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

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement"
July 1, 2020
Tom Z. Collina

East Coast Missile Defense: A Rush to Failure



Volume 4, Issue 4, June 10, 2013

This week, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives will debate and vote on its annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which, among other things, would provide up to $250 million to build a missile defense site on the U.S. East Coast by 2018. This is a bad idea for a number of reasons, and would ultimately lead to a rushed, ineffective system wasting billions of taxpayer dollars.

If the full House approves an East Coast site, which is likely, the Senate Armed Services Committee, which marks up its bill this week, should not. Like last year, the Senate's cooler heads should oppose a new missile defense site that the Pentagon does not want.

The Pentagon: We Don't Need Another Site

The Pentagon says that there is no military requirement for an East Coast site. At a May 9 Senate Armed Services Strategic Subcommittee hearing, Madelyn Creedon, Assistant Defense Secretary for Global Strategic Affairs, said that the East Coast is already "well protected" by the 30 missile defense interceptors now based in Alaska and California, and the administration's plan to field another 14 interceptors in Alaska by 2017 "provides additional protection" against "anything from North Korea as well as anything from Iran, should that threat develop." Iran does not yet have a long-range missile capable of reaching the United States.

The Pentagon: We Can't Use Additional Funds

Even though the Defense Department does not support an East Coast site, last year Congress directed the Pentagon to explore options for where such a site might be located. In May 8 testimony before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Missile Defense Agency director Vice Adm. James Syring said he does not need additional funding in fiscal year 2014 because his agency already has funds to assess possible locations, which will be narrowed down to three by the end of the year. After that, an environmental review would last up to two years, he said. Rather than deciding now that the system should be deployed, Congress should wait for the Pentagon to finish its review.

The System Would Not be Effective Against Real-World Threats

To field an East Coast site by 2018, a rush by any measure, the Pentagon would have to use the same technology now deployed on the West Coast, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. But the existing technology needs to be scrapped, not replicated. The GMD system has not been "successfully" tested since 2008, with two failures in 2010.

According to a 2012 National Research Council report, the GMD system "has serious shortcomings, and provides at best a limited, initial defense against a relatively primitive threat." The NRC report recommends replacing the GMD system with an entirely new technology, which could take a decade or more to develop.

Moreover, the GMD system has not been proven effective at distinguishing real threat warheads from decoys or debris. As Pentagon Director of Operational Testing Michael Gilmore testified May 9, "If we can't discriminate what the real threatening objects are, it doesn't matter how many ground-based interceptors we have; we won't be able to hit what needs to be hit."

A Third GMD Site Would Be Expensive

The United States has already spent about $40 billion on the (ineffective) GMD system on the West Coast. The Congressional Budget Office has conservatively estimated that a new site would cost $3.6 billion over five years. The NRC report says that the total 20-year cost for a new system at two sites would be $19-25 billion.

Given current fiscal realities, requiring the Pentagon to buy a weapon system it does not need would force it to cut other, higher priority goals, such as solving the discrimination problem. Building a costly third GMD site using outdated, ineffective technology to counter a long-range missile threat that does not exist is not in the best interests of U.S. national security.

Missile Defense Cooperation Is a Bipartisan Goal

In addition, the House NDAA would prevent any executive agreement dealing with missile defense, presumably including agreements to share missile defense information with Russia. This is self-defeating, because the United States stands to benefit from missile defense cooperation.

For example, U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation could include the sharing of missile launch early-warning information. The Pentagon has been interested in gaining access to data from Russian radars located northwest of Iran, such as the Voronezh radar in Armavir, that could provide useful tracking information to NATO on an Iranian missile launch toward Europe.

Given that early-warning data sharing would improve the United States' and NATO's ability to detect missile launches, it is puzzling that some in Congress oppose providing early warning, detection, and tracking information to Russia. Moscow is highly unlikely to provide this information to the U.S. and NATO unless there is a two-way flow of data.

Despite the concerns of some in Congress that the Obama administration might provide classified information about missile interceptor systems to Moscow, U.S. officials have been clear that they have no such plans. On May 9, Vice Adm. Syring said in response to a question,"I have not declassified any information to give to Russia and I have not been asked to declassify any information to give to Russia." At the same hearing, Creedon said "we have no ability to share any classified information with Russia nor any intent to share any classified information with Russia."

Moreover, U.S.-Russian efforts to cooperate on missile defense have enjoyed bipartisan support, with roots in the Reagan administration's offer to share missile defense technology with the Soviet Union. In 2004, the George W. Bush administration began seeking a Defense Technical Cooperation Agreement (DTCA) with Russia. This agreement would have addressed a broad range of cooperative research and development activities, including missile defense.

Further Bilateral Reductions Are In the U.S. National Interest

The House NDAA also proposes to block implementation of the 2010 New START Treaty between the United States and Russia, as well as further reductions beyond New START. Once again, this is self-defeating as nuclear arms reductions, with a long bipartisan tradition, serve to increase U.S. national security.

It was President Ronald Reagan who, in 1986, shifted U.S. policy away from ever-higher nuclear stockpiles--which peaked at about 30,000 nuclear warheads--and started down the path of reductions that continues today. U.S. and Russian arsenals have now been reduced by more than two-thirds, and the world is safer for it.

If the House NDAA provisions to block funding to implement New START were to become law, Russia would likely halt its nuclear reductions as well, risking the treaty's collapse. This would allow Moscow to rebuild its nuclear forces above the treaty ceiling of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and increase the number of nuclear weapons aimed at the United States.

Moreover, the inspection system established under the treaty could collapse, depriving the U.S. of crucial data exchanges and on-site inspections of Russian forces, undermining transparency and strategic stability.

