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May 19, 2021
Tom Z. Collina

Some See Chance for Missile Defense Deal

Tom Z. Collina

Discussions between Russia and the United States on how to resolve their differences over planned U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe, which have been on hold for more than a year as both countries held presidential elections, can now resume, opening the way for a possible deal on an issue that has blocked progress on strategic arms control, some former administration officials say.

The opening for renewed talks comes at a time when new reports on missile defense technology and the Iranian missile program may give President Barack Obama more room to maneuver, the former officials said in interviews with Arms Control Today.

Last March, Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to negotiate with Russia on missile defense policy after the November elections. The remark, which was picked up by a microphone that Obama apparently did not know was on, drew strong criticism from Republican lawmakers.

Just after the U.S. election, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said at a Nov. 8 Moscow conference on nonproliferation that he hoped Obama “will be more flexible” on his missile defense plans.

Former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher said at a Dec. 18 event that, with the elections over, “we can begin to talk again.” Tauscher, who was the administration’s top negotiator in missile defense talks with Russia, did not indicate what the administration’s position might be.

But sharp differences in Congress on missile defense policy are seen as limiting the range of options available to the administration. “Obama has to find a sweet spot that reassures Moscow but does not overly alienate Senate Republicans,” one congressional staffer said, “and that will not be easy.”

Some Senate Republicans, including Bob Corker (Tenn.), who is set to become the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, had sought to prevent any limitations on U.S. missile defense plans as part of the debate on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in late 2010. They announced their support for New START only after Obama sent a letter to the Senate pledging that the treaty “places no limitations” on U.S. missile defense plans, and specifically promising to field all four phases of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, the administration’s plan for deploying missile interceptors in Europe, depending on “advances of technology or future changes in the threat.” (See ACT, January/February 2011.)

Russia has objected to the latter phases of the planned deployment of missile interceptors in Europe, saying they could threaten its strategic missiles. Russian officials have said they will not take part in a new round of arms control negotiations unless the United States addresses its concerns. Obama is seeking a new treaty with Russia to reduce strategic, tactical, and reserve warheads and is finalizing new nuclear policy guidance to make those reductions possible. (See ACT, June 2011.)

In addition to a new arms reduction treaty, Obama has said on several occasions he will seek Senate approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty at some point. “Does Obama want these treaties or not?” the congressional staffer asked in a Dec. 18 interview, adding that Obama cannot break his missile defense promises to the Senate and still hope to win Republican support for these agreements.

Clashing Views

Moscow’s main concern with the Obama administration’s European missile defense plan centers on its latter phases, planned for 2018 and 2021, respectively, which Russia says would threaten its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) based in southwestern Russia. During these phases, the United States would deploy Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIA and IIB interceptors in Poland and Romania and possibly at sea (fig. 1). Russia has demanded legally binding assurances that U.S. interceptors would not target Russian ICBMs. It also has called for limitations on the speed, number, and location of these interceptors.

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The administration has rejected the Russian demands, in part because a legally binding agreement that included them would stand little chance of winning support from Senate Republicans. Instead, the administration has offered a political commitment, which is not legally binding and does not require Senate approval, not to direct U.S. missile interceptors against Russian strategic missiles and to cooperate with Russia by sharing early-warning information and flight test data. (See ACT, July/August 2011.)

Another factor for Moscow, according to Philip Coyle, who served from 2010 to 2011 as a senior official in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is U.S. plans to deploy interceptors in Poland specifically, which “bother Russia mightily.” The Russian concerns are “geopolitical,” he said, noting that U.S. long-range interceptors based in the United States, in Alaska and California, do not appear to concern Moscow nearly as much as the ones in central Europe.

As the basis for a possible compromise on missile defense, Coyle and other former officials point to a September report by a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) committee. (See ACT, October 2012.) That report found it would be more effective to address potential long-range missile threats to the United States from Iran by basing interceptors on the U.S. East Coast rather than in Europe. In effect, the panel’s recommendations would trade the fourth phase of the European system for a new deployment site in the United States.

At a Sept. 11 press conference releasing the NAS committee report, panel co-chairman David Montague, former president of the Missile Systems Division at Lockheed Martin, said that the fourth phase of the planned missile interceptor deployment “should be canceled” as “unnecessary for European defense” and “less than optimal for defense of the United States.” The report said that deployment of missiles with the capabilities planned for the fourth phase would “clearly exacerbate political tensions in the region.”

