missile officers at Malmstrom have been removed from duty, according to the Air Force.

Air Force officials said that, despite the cheating, there is no increased risk of an accidental or mistaken launch of a nuclear weapon. They cited the redundant safety procedures that are in place on U.S. nuclear weapons.

The U.S. ICBM force of 450 ICBMs is evenly divided among Malmstrom, F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. Each missile is armed with a nuclear warhead that has an explosive yield of 300 kilotons or more, the equivalent of about 20 Hiroshima bombs. The missiles are on high alert and ready to launch within minutes, independent experts say.

The Pentagon review’s first phase began when Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, convened a Jan. 29 meeting of key nuclear security stakeholders in Washington to address personnel challenges in the nuclear force. The Pentagon will next develop an action plan, to be completed by April 30, to identify problems with the nuclear forces and ways to address them, Kirby said

Hagel also called for an independent review to undertake a broader examination of the nuclear force as it relates to personnel. This study, to be conducted by a “small number of experienced former officials,” Kirby said, will assess the quality of the action plan and is to be completed in 90 days.

In January, as the crisis was breaking, the new Air Force secretary, Deborah Lee James, visited all three ICBM missile bases. She has since focused on concerns about onerous testing requirements and has suggested that missileers should receive incentive pay, medals, and other recognition.

But a number of former missile officers and experts have said the job of a missileer has become a career dead end. “If the missile force can’t convince its people that what they are doing is really important, that it isn’t a military and strategic backwater and/or obsolete, no combination of programmatic incentives can really fix things,” Robert Goldich, a former defense policy specialist at the Congressional Research Service, was quoted as saying in a Feb. 11 Associated Press story.

In a Jan. 22 story in The New York Times, Brian Weeden, a former launch officer at Malmstrom, recalled that while on duty on Sept. 11, 2001, he stayed in his underground missile silo, watching the events unfold on television. “We couldn’t do anything,” he said. “The mantra had always been that the nuclear deterrent would keep America safe. But it didn’t. So I felt, not only did we fail to deter those attacks, but we couldn’t do anything about it after.”

In the past year, in addition to the cheating scandal, a general who oversaw nuclear weapons was dismissed for drunken behavior during an official trip to Moscow, officers assigned to Minuteman missiles were removed for violating safety rules, and missileers were found napping with the blast door open in violation of security regulations.

In recent years, the Air Force has been embarrassed by other incidents involving nuclear weapons. In 2007 a B-52 bomber was mistakenly flown across the United States with six nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missiles on board. The year before, four ICBM fuses were mistakenly sent to Taiwan. In response, Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael Moseley. (See ACT, October 2007.)

The Defense Department has launched a three-month review of U.S. nuclear forces in response to reports that Air Force missile officers have been cheating on performance tests.

U.S. Raises INF Concerns With Russia

Tom Z. Collina

The U.S. State Department confirmed in January that Russia may have breached a landmark arms control agreement by testing a new cruise missile, but has not concluded that Russia violated the accord.

Confirming the details of a Jan. 29 report in The New York Times, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a Jan. 30 press briefing that the United States has raised the “possibility of…a violation” with Russia and U.S. NATO allies. The specific U.S. allegation is that Moscow flight-tested a new medium-range, land-based cruise missile. Such a test would run afoul of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which permanently bans ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles capable of traveling 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, has discussed the issue with her Russian and NATO counterparts, Psaki said, adding that “there’s still an ongoing review, an interagency review, determining if there was a violation.” Psaki indicated that the administration does not view the INF Treaty as being in serious jeopardy.

According to the Times, U.S. officials believe Russia began flight-testing the cruise missile in 2008 and that it has not been deployed. Gottemoeller first raised the issue with Russia last May, and Moscow has said it investigated the issue and considers the case closed, the Times said.

There has been speculation for months regarding Russia’s compliance with the INF Treaty, but this is the first time that the suspect weapon has been identified as a cruise missile. Neither the State Department nor the Times identified what type of ground-launched cruise missile it might be, but unconfirmed reports have since focused on Russia’s R-500 Iskander-K. That system, reportedly first tested in 2007, would use a road-mobile launcher, as the Iskander-M does. The latter is a short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile that Russia has said it plans to deploy near NATO member countries in response to U.S. missile defense plans. (See ACT, January/February 2014.) It is not clear if the range of the R-500 exceeds the lower limit of the INF Treaty and, if so, by how much.

Previous reports had focused on Russia’s RS-26 ballistic missile, which Moscow has reportedly flight-tested at intermediate ranges. But because the RS-26 has also been tested at ranges greater than 5,500 kilometers, it is considered by both sides to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and therefore covered and allowed by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). It is not covered by the INF Treaty.

The INF compliance issue has surfaced at a sensitive time for President Barack Obama, who is seeking Senate confirmation of Gottemoeller and National Security Council staff chief Brian McKeon, who has been nominated to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. McKeon was one of the administration’s main liaisons with the Senate during the New START ratification debate.

Republican members of the Senate have held up Gottemoeller’s confirmation vote in the full Senate over the issue. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wrote in a Feb. 20 letter to McKeon that if the administration knew about Russia’s “potential violations” and did not fully inform the Senate before the New START vote, “this would represent a serious abrogation of the administration’s responsibilities.”

In a Feb. 6 letter, three Republican House committee chairmen asked Obama to take stronger action against Russia in response to the possible violation, writing that failing to act “would only invite further violations by Russia.”

The INF Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, has become controversial in Russia under President Vladimir Putin. In 2007, Putin expressed concern that the INF Treaty’s missile ban applies to Russia but not to neighboring countries. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates writes in his recent memoir that, also in 2007, Russian officials suggested to their counterparts in the George W. Bush administration that the two countries withdraw from the treaty.

Last summer, Sergey Ivanov, the Kremlin chief of staff, publicly questioned the value of the treaty, saying Russia has more potential threats on its borders than the United States does. “The Americans have no need for this class of weapon, they didn’t need it before and they don’t need it now,” Ivanov said, according to RIA-Novosti. “They could theoretically only attack Mexico and Canada with them, because their effective radius doesn’t extend to Europe.”

The State Department reports annually to Congress on global compliance with arms control agreements. The most recent unclassified report, covering 2012, did not mention any INF Treaty compliance issues. The report covering 2013 has not been released.

The United States said Russia may have breached a landmark arms control accord by testing a new cruise missile, but has not concluded that Russia violated the treaty.

Congress Fully Funds B61 Bomb

Tom Z. Collina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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