At the same time, the House NDAA would prohibit further nuclear arsenal reductions unless approved by the Senate as part of a treaty. While a treaty may be the ideal way, depending on circumstances, to implement further arms reductions, there are other ways.

For example, in 1991 President George H.W. Bush announced unilateral reductions in U.S. tactical nuclear weapons and did not seek congressional approval. Similarly, President George W. Bush reduced the U.S. nuclear stockpile by more than 50 percent, saying in 2001, "We don't need arms control negotiations to reduce our weaponry in a significant way."

B61 Is Already Overfunded

The House bill would provide $581 million for the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP), $44 million above the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)'s fiscal 2014 request, which is already a 45 percent increase over fiscal 2013.

Instead of increasing funding for the B61, Congress should scale it back. NNSA is planning to extend the service life of 400 B61 gravity bombs for an estimated cost of $10 billion, or $25 million per bomb. But NNSA's gold-plated plan would replace hundreds of parts in each bomb that do not need to be replaced now. NNSA has a cheaper option for the B61 LEP that would cost just $1.5 to 2 billion, or 80 percent less, and replace only the parts that need replacement due to aging. There is no reason to spend the extra $8 billion, especially as some NATO allies are calling for the bombs deployed in Europe to be removed and given that the 180 B61s stored in Europe are not militarily useful or necessary today.

Time to Stop Playing Games

It is time to stop playing political games with U.S. nuclear weapons policy. Continued, verified reductions of excessive U.S. and Russian arsenals will enhance U.S. security by reducing the nuclear threat.

As the Pentagon said in January, "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory, as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."

Gen. James E. Cartwright, the retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commander of U.S. nuclear forces in the George W. Bush administration, said last year that U.S. deterrence requirements could be achieved with a total arsenal of 900 strategic nuclear warheads.

The major threats the United States faces today, such as proliferation, terrorism or cyber attacks, cannot be addressed with nuclear weapons. Rather than demanding American taxpayers cough up yet more money for programs that we don't need, Congress needs to focus on more cost-effective solutions that address the nation's future defense requirements.--Tom Z. Collina


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


This week, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives will debate and vote on its annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which, among other things, would provide up to $250 million to build a missile defense site on the U.S. East Coast by 2018. This is a bad idea for a number of reasons, and would ultimately lead to a rushed, ineffective system wasting billions of taxpayer dollars.

Country Resources:

Nuclear Sub Costs Complicate Navy Plans

Tom Z. Collina

In the face of growing federal budget pressures, the U.S. Navy in May began to more openly question Obama administration plans to purchase a dozen new nuclear-armed submarines.

In its shipbuilding plan for fiscal year 2014, submitted to Congress on May 10, the Navy warns that current plans to build 12 submarines and maintain a surface fleet of 300 ships are not compatible. The Navy states that if it funds the submarines “from within its own resources,” the program will “take away from construction of other ships in the battle force such as attack submarines, destroyers, aircraft carriers and amphibious warfare ships.”

The 12 planned submarines are expected to be the backbone of the U.S. nuclear triad of delivery systems, which also includes land-based missiles and long-range bombers, for the future. The Defense Department wants to replace all three legs of the triad over the next two decades, potentially costing hundreds of billions of dollars at a time when budgets are tight.

Plans for modernization of the triad may be revised under Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s Strategic Choices and Modernization Review, due to be released in June, according to Pentagon officials. Senate leaders have asked Hagel to come up with plans for cutting the Defense Department budget by $52 billion for fiscal year 2014. That is the amount by which the Pentagon budget would drop from the fiscal year 2014 request if sequestration—the automatic cuts required by the 2011 Budget Control Act—is not averted.

The Navy is planning to replace its current submarine fleet with a model known as the SSBN(X). As budgets tighten, speculation is growing that the Navy will not be able to afford to do that. In May 9 testimony before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Gen. Robert Kehler, the head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), said, “I think the ultimate number of submarines that we procure is still an open question.”

The 12 planned submarines, each to be loaded with 16 Trident ballistic missiles and around 80 nuclear warheads, would cost a total of about $90 billion to develop and build. According to the Navy’s shipbuilding plan, construction of the 12 subs would take place from 2021 to 2035, during which time the Navy would need $19.2 billion per year on average for all shipbuilding. That is almost twice the Navy’s fiscal year 2014 request for shipbuilding of $10.9 billion, which does not take sequestration into account. The average construction cost for each SSBN(X) would be about $6.5 billion, accounting for about one-third of the shipbuilding budget starting in 2021, with an additional $11 billion in development costs. The fiscal 2014 request for SSNB(X) development is $1.1 billion.

Hagel has acknowledged the budget pressure. In a May 10 letter to congressional leaders explaining the Navy’s shipbuilding plans, he wrote that “there will be resourcing challenges…largely due to investment requirements associated with the SSBN(X) program.”

Others have been more blunt about the dim prospects that the Navy will be able to find additional resources on the scale it would need. “The Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan is a ‘plan’ in name only,” Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) said in a May 10 statement. “At current funding levels, it remains an exercise in wishful thinking.”

Speaking at a May 8 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the Navy’s plan “a fantasy.”

The Navy has been trying to convince the administration and Congress that the subs are “national” assets and should be supported by funds outside of the Navy’s budget. Asked at the May 8 hearing if the Navy had made any progress in finding additional resources outside its budget, Sean Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, and acquisition, said, “[T]hose talks have not progressed. I should probably leave it at that.”

If the Navy has to factor sequestration cuts into its budget, as seems likely, funding will get even tighter. At an April 30 event in Washington, Vice Adm. William Burke, deputy chief of naval operations warfare systems, said that buying 12 SSBN(X) subs under sequestration would cause the Navy to “reduce procurement as well as retire existing ships, leaving us with a Navy in the vicinity of 200 ships, at which point we may not be considered a global navy.” The Navy currently plans to maintain a fleet of around 300 ships, including submarines, through 2043, up from about 280 ships today.