Instead of fielding the fourth phase in Europe, the NAS panel would deploy other, yet-to-be-developed interceptors on the U.S. East Coast. “With the interceptors on U.S. soil, it would be harder for Russia to object,” Coyle said. “There could be an interaction here between [missile defense deployments on] the East Coast and [in] Europe” in terms of reaching a deal, he said.

An administration official and missile defense supporters in Congress did not respond to requests for comment.

Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee and one of the most outspoken missile defense supporters in Congress, said in a letter to Obama last March that he would oppose any trade of U.S. missile defenses for Russian agreement to arms reductions. “My colleagues and I will not allow any attempts to trade missile defense,” he wrote.

Citing the NAS panel report, the House of Representatives passed legislation last year calling for the deployment of missile defenses on the East Coast by 2015. The NAS committee made clear that its proposed system would not be ready for operation until fiscal year 2019 at the earliest, at a cost of about $20 billion over 20 years. It also said that the system must be capable of distinguishing between real warheads and fake ones, a task that has proved insurmountable so far. The Senate bill had no similar language, and the administration opposed the House language.

As a compromise, the conference report to the fiscal year 2013 defense authorization bill, which Obama signed into law Jan. 2, directs the Defense Department to evaluate three new sites in the United States for missile interceptors, of which two must be on the East Coast, but does not require that interceptors be deployed at those sites.

An additional factor supporting a policy shift, the former officials say, is that Iran, the potential target for the Europe-based system, has been making slower progress than once anticipated toward having the capability to launch a workable ICBM. U.S. intelligence analysts had once predicted that Iran would achieve an ICBM capability by 2015, but a December report 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.

In her Dec. 18 comments, Tauscher said the SM-3 IIB, the interceptor to be deployed in Europe during the fourth phase of the Obama administration’s plan, “only gets deployed if there is a rising threat” from Iran.

Missile defense advocates in Congress also have cited North Korean missile development efforts. North Korea’s Dec. 12 test of its Unha-3 rocket succeeded, for the first time, in putting a small satellite in orbit, a step forward for the program (see page 30). House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, issued a statement after the launch saying that North Korea’s actions “highlight the importance” of the United States deploying a “capable national missile defense program.”

However, Montague said at the Sept. 11 press conference that North Korea’s missile, even once fully developed, “can’t carry enough payload to be of any significant threat,” calling it “a baby satellite launcher and not a very good one at that.”

Russian Flexibility?

Some Russian analysts considered to be close to policymakers in Moscow are exploring options for their country’s missile defense policy. In a Nov. 30 article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a group that included Sergey Rogov, director of the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, and Viktor Yesin, former head of Russia’s strategic missile forces, wrote that the United States should not increase its defenses against ICBMs beyond the current capability of 30 interceptors on the West Coast. If missile threats from Iran and North Korea increase, they wrote, the United States “can deploy additional strategic interceptors [in the United States], but the total should not exceed 50-100.”

The Russian experts wrote that deployment of the SM-3 IIB in the fourth phase for the Europe-based system should be “frozen” because the deployment of 48 SM-3 Block IIA missile interceptors in Romania and Poland is sufficient for defending against existing and expected Iranian intermediate-range missiles. They did not call for a legally binding agreement with the United States to limit missile defenses, but instead suggested an executive agreement that does not require Senate approval.

Discussions between Russia and the United States on how to resolve their differences over planned U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe, which have been on hold for more than a year as both countries held presidential elections, can now resume, opening the way for a possible deal on an issue that has blocked progress on strategic arms control, some former administration officials say.

Rising Costs for B61 Prompt Questions

Tom Z. Collina

A Defense Department review has found that the program to extend the service life of the B61 nuclear bomb, many of which are currently deployed in Europe, may cost billions of dollars more and take years longer than previously estimated.

The projected cost growth and schedule delay raise new questions about the viability of the program in the face of increasing pressures on the federal budget and the bomb’s uncertain future in Europe, congressional staff and former administration officials said.

The United States currently keeps about 180 B61s for tactical use on short-range aircraft in Europe to support NATO. These weapons have become a major symbol of U.S. military commitment to the alliance. But pressure from some NATO allies, such as Germany, to remove the weapons raises the possibility that the bombs might not be needed a decade from now, when the proposed rebuilding program would be complete.