The Navy’s ability to change the number of SSBN(X) subs it needs to buy and the time at which it buys them is limited by current U.S. nuclear policy guidance. That guidance determines how many targets must be held at risk by strategic nuclear weapons and thus how many submarines must be “on station” at all times. Submarines that are on station are deployed far off the U.S. coasts and ready to launch their missiles within an hour or so. (See ACT, December 2011.)

Current requirements call for 10 subs to be operational, with another two out of service for repairs at any given time after a decade or more of operation. Such requirements, set by the president, are under review as part of the Nuclear Posture Review implementation study. (See ACT, June 2011.)

As federal budgets tighten, the Navy is raising the alarm that it cannot afford to build a dozen new nuclear-armed submarines while maintaining a global surface fleet.

Russia, U.S. Trade Missile Defense Offers

Tom Z. Collina

The United States and Russia are exchanging proposals on missile defense cooperation, possibly leading to another round of reductions in nuclear stockpiles, senior officials from both countries said, following a Russian official’s May 15 statement that Moscow would respond “in a constructive spirit” to a U.S. proposal made in April.

The U.S. proposal, which has not been made public, was contained in a letter from President Barack Obama that national security adviser Tom Donilon delivered to Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 15. The Russian official, Putin’s foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov, said in April that the letter “covers military-political problems, among them missile defense and nuclear arsenals.”

Nikolai Patrushev, chief of Russia’s Security Council, delivered Putin’s reply during a meeting with Obama and Donilon on May 22, according to a statement by the Russian embassy in Washington. Patrushev also met separately with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel May 21 to discuss missile defense and other issues, according to the Pentagon. Hagel traveled to Moscow for a May 23 conference sponsored by the Russia Ministry of Defense, where missile defense was a prominent issue of discussion.

This latest round of missile defense diplomacy follows Hagel’s March announcement that the United States would cancel the planned Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB missile interceptor program in Europe, which Russia claimed could undermine its strategic nuclear deterrent. (See ACT, April 2013.) Russia has said that it will not consider Obama’s proposals for additional nuclear arms reductions unless its concerns about U.S. missile interceptor plans are addressed.

The Moscow Times and other Russian media reported May 16 that Obama’s letter proposes “to develop a legally binding agreement on transparency, which would include the exchange of information and confirmation that our programs do not present a threat to each other’s defense forces.” This would presumably include a U.S. commitment to Moscow that its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) based in western Russia would not be threatened by U.S. interceptors to be based in Poland and Romania and on nearby ships. Russia’s main objection to U.S. missile defense plans for Europe has been that they would threaten Moscow’s ICBMs.

In a May 15 e-mail, a Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the Russian media reports.

U.S. officials have made statements that are broadly similar but provide less detail. Madelyn Creedon, assistant secretary of defense for global affairs, testified May 9 before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee that the administration was seeking to revive earlier proposals “that could ultimately lead to discussions with respect to both transparency and cooperation with the Russians on missile defense.” The Obama administration has been proposing greater transparency on missile defense activities since 2011, and U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation has been a bipartisan goal since the Reagan administration. (See ACT, April 2011.)

In response to U.S. proposals for greater cooperation on missile defense, Russia has been seeking a legally binding agreement, such as a treaty, to limit the number, location, and speed of U.S. interceptors based in Europe. The Obama administration has rejected this proposal because, among other reasons, the Senate would be unlikely to approve a treaty limiting U.S. missile defenses. Obama’s proposal on transparency would be an executive agreement and not subject to Senate approval, according to the Moscow Times report.

Obama’s cancellation of the planned SM-3 II-B interceptor deployment should reduce Russia’s need for a treaty-based commitment, as Moscow was primarily concerned about the capabilities of that interceptor, according to former administration officials. A Russian diplomatic source was quoted by Kommersant May 15 as saying that Russia “could well accept the U.S. proposal” because “more transparency in the missile defense field is useful both in itself and as an instrument to improve mutual confidence.”

Obama also reportedly suggested that the two countries could conclude a framework agreement on further reductions to their nuclear arsenals. In his State of the Union address in February, Obama reiterated his support for a follow-on agreement to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Obama has been calling for another round of reductions for strategic and tactical nuclear weapons deployed and in storage.

Kommersant reported May 24 that Putin, in his letter to Obama, was still seeking a legal guarantee that U.S. missile interceptors would not threaten Russian ICBMs.

Talks are set to continue, as Putin and Obama are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized countries in Northern Ireland on June 17-18 and in St. Petersburg, Russia, around the September 5-6 Group of 20 summit.

In response to the shelving of the SM-3 IIB program, 19 Republican House members wrote to Hagel to ask him to request $250 million for 20 interceptors for an East Coast site to defend against possible Iranian long-range missiles. At the May 9 hearing, Creedon testified that she does not see a gap in missile defense coverage of the East Coast. “The East Coast is well protected” by the 30 interceptors now based in Alaska and California, she said.

Russian and U.S. officials are trading proposals on missile defense cooperation, possibly leading to another round of nuclear stockpile reductions. Russia says it is open to U.S. offers, but no agreement has been reached.

Missile Defense Talks Resume

Tom Z. Collina

In response to the Obama administration’s March decision to cancel plans for long-range missile interceptors in Europe, Russian officials have agreed to join the United States in senior-level talks on missile defense in late April, the Defense Department has confirmed.