An additional factor is the prospect that a future agreement between Russia and the United States might require that such bombs be deployed only on those two countries’ territories. As one congressional staffer said in a Nov. 16 interview, “By the time these weapons are ready, will we still have nuclear weapons in Europe?”

The Pentagon review of the B61 life extension program (LEP), dated July 13, has not been publicly released. Arms Control Today obtained a copy in November.

The study estimated that the program would cost $10.4 billion and would not produce the first refurbished bomb until fiscal year 2022. With about 400 B61s reportedly planned for renovation, that works out to roughly $25 million per bomb.

The Energy Department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the B61 program, is sticking to its current estimate that the program will cost about $7 billion and produce its first bomb in fiscal year 2019. Two years ago, the NNSA estimated that the program would cost $4 billion and start in 2017.

The Pentagon review, conducted by the Cost Analysis Program Evaluation (CAPE) office, said the NNSA was underestimating labor costs and the complexity of the B61 LEP, which Sandia National Laboratories said in April is roughly three times more complex than the LEP for the W76 warhead deployed on Trident submarine-launched missiles. An NNSA spokesman said in a Nov. 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today that the agency was reviewing the CAPE study and other information “so that we’re certain we have a cost baseline that is as accurate as possible.”

Congressional Scrutiny

The cost increases in particular have drawn attention to the program on Capitol Hill. When the Defense Department estimate of $10.4 billion, one of the few elements that has been made public, was first revealed in July, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that controls NNSA funding, said the new price tag requires the NNSA to find billions of dollars “at a time when budgets are shrinking.” For fiscal year 2012, Congress, concerned that NNSA plans for the B61 LEP were too risky, required an independent review by JASON, a group of senior science and defense advisers to the government.

The projected schedule slippage also is potentially significant as the Pentagon and the NNSA have stated that B61 bomb parts will need to be replaced soon or the bombs will no longer meet operational requirements, such as the ability to produce a specific explosive yield. The NNSA had planned to complete the program by 2022, but the Pentagon review suggests this deadline would be missed by a few years.

“NATO reaffirmed recently that it wants U.S. forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons to remain in Europe,” said Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, at an Aug. 1 hearing. “Yet, we are faced with the risk, of our own doing, that we may fail to honor that commitment,” he said.

The B61 is the only tactical nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal. The Obama administration called for the B61 LEP in its 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review Report.”

In interviews in recent weeks, congressional staffers and former administration and national laboratory officials involved with nuclear weapons policy said the bombs will not, as one put it, turn into “green cheese” if the upgrades are not completed on time. The bombs will still explode, they agreed, and one said the actual yield may differ from the planned yield by 10 percent.

Bob Peurifoy, a former director of weapons development at Sandia, said in a Nov. 15 interview that the B61, like all modern nuclear weapons, has components that have a limited life and are replaced on a regular basis. This includes the neutron generators and gas transfer systems, both of which use tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen that boosts the yield of the primary stage of the bomb. Tritium decays at a rate of 5.5 percent annually and must be replenished.

The B61 LEP is not focused on these relatively easy fixes, but on replacing the thousands of non-nuclear parts that may degrade over time, such as switches, foams, and cables. Although these parts are getting older, there is no evidence that they are about to fail, Peurifoy said. Aside from the tritium parts, the B61 “should be left alone until the stockpile surveillance process finds a problem,” he said.

Checking for Warning Signs

The stockpile surveillance program, run by Sandia, inspects 11 warheads of each type of warhead in the U.S. arsenal each year to look for problems and conducts experiments to predict when certain parts may begin to fail. Besides the limited-life components, there is no basis for the NNSA’s claim that the B61 would become nonoperational in 2022, Peurifoy said.

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Others disagree. In a Nov. 15 interview, a congressional staffer said that, “of all the LEPs, this is the worst” in terms of the consequences for the weapon’s performance if the upgrades are not carried out. If the directors of the nuclear weapons laboratories lose confidence in the bomb, they may not certify it for operation, a former administration official said in a Nov. 14 interview. Even so, to save money, the NNSA decided to extend the bomb’s life for 20 years instead of 30.

Other than extending the life of the B61, the NNSA wants to “look for opportunities to improve safety and reliability using modern technology along the way,” the agency spokesman said. The NNSA and the Pentagon considered many new concepts early in the process to increase the weapon’s safety against accidental detonation and security against unauthorized access and use, known together as “surety.” But after conducting cost-benefit analyses, the Nuclear Weapons Council, staffed by senior Pentagon and NNSA officials, “rejected all the fancy upgrades,” another former administration official said.

For example, the new bomb would not have “multi-point safety,” a “fire-resistant pit,” or an “optical initiator,” according to a congressional staffer (fig. 1). The B61 already has many of the most modern surety features, and the LEP would not add major new ones. The NNSA spokesman declined to comment on that point, citing classification rules.

Design Consolidation

The U.S. arsenal includes five different versions, or “mods,” of the B61, first produced in 1979. Tactical versions of the B61 would be carried on fighter jets by U.S. and NATO forces in Europe and, due to their forward deployment in the field, are seen as more vulnerable to possible theft than the strategic mods carried by heavy bombers based in the United States.

The NNSA would address these concerns in part by folding four of the versions into a new one, the B61-12, whose design would be based on that of the B61-4. The B61-4 has the lowest maximum yield of the B61 series, meaning it has the smallest amount of fissile material, according to a May 2011 Government Accountability Office report.

The Pentagon also wants to replace the radar, congressional staffers said. The radar tells the bomb when it reaches the right altitude to explode; it is an old model that still uses vacuum tubes.

One cost-saving proposal being discussed on Capitol Hill, according to the staffers, would scale back the B61 LEP by replacing only the parts that are known to be at the end of their lives and only for the weapons that Congress determines are likely to still be deployed a decade from now. For example, the NNSA could just upgrade the strategic B61-7, of which there are an estimated 120 deployed, and replace only the two tritium-dependent parts and the radar. As for the roughly 180 bombs based in Europe, such changes could be made as needed or the bombs could be sent back to the United States.


A Defense Department review has found that the program to extend the service life of the B61 nuclear bomb, many of which are currently deployed in Europe, may cost billions of dollars more and take years longer than previously estimated.

U.S. Pushes Missile Defense Globally

Tom Z. Collina

The United States in recent months has taken steps to expand missile defense capabilities in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, with the declared goal of countering developing missile programs in North Korea and Iran.

China and Russia, however, say this expansion could eventually undermine the viability of their strategic forces, leading Moscow to resist U.S. calls for bilateral arms reductions and motivating China and Russia to build new weapons to counter planned defenses.

As part of its effort to shift defense resources to Asia, the United States is expanding missile defense cooperation with Japan and South Korea. The Pentagon announced in August that it would field a second missile-tracking X-band radar in Japan; the Defense Department deployed a similar radar at Shariki, in northern Japan, in 2006.

Japan has purchased the U.S. Aegis missile defense system, as well as Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IA interceptors, early-warning radars, and command and control systems. Japan and the United States are co-developing the SM-3 IIA missile, which would also be deployed in Europe.

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met in Washington on Oct. 24 and agreed to continue to cooperate on missile defense and to “enhance the interoperability” of their command and control systems.

This partnership reportedly would include joint research on a “Korea Air and Missile Defense” system, involving a new radar and Standard Missile interceptors for Aegis-equipped destroyers deployed near Korea. Earlier in October, the United States agreed to let Seoul develop missiles having a payload of 500 kilograms with a range of up to 800 kilometers, up from a limit of 300 kilometers (see p. 22). Seoul officials say that South Korea will cooperate with the United States on regional defenses but not longer-range systems that might upset China, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Oct. 26.

According to an Aug. 23 Wall Street Journal story, U.S. officials have been evaluating sites in Southeast Asia for a third X-band radar, possibly in the Philippines, to create an “arc” that would allow the United States and its regional allies “to more accurately track any ballistic missiles launched from North Korea, as well as from parts of China.”

The U.S. X-band radars, know as AN/TPY-2s, could be networked with mobile missile interceptors deployed on U.S. Aegis-equipped ships at sea and with land-based interceptors in the region, according to experts. Panetta has said that such systems in Asia are intended to protect against missile threats from North Korea, which conducted a failed test of a long-range ballistic missile in April.