The meeting would be the first significant effort to restart missile defense cooperation talks since they broke down almost two years ago, possibly opening a door to U.S.-Russian negotiations on additional nuclear arsenal reductions beyond the levels established by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov and U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller will lead the bilateral discussions in Brussels on April 30, Antonov told reporters in Moscow on April 16 and a Pentagon spokesman confirmed in an April 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today. The meeting was announced after U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon’s visit to Moscow on April 15.

Antonov said that, in Brussels, the U.S. officials “are expected to elaborate on the changes in the U.S. plans in the area of missile defense, namely their giving up the fourth phase of deploying the missile defense system in Europe.”

Despite tense relations over missile defense, human rights, and other issues, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama are scheduled to meet twice this year, on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized countries in Northern Ireland in June and in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September for what is being billed as a “bilateral summit.”

Missile defense talks broke down in 2011 over Russian concerns that the fourth phase of the U.S. European Phased Adaptive Approach, which included plans for deploying Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB long-range interceptors in Poland by 2022, would threaten Moscow’s strategic nuclear missiles. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced March 15 that the United States would “restructure” the SM-3 IIB program and shift resources toward fielding 14 additional ground-based interceptors by 2017 at Fort Greely in Alaska to address recent provocations from North Korea. That would bring the total number of long-range interceptors in Alaska and California to 44. (See ACT, April 2013.)

Speaking at a conference in Warsaw on April 18, Frank Rose, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, clarified Hagel’s remarks by saying that the SM-3 IIB “will no longer be developed or procured.” The Obama administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2014, submitted to Congress on April 10, has no funding for the SM-3 IIB program (see).

Even so, Russia continues to say that the U.S. shift on missile defense does not go far enough. After meeting in Brussels on April 23 with NATO foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that Moscow is studying U.S. proposals on missile defense cooperation and is “ready for dialogue but cooperation could be only equitable, with clear-cut guarantees.” Russia has been demanding “firm legal guarantees” that the U.S. interceptors to be fielded in Europe would not be used to shoot down Russian strategic missiles. The United States has repeatedly declined to give such guarantees.

Donilon and Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, discussed missile defense and the prospects for additional arms reductions with Putin and senior Russian officials April 15.

Donilon gave Putin a letter from Obama, according to both governments. Putin aide Yuri Ushakov told the Interfax news agency April 15 that the letter “covers military-political problems, among them missile defense and nuclear arsenals.” He added that the Putin-Donilon conversation “had a rather positive nature, same as the messages sent by the Obama administration.”

In another sign that Russia may be adjusting its stance on missile defense, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said April 16 in a speech at the Russian Embassy in London that U.S. missile defense plans do not pose a threat to Moscow’s strategic nuclear weapons, RIA Novosti reported. “We have solved the issue of penetrating the U.S. missile shield and it poses no military threat to the country,” said Rogozin, who has been critical of U.S. missile defense plans in the past.

In the wake of national security adviser Tom Donilon’s visit to Moscow, the United States and Russia plan to resume talks on missile defense cooperation after a two-year break.

White House Fills Expanded WMD Post

Tom Z. Collina

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the top National Security Council (NSC) adviser on European affairs, has been named to a new NSC position as coordinator for defense policy, weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and arms control, the White House announced March 19.

Sherwood-Randall takes over the WMD and arms control portfolio previously held by Gary Samore, who now is executive director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. The newly created NSC position adds defense policy to the old portfolio in an effort to improve coordination on related issues, according to White House officials cited in a March 19 report in The Cable.

President Barack Obama “will look to [Sherwood-Randall] to bring significant energy and capability to his second term as we pursue the ambitious goals he set forth in his Prague speech in 2009,” national security adviser Tom Donilon said in the announcement. In that speech, Obama laid out a broad nuclear policy covering arms reductions, nonproliferation, nuclear security, and other issues.

Sherwood-Randall will work with Lt. Col. Ron Clark, acting senior director for defense policy and strategy; Laura Holgate, senior director for WMD terrorism and threat reduction; and Lynn Rusten, senior director for arms control and nonproliferation, The Cable said.

During the Clinton administration, Sherwood-Randall served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, where she played a role in the denuclearization of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine after those countries inherited nuclear weapons with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. She previously served as chief foreign affairs and defense policy adviser to Vice President Joe Biden when he was a U.S. senator.

Sherwood-Randall will take up her new post April 8, the White House said.

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the top National Security Council (NSC) adviser on European affairs, has been named to a new NSC position as coordinator for defense policy, weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and arms control, the White House announced March 19.

Pentagon Shifts Gears on Missile Defense

Tom Z. Collina

Removing a major roadblock to Russian support for another round of nuclear arms reductions, the Department of Defense last month effectively canceled the fourth phase of its plans to deploy missile interceptors in Europe over the next decade.

At a March 15 press conference, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that, under a “restructuring” of the European program, the Pentagon would redirect funding to field an additional 14 ground-based interceptor (GBI) missiles in Alaska by 2017 to address rising nuclear and missile threats from North Korea.

Citing the U.S. need to “stay ahead” of North Korea’s “irresponsible and reckless provocations,” including a satellite launch last December, a nuclear test in February, and the development of “what appears to be a road-mobile ICBM,” or intercontinental ballistic missile, Hagel said the United States would increase the number of missile interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, from 30 to 44; deploy a second X-band radar in Japan, which had been previously announced; conduct environmental studies for a potential additional interceptor site in the United States, as directed by Congress; and cancel the last of the four phases of the European Phased Adaptive Approach missile defense system, which would have fielded interceptors in Poland to shoot down any future long-range missiles launched from Iran.

Congressional Republicans, who have been critical of the Obama administration’s missile defense policies, generally praised the announcement. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News on March 17 that he “applaud[s] the efforts,” but added he would support a new missile defense site on the East Coast and said he had concerns about canceling the fourth phase of the planned European deployment. At the same time, he said, “I don’t think that threat is imminent—I don’t think [North Korea has] the delivery mechanisms that are necessary to really harm us.”