Some experts, however, say that China is also part of U.S. thinking. “In terms of missile defense, the U.S. talks about North Korea, but China is part of the long term outlook,” Steven Hildreth, a missile defense specialist with the Congressional Research Service, said in an Oct. 22 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

The Chinese Ministry of National Defense responded to the August announcement of the plans for the radar in Japan by stating that countries should avoid situations “in which one country tries to let its own state security take priority over other countries’ national security.” Beijing objected to the first radar in Japan in 2006.

Beijing, which is secretive about its nuclear weapons program, reportedly is responding to U.S. moves by expanding its relatively small nuclear arsenal and working on new mobile missiles, such as the DF-41, and countermeasures to help its missiles evade U.S. defenses.

In Europe, the United States is spending billions of dollars to deploy an array of missile interceptor systems, such as SM-3 interceptors based on Aegis-equipped ships and at two land-based sites in Poland and Romania, in four phases through about 2020. NATO announced at its May summit in Chicago that the first phase of the system, including one ship with SM-3 IA interceptors and an X-band radar in Turkey, has given NATO an “interim capability.” The SM-3 IA failed its most recent intercept test on Oct. 25.

Russian officials have said that the ongoing U.S. and NATO missile defense deployments in Europe are a threat to Moscow’s strategic deterrent. In response, Moscow is resisting further bilateral reductions in nuclear stockpiles beyond those called for in the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and is planning to modernize its forces. The plans include developing by 2018 a new 10-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile optimized to penetrate missile defenses.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told NATO delegates in Moscow Oct. 18 that Russia’s response to NATO’s missile defense plan “is currently mostly virtual, political, and diplomatic in character, but under certain circumstances, we would be forced to deliver a technical response, which I don’t think you’ll like.”

In the Middle East, the United States is focused on selling its missile interceptor systems to Persian Gulf states. A number of countries in the region already deploy U.S.-supplied Patriot short-range interceptors and are considering buying longer-range systems under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. Last year, for example, the United Arab Emirates became the first country to buy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense intermediate-range interceptor system, for $3.5 billion.

As more Gulf states buy U.S. missile interceptor systems, the United States will work to promote interoperability and cooperation among those states, Frank A. Rose, deputy assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, said Sept. 10 at a missile defense symposium in Berlin. This aspect of the plan is similar to the one for Europe, where NATO is integrating the new, U.S.-supplied interceptor systems with existing NATO short-range interceptors and sensors.

In the future, as the United States deploys additional Navy ships with SM-3 interceptors, it could assign some of those ships to the Persian Gulf, Asia, or Europe. U.S. mobile systems “can be relocated to adapt to changing regional threats and provide surge defense capabilities where they are most needed,” Rose said.

As the United States expands missile defense capabilities in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe to counter developing missile programs in Iran and North Korea, China and Russia say this expansion could be a threat to their strategic forces.

U.S. Remains Above New START Limits

Tom Z. Collina

The latest data exchange under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) indicates gradual progress by the United States in drawing down its nuclear arsenal and a substantial numerical gap between U.S. and Russian forces.

For deployed nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles, Russia remains below treaty limits. The United States continues to be well above the limits, leading to calls by some experts for the Defense Department to accelerate its reductions.

The State Department on Oct. 3 released the figures from the latest data exchange for nuclear weapons under New START. The United States and Russia are required by the treaty to exchange data in three categories of strategic forces every six months.

Since New START entered into force in February 2011, there have been four sets of data exchanges (fig. 1). As of Sept. 1, the United States had reduced the number of its deployed strategic warheads from 1,800 to 1,722, or 4 percent, and deployed delivery systems (long-range missiles and bombers) from 882 to 806, or 9 percent. Russia has reduced its inventory of strategic warheads from 1,537 to 1,499, or 2 percent, and deployed delivery systems from 521 to 491, or 6 percent. The numbers have fluctuated as both sides have moved systems in and out of maintenance, but the downward trend is clear.

Overall, Washington now deploys 223 (15 percent) more strategic warheads than Moscow does, and 315 (64 percent) more delivery systems. These gaps have narrowed only marginally from the first data exchange.

The treaty restricts the numbers of both sides’ deployed strategic warheads to 1,550, deployed delivery systems to 700, and deployed and nondeployed missile launchers and bombers to 800 each. Under the treaty, these limits do not have to be met until February 2018. Both countries maintain thousands of additional warheads for tactical missions and in storage.