A group of 19 House Republicans sent a March 19 letter to Hagel saying the additional interceptors in Alaska are “welcome and long overdue” but that the lawmakers were “concerned about the decision to terminate” the fourth phase. They called on Hagel to include $250 million in the fiscal year 2014 budget for 20 interceptors at a new East Coast site.

Russian Reaction

Moscow had seen the U.S. intention to deploy the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB in Poland as a potential threat to its ICBMs based in western Russia. U.S. President Barack Obama announced in February that he would resume efforts to seek additional reductions in nuclear stockpiles with Russia, but Moscow said that its concerns about U.S. missile defense plans had to be resolved first. (See ACT, March 2013.)

Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said March 20 in prepared remarks in Geneva that the United States now is “exploring what a future [nuclear arms control] agreement with Russia might look like.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov met with U.S. officials in Geneva on March 18 and 19 for talks on issues that included the March 15 missile defense announcement, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Russian officials have so far taken a wait-and-see approach to the Pentagon’s new plans. “There is no unequivocal answer yet to the question of what consequences all this can have for our security,” Ryabkov told reporters March 21 in Russia. “The causes for concern have not been removed, but dialogue is needed—it is in our interest and we welcome the fact that the American side also, it appears, wants to continue this dialogue.”

Moscow has been seeking a legally binding commitment that the United States would not use interceptors based in Europe to target Russia’s ICBMs. U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon reportedly will visit Moscow April 15 to discuss missile defense with senior Russian officials, and Hagel is expected to travel to Moscow in late May to continue discussions.

Troubled Development

Administration officials said the decision to cancel the fourth phase of the European deployment was not based on Russian opposition, but on the fact that deployment of the SM-3 IIB interceptor had been delayed from 2020 to at least 2022 due to congressional funding cuts. Hagel said that, by shifting resources “from this lagging program” to the additional GBIs missiles, “we will be able to add protection against missiles from Iran sooner.”

Iran does not yet have long-range missiles that can reach the United States; the U.S. intelligence community has said Tehran could develop this capability by 2015 with significant foreign assistance, although a report last December from the Congressional Research Service said Tehran’s ability to meet that target date “is increasingly uncertain,” in part because Iran is not receiving sufficient help from China and Russia.

The SM-3 IIB, which exists only on paper and, with Hagel’s decision, has been downgraded to a technology development program, has been facing a number of problems. A study released in February by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the SM-3 IIB might not be effective without changes to its operational plan, which in turn could lead to significant safety risks, cost increases, and schedule delays. Last September, a major technical report by a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel recommended canceling the fourth phase of the planned missile interceptor deployment because it was not the most effective way to defend the United States against potential Iranian missile strikes. (See ACT, October 2012.)

At the press conference, Hagel said the Pentagon would continue the other phases of its European plan, which include currently deployed, shorter-range SM-3 interceptors on Aegis-equipped Navy ships in the Mediterranean Sea and future land-based deployments in Romania in 2015 and Poland in 2018.

Walter Slocombe, a former undersecretary of defense for policy who co-chaired the NAS study, said in a March 18 interview that dropping the fourth phase was “a good step” because newly developed interceptors deployed on the East Coast could counter future Iranian ICBM launches more effectively than the SM-3 IIB could from Europe.

Slocombe questioned the administration’s decision to put additional interceptors in Alaska, saying it was “not a very good thing to do in the long run, since it’s the same old stuff in the same old place.” The NAS panel was sharply critical of the current 30-interceptor system deployed on the West Coast, which it described as “fragile” and ineffective against “any but the most primitive attacks.” The system has not had a successful intercept test since 2008, missing twice in 2010.

Fly Before You Buy

Acknowledging the GBI system’s shortcomings, Hagel said that he would not deploy the additional 14 interceptors, which will cost about $1 billion, “until we are sure that we have the complete confidence that we will need.” Speaking at the same press briefing, James Miller, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said the Pentagon would “stick with our fly-before-you-buy approach.” Noting that the GBI missile’s kill vehicle, called the Capability Enhancement-II (CE-II), has had “a couple of test failures,” Miller said the Pentagon would conduct an intercept test this year. A successful nonintercept test was conducted in January.

The CE-II kill vehicle, which is the object that is supposed to collide with an incoming warhead in space, was fielded in 2008 and is currently deployed on 10 of the 30 GBI missiles in Alaska and California, according to a March 2011 GAO report. The other 20 GBI missiles are armed with CE-I kill vehicles, which were fielded from 2004 to 2007 and still are in place today. But the CE-II was not used in an intercept test until January and December 2010, and it failed both times. As a result, in 2011 the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) suspended additional CE-II deployments and said that fielded GBI missiles armed with CE-IIs would not be considered operational until a successful intercept test. The MDA later found a flaw in the guidance system of the Raytheon-made CE-II.

The Pentagon is going to conduct flight tests of the CE-I this summer and “hopefully flight-test the CE-II after we build it this fall,” Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the March 15 briefing. Miller said that if the modified CE-II is successful, the Pentagon would “make changes to those CE-IIs that are currently in place, and then the new ground-based interceptors would also be [outfitted with] CE-IIs.”

Even if the next intercept tests are successful against simple, intermediate-range targets, they are not expected to test the system’s effectiveness against ICBM threats or countermeasures such as decoys. The GAO has said that the capability of the two kill vehicles against decoys “has not been validated” and that tests against ICBMs will not occur until 2015 or later.

China, which is North Korea’s main ally and has repeatedly criticized the U.S. missile defense program as a threat to strategic stability, did not welcome Hagel’s announcement. “Strengthening anti-missile deployments and military alliances can only deepen antagonism and will be of no help to solving problems,” Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Beijing on March 18.