Neither side’s strategic force levels have undergone dramatic changes since the first data exchange, and some experts are questioning the slow pace of U.S. reductions and the gap between U.S. and Russian forces. For example, a recently published book found that as Russia is on track to meet its New START limits well ahead of schedule, “Washington might consider accelerating implementation of its New START reductions as well.” Such early implementation might signal “Washington’s seriousness in reducing nuclear arms and help secure Russian agreement to a further round of negotiations,” said authors Steven Pifer and Michael E. O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution.

Similarly, an Aug. 14 draft report from the U.S. secretary of state’s International Security Advisory Board found that the United States could accelerate its reductions under New START, allowing both sides to avoid “costly or destabilizing” programs to modernize strategic forces. The report said that U.S. reductions might encourage Russia to reconsider its plans, announced in September, to deploy a new “heavy” intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by 2018. (See ACT, October 2012.)

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According to Pifer and O’Hanlon, reductions in strategic warheads would be easier to accelerate than those in delivery vehicles because they would require only that warheads be removed from deployed missiles and the missiles themselves would not have to be removed immediately.

In an Oct. 22 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Defense Department spokeswoman noted that New START “does not mandate any schedules” for reductions other than that the central limits must be met by February 2018. The Obama administration, according to the spokeswoman, has consistently stated that it plans to make most reductions “toward the end of the seven-year implementation period” and, by doing so, “the United States will maintain the viability of each leg” of the nuclear triad of submarines, bombers, and ICBMs, “satisfy the strategic targeting and planning requirements set forth in classified [Defense Department] guidance for the employment of nuclear forces,” and comply with New START.

Some members of Congress, such as Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, have said that it would be risky for the United States to bring its arsenal below New START levels at the same time that Russia and other countries “remain committed to nuclear weapons.”

According to a Defense Department report on Russian nuclear weapons, sent to Congress in May and declassified in October, the ability of U.S. weapons to survive a Russian attack is more important than the number of weapons on each side. The report said that Russian deployment of forces in numbers significantly above New START limits “would have little to no effect on the U.S. assured second-strike capabilities that underwrite our strategic deterrence posture.”

Moscow would not be able to achieve military advantage by “any plausible expansion of its strategic nuclear forces,” the report says, because sufficient U.S. forces would survive and be able to retaliate. This second-strike survivability comes primarily from Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, “a number of which are at sea at any given time.”

The report, obtained by the Federation of American Scientists under the Freedom of Information Act, says that a nuclear first strike by Russia “will most likely not occur.”

The latest data exchange under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty indicates gradual progress in U.S. reductions and a large numerical gap between U.S. and Russian forces.

Nunn-Lugar Program’s Future Uncertain

Tom Z. Collina

In a potential setback for U.S.-Russian relations, Moscow said in October that it would not sign an agreement drafted by the United States to extend the two countries’ 20-year partnership to dismantle and secure Russian weapons, materials, and delivery systems left over from the Cold War.

The United States, however, hopes to extend the so-called umbrella agreement, which provides the underlying legal framework for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program. The program is commonly known by the names of the authors of the 1991 legislation that established the effort, Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).

If the program, widely viewed as one of the most successful initiatives to control excess Russian weapons of mass destruction, is not renewed, “Russia’s unsecured weapons and materials [would] remain a temptation for terrorists of all varieties to buy or steal for use in future attacks,” The New York Times editorialized Oct. 17.

In comments that many interpreted as an indication the deal was dead, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Oct. 10 that “[t]he American side knows that we do not want another [Nunn-Lugar] extension,” according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

An Oct. 11 Times story characterized the prospects for a new deal as “bleak,” citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s opposition to U.S. plans to deploy missile interceptors in eastern Europe and his decision to expel the U.S. Agency for International Development after two decades of work on Russian civil society and public health programs as examples of a growing anti-U.S. sentiment in Moscow.

Russian media said Moscow may not want to continue the agreement at all because it no longer needs Washington’s financial assistance to carry out the program and does not want to risk revealing sensitive information to the United States.