Removing a major roadblock to Russian support for another round of nuclear arms reductions, the Department of Defense last month effectively canceled the fourth phase of its plans to deploy missile interceptors in Europe over the next decade.

Obama Calls for Deeper Nuclear Cuts

Tom Z. Collina

President Barack Obama used his Feb. 12 State of the Union address in part to reiterate his administration’s interest in achieving further reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, but it is unclear what form an agreement might take—a formal treaty or an informal understanding.

In his address, Obama said the United States would “engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals.” According to accounts published before the speech by the Center for Public Integrity on Feb. 8 and The New York Times on Feb. 10, an internal administration review has determined that the number of U.S. deployed strategic, or long-range, warheads could drop to 1,000 to 1,100 in the years ahead.

Currently, the United States is deploying about 1,700 strategic nuclear warheads, while Russia is deploying approximately 1,500, according to the U.S. State Department. The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia sets a limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads on each side by 2018.

In addition to further cuts to deployed strategic warheads, the administration is expected to pursue discussions with Russia on measures that would address nonstrategic, or tactical, warheads, along with warheads in storage. Obama believes the United States can make significant reductions “and save a lot of money, without compromising American security,” an administration official told The New York Times.

Obama’s remarks come as the Defense Department faces significant budget cuts from the congressionally mandated sequestration process established in the 2011 Budget Control Act, which could complicate Pentagon plans to buy new, multibillion-dollar submarine, bomber, and missile delivery systems for nuclear weapons.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters Feb. 14 that his government was ready to consider new proposals but would also take into account U.S.-NATO plans for ballistic missile defense in Europe. (See ACT, January/February 2013.) Russian officials have said they are concerned that the final phase of the U.S.-NATO missile interceptor plan could undermine Russia’s strategic deterrent and are not willing to consider additional arsenal reductions until these concerns are addressed.

Obama’s Choices for National Security Posts

Many of the top administration officials dealing with national security issues in President Barack Obama’s second term will be new to their positions. The backgrounds of the new officeholders and nominees are summarized below, with an emphasis on their experience in and views on arms control issues.

Secretary of State

Kerry served as a Democratic U.S. senator from Massachusetts from 1985 to 2013, spending 25 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the past four years as the committee’s chairman. He was an outspoken proponent of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and has supported ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Secretary of Defense

Hagel was a Republican U.S. senator from Nebraska from 1997 to 2009, serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence. He serves on the advisory board of the organization Global Zero and endorsed a 2012 Global Zero report that proposed reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to a total of 900 weapons. Hagel is a Vietnam War veteran who, during his confirmation hearing, advocated restraint in the use of force in resolving international disputes.

CIA Director (nominated)

Brennan currently is assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. From 1980 to 2005, he worked at the CIA, serving as deputy executive director from 2001 to 2003. Brennan has said he supports diplomatic engagement to resolve U.S. and international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

White House Chief of Staff

McDonough has served as deputy national security adviser and National Security Council chief of staff. Prior to those appointments, he was a foreign policy adviser to Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.—ERIC

Policy Review

The administration has reportedly concluded the internal policy review that supports further reductions in nuclear weapons, but Obama has not formally approved it. Known as the Nuclear Posture Review Implementation Study, the review was expected to be finalized last summer, but has been delayed. (See ACT, June 2011.) A spokeswoman for the National Security Council said via e-mail Feb. 16 that no decisions have been made on the specific timing of any announcement about the results of the review.

As part of an initial round of talks with Russia, Vice President Joe Biden met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Munich on Feb. 2, and in a Feb. 4 appearance on PBS’s Charlie Rose, White House national security adviser Thomas Donilon said he planned to hold additional talks in Moscow in the next month. Donilon said Obama’s speech in Prague in 2009 committed the United States “to lower this world`s reliance on nuclear weapons” and that further reductions with Russia were “part of that agenda.”

The working-level talks are being led by Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, who said in her prepared text for a Feb. 21 speech at a nuclear policy conference in Arlington, Va., that she was already engaged in dialogue with her Russian counterpart and that she hoped the talks would lead to “greater reciprocal transparency and negotiation of further nuclear weapons reductions.”

Some Senate Republicans already are voicing opposition to Obama’s plans. Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and James Inhofe (Okla.), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, wrote in the Feb. 26 Wall Street Journal that “no arms-control treaty is likely even to get a vote in the Senate” until the U.S. has a modern nuclear infrastructure “capable of responding to any future challenges to the country’s strategic interests.” They were referring to promises the administration made during the New START debate to seek more than $200 billion over 10 years for the National Nuclear Security Administration weapons production complex and Defense Department nuclear weapons delivery systems. (See ACT, March 2011.)

Treaty or Understanding?

Given the potential Senate opposition to further cuts, the administration could decide to pursue a less formal approach rather than negotiate a treaty with Russia that would require Senate approval. Last November, the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board issued a report recommending that Russia and the United States seek additional reductions on the basis of a mutual understanding rather than a formal treaty. Such an understanding “can be quicker and less politically costly, relative to treaties with adversarial negotiations and difficult ratification processes,” the board wrote.

Informal, even unilateral, approaches to U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reductions are not without precedent. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev mutually cut significant numbers of tactical nuclear weapons without a formal treaty. Under their reciprocal Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, the United States and Russia are believed to have reduced their deployed short-range stockpiles by thousands of warheads. Bush asked for and got Russian reciprocity, but did not make it a condition for the U.S. cuts.

Similarly, President George W. Bush was prepared to make unilateral reductions to the deployed U.S. strategic arsenal in 2001, saying “we’ll move by ourselves on offensive weapons.” (See ACT, December 2001.) Secretary of State Colin Powell ultimately persuaded Bush to codify reductions in a treaty with Russia. The two countries subsequently negotiated and brought into force the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty.

Corker and Inhofe, however, were critical of unilateral steps. They wrote in the Journal that “a presidential attempt to circumvent Congress by pursuing reductions unilaterally would be counter to the advice of the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and would be met with stiff resistance on Capitol Hill.”

Speaking on a Feb. 22 panel at the Arlington conference, Rob Soofer, a Republican staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned that if Obama pursued unilateral cuts, Congress would “try to seek remedies.” Such a move by the administration “could possibly imperil the rest of the president’s arms control agenda,” or even parts of his larger foreign policy agenda that depend on Senate approval of treaties, he said.

President Barack Obama used his Feb. 12 State of the Union address in part to reiterate his administration’s interest in achieving further reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, but it is unclear what form an agreement might take—a formal treaty or an informal understanding.

GAO Sees Flaws in Missile Defense Plan

Tom Z. Collina

The Obama administration’s plan for missile interceptor deployments in Europe may not be effective against long-range missiles launched at the United States from Iran, a congressionally sponsored study has concluded.

The review, which is based on classified technical reports, found that “modifications are needed” in the way that the system would operate and where it would be based. Those changes could lead to significant safety risks and cost increases, said the study, which was conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress.

The review looked at the final phase of the Obama administration’s missile defense plan, called the European Phased Adaptive Approach, which was announced in September 2009. A key part of the plan is the deployment of Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB interceptors in Poland around 2022. (See ACT, January/February 2013.) The review was requested last September by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), who at the time was chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, and was presented to the subcommittee Jan. 29. The GAO released the report, which consists of briefing slides and a cover letter on Feb. 11.

The GAO outlined a number of areas in which the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which is part of the Defense Department, may need to revise its plans for the SM-3 IIB. The United States had planned to deploy the missiles in Romania and Poland in order to intercept future long-range missiles launched from Iran, but MDA technical analysts have since found that the Romanian site “was not a good location from a flight path standpoint” for the SM-3 IIB to defend the United States, the GAO said. Based on MDA findings, the site in Poland may “require the development of the ability to launch the interceptor earlier,” namely, during the incoming missile’s boost phase, when its engines are still firing, “to be useful for U.S. homeland defense,” the GAO said.

According to the GAO, the MDA analysis suggested that basing the interceptors on ships in the North Sea would be better than deploying them in Romania or Poland and would not require the early launch of interceptors, as basing them in Poland would. But the MDA found that this option could have “significant safety risks” and would have “unknown, but likely substantial, cost implications,” the GAO said.

“This report really confirms what I have said all along: that this was a hurried proposal by the president,” Turner told the Associated Press on Feb. 9. Turner has said that he wants the United States to revive President George W. Bush’s plan to field larger interceptors in Europe, a plan that President Barack Obama shelved in 2009, as well as build a new missile defense site on the U.S. East Coast.

Given the limitations of the land-based sites in Romania and Poland, the MDA is now requiring that the interceptors also be deployable at sea, the GAO said. Development of the SM-3 IIB is still early in the design phase, and the MDA has not determined whether the interceptor will have liquid propellant in some components. The use of liquid propellant would allow for a faster interceptor, the GAO said.

If liquid propellant is used, however, the Navy, which would deploy the missiles on its Aegis-equipped ships, would be concerned about the risk of fire, the GAO said. Because of such concerns, the Navy banned the use of liquid missile fuels on its ships in 1988. The GAO said that the Navy has not made a final decision on whether it would overturn this ban to allow liquid-fueled interceptors on ships.

According to the GAO, the SM-3 IIB could have a 27-inch diameter, as opposed to the 21-inch diameter for other, slower SM-3 versions that would intercept shorter-range missiles. The wider interceptor would raise costs for the Navy, which would have to outfit its ships with wider launchers, the GAO said. North Sea deployment also would require the Navy to dedicate additional ships to the program, the GAO said.

The Obama administration remains committed to its European deployment plan, a State Department spokesman said by e-mail Feb. 13.

For interceptors that are based in Poland to be effective, the GAO said, they may have to be able to launch shortly after the launch of the attacking missile, while that missile is still in its boost phase, but the actual intercept would not occur until after that phase, when the attacking missile is no longer firing. Intercepting a missile just after boost phase is known as “early intercept.”

Advocates of early intercept have argued that it is a way to avoid the need to differentiate between real warheads and fake ones as they travel through space, which is one of the most significant challenges to intercepting a warhead carried by a long-range missile. If the defense cannot distinguish real warheads from decoys, then it must shoot its limited supply of interceptors at all of them, degrading the system’s effectiveness. In a Feb. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, an MDA spokesman said that “by destroying missiles early” in flight, the MDA hopes to avoid “the costs of maintaining a significant number of expensive interceptors to destroy advanced countermeasures in a later phase of a threat missile’s flight.”

Early intercept is a controversial concept, even within the MDA. The GAO found that a 2010 MDA analysis concluded that launch of the interceptor during the boost phase of the attacking missile “was not a desirable capability” as it reduces the effective range of the interceptor. Since then, a 2012 MDA assessment found this capability was “feasible” but would require modifying the SM-3 IIB, missile defense command and control systems, and space-based sensors.

But expert panels of the National Academy of Sciences and the Defense Science Board, an advisory group to the Pentagon, have said that early intercept is impractical because interceptors cannot fly fast enough to reach the attacking missile in time. (See ACT, May 2012.)

The Obama administration’s plan for missile interceptor deployments in Europe may not be effective against long-range missiles launched at the United States from Iran, a congressionally sponsored study has concluded.

‘Cliff’ Bill Removes Arms Control Hurdle

Tom Z. Collina

A little-noticed section in the bill to avoid the “fiscal cliff” alters language in another recently enacted law that would have prevented the United States from reducing the size of its strategic arsenal. The Obama administration had objected to the original language, arguing that it represented an unconstitutional constraint on presidential authority.

The fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act had required the president to certify that Russia is “in compliance with its arms control obligations with the United States” before the United States reduces the number of its strategic delivery systems. The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) requires such reductions.

In the Jan. 2 statement that Obama issued as he signed the defense bill into law, he called the language “deeply problematic,” saying it would “impede the fulfillment of future U.S. obligations agreed to” in New START and “hinder the Executive [Branch]’s ability to determine an appropriate nuclear force structure.”

According to congressional aides, State Department staff raised concerns at the last minute about the language because the United States has been unable to certify that Russia is in compliance with some of its obligations under several arms control treaties, in particular, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. However, the State Department has certified that Moscow is in compliance with its strategic arms control commitments, such as the ones made in New START. (See ACT, September 2012.)

Obama signed the defense bill after congressional leaders agreed to include a fix in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which partially averted the combination of tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff.

That bill changes two words in the defense authorization act’s certification requirement. The president now must certify “whether” Russia is in compliance with its “strategic” arms control commitments, not “that” Russia is in compliance with all its arms control commitments.

A little-noticed section in the bill to avoid the “fiscal cliff” alters language in another recently enacted law that would have prevented the United States from reducing the size of its strategic arsenal. The Obama administration had objected to the original language, arguing that it represented an unconstitutional constraint on presidential authority.

Longer Life Seen for Warhead Pits

Tom Z. Collina

An ongoing study by a U.S. nuclear weapons laboratory has found that plutonium parts in warheads can last decades longer than previously thought, with potentially significant implications for multibillion-dollar government programs to maintain nuclear warheads.

The results of the study, which was conducted by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, have increased scientists’ confidence that the plutonium cores of nuclear warheads, known as pits, “will function as designed up to 150 years after they were manufactured,” said an article in the December issue of Science and Technology Review, the laboratory’s journal.

The findings are drawn from research for a study that was launched in 1997 by Livermore and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to examine how warhead pits change over time. The study provides a scientific basis for estimating their service life. Initial results, which were announced in 2006, showed that the pits would last at least 85 years, compared to the previous estimate of 45 to 60 years.

In a posting on the Livermore website about the most recent findings, Bruce T. Goodwin, the laboratory’s principal associate director for weapons and complex integration, said that “no unexpected aging issues” were seen in plutonium up to the 150-year mark.

During the Cold War, warheads were replaced by new designs well before the end of their operational life, and consequently weapons were rarely kept in the arsenal for more than about 25 years. Questions about how long pits might last beyond that time initially came to the public’s attention in 1989 when the United States’ main pit-production facility, the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado, was shut down for safety violations after a raid by the FBI. The plant never reopened, and since then, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency that oversees the nuclear weapons production complex, has tried more than once to secure funding to build a new one.

Under President George W. Bush, for example, the NNSA proposed building a plant known as the Modern Pit Facility, which would have produced 125 to 450 pits per year. (See ACT, May 2004.) Congress canceled the project in 2006.

The Livermore report finding raises questions about the need to build a facility at Los Alamos to support the production of new pits. The proposed plant, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility Replacement (CMRR), is estimated to cost between $3.7 and $5.8 billion. The Obama administration, although it still supports the construction of a new pit facility, delayed the project for at least five years in its fiscal year 2013 budget request, saying that the facility was not yet needed.

The House-Senate conference report on the fiscal year 2013 defense authorization bill, which was approved Dec. 21, mandated construction of the facility by 2027, but capped costs at $3.7 billion. The energy and water appropriations bills that the House and Senate appropriations committees passed last year provided no funds for CMRR construction for fiscal year 2013. (The government currently is funded by an interim spending bill that provides money until March 27.) The authorization legislation also required a cost-benefit analysis of reusing existing pits in warheads rather than producing new ones.

According to information that Los Alamos officials distributed on Capitol Hill in June, the CMRR was designed to meet a production requirement of 50 to 80 pits per year. That requirement was last reviewed in 2010 when pits were expected to last 85 years.

Until the CMRR is built, Los Alamos is proposing an interim plan that would produce 20 to 30 pits per year at a total cost of $800 million by using facilities at Los Alamos and other laboratories.

In a Dec. 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Los Alamos spokesman said the Livermore study reaffirms the decision to “pursue a limited manufacturing capability in existing and planned facilities at Los Alamos.” He did not indicate the CMRR facility by name. Experts estimate that Los Alamos could now produce 10 to 20 pits per year in a section of the laboratory known as Technical Area 55.

The NNSA did not respond to a question about how the new estimate for the lifetime of the pits might affect future production requirements. In general, as pits last longer and the nuclear arsenal shrinks, fewer pits would have to be produced each year to deal with potential aging issues. Pits in current warheads are 35 years old or less. Nevertheless, pits may be produced for other reasons, such as to improve the safety and security of a warhead.

The NNSA is also seeking billions of dollars to extend the life of existing warheads, including the B61 bomb, which the Pentagon projects will cost more than $10 billion. (See ACT, December 2012.) The life extension program for the B61, like the ones for other warheads, would reuse the existing pits. Other parts would be rebuilt to match the original design. According to the Livermore journal, the study supports the current NNSA strategy of reusing existing pits in the near term and eventually producing new ones in existing and planned facilities.

An ongoing study by a U.S. nuclear weapons laboratory has found that plutonium parts in warheads can last decades longer than previously thought, with potentially significant implications for multibillion-dollar government programs to maintain nuclear warheads.


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