According to Western experts, Moscow’s sense of humiliation at being dependent on Washington to pay for securing its own weapons has always been an issue. “Russia did see the dangers after the Cold War, and many people rose to the challenge of doing something about it, but the pent-up sense of being dependent and wanting to end that seems to have finally come to the surface,” said David E. Hoffman, the author of a book on the Soviet nuclear and biological weapons programs and a former Washington Post bureau chief in Moscow, in an Oct. 18 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

Russia is apparently at least open to renegotiating the deal on terms that it views as more favorable. In a statement posted on its website Oct. 10, the Russian Foreign Ministry referred to the proposed extension agreement, saying, “Our American partners know that their proposal is at odds with our ideas about the forms and basis for building further cooperation in that area. To this end, we need a more modern legal framework.”

The Obama administration has said it believes that Moscow is open to a new deal, as has Lugar. The Indiana senator, who is leaving office, issued an Oct. 10 statement saying that when he was in Russia last August, officials did not indicate “they were intent on ending [the program], only amending it.” He said that Russian officials welcomed prospects for future work and that more retired Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) await dismantlement.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Oct. 11 that the United States and Russia can do “a lot of future work…together” on threat reduction and that the Russians “have told us that they want revisions to the previous agreement.”

The original Nunn-Lugar umbrella agreement was extended in 1999 and again in 2006, and the current agreement will expire next June. The Obama administration began discussions with Russia on extending the agreement last July, according to the State Department.

In August, after his trip to Russia, Lugar told reporters that the new U.S. draft agreement is virtually identical to the current one. At the time, Lugar predicted Moscow might have problems with the draft as it does not address the liability issues that Russian officials have raised in the past. Under the original agreement, the U.S. government and its contractors are shielded from virtually all liability for accidents that could occur under the program’s work with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in Russia. In 2006 the deal was reportedly on the verge of collapse due to Moscow’s concerns over liability.

Other U.S.-Russian nuclear accords, such as the Nuclear Cities Initiative, have lapsed amid disputes over liability issues.

Even if Russia is open in principle to a revised agreement, it is unclear what specific changes Russia would want and if they would be acceptable to the United States.

The CTR program was started soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, amid rising concerns that a cash-strapped Russia would not be able to control the vast Soviet weapons complex and that terrorists might buy or steal dangerous materials. The program allowed the United States to assist Russia in dismantling and destroying nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and delivery systems for such weapons and in enhancing the security of key sites.

The bipartisan program’s accomplishments include removing nuclear weapons from Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine; deactivating more than 7,600 strategic nuclear warheads; destroying more than 900 ICBMs; and improving security at two dozen nuclear weapons storage sites.

Without a new U.S.-Russian agreement, the cooperative work would end. Moscow could continue the effort on its own, but experts worry that Russian leaders will not give the program high priority compared to other budget demands, such as producing new weapons and countering U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe.

“The decision to move forward on this agreement is one for the Russians to make, but the implications and consequences of that choice are global,” Kenneth Luongo, an Energy Department official in the Clinton administration and a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, said in an Oct. 11 e-mail to Arms Control Today. “If the agreement is terminated, then it sends one of the worst signals to the international community about the importance of cooperation to secure loose nukes” and other weapons of mass destruction, he said.

Moscow said that it would not sign a U.S. draft agreement to extend the landmark Nunn-Lugar program to dismantle and protect former Soviet weapons of mass destruction. The United States hopes to extend the agreement, which expires next year.

Russia to Field New Heavy Missile by 2018

Tom Z. Collina

As part of its declared effort to respond to U.S.-NATO plans to field missile interceptors in eastern Europe by 2020, Russia said in September that it would deploy a new “heavy” intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in 2018.

The new ICBM prototype was flight-tested for the first time at the Plesetsk test site in Archangelsk on May 23, according to Voice of Russia. Strategic Missile Forces commander Sergey Karakayev said Sept. 3 that Moscow plans to deploy the new ICBM by 2018 to replace the Voyevoda, or SS-18 “Satan” missile, which is being retired. The new liquid-fueled, silo-based missile would carry up to 10 warheads and “penetration systems” to prevent “discrimination of the true from false warheads,” Voice of Russia said.

Russian retired Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, now with the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow, told Voice of Russia Sept. 4 that he did not see “any compelling reason for developing a new fixed-site, liquid-fueled heavy missile,” which can only be used “for a first-strike or counterforce attack,” a prospect he found “absurd.” He said, “[T]he missile is not suitable for a retaliatory strike” due to its vulnerability to “nuclear and high-accuracy non-nuclear weapons.”

Meanwhile, the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board wrote in an Aug. 14 draft report that the United States and Russia could pursue mutual reductions below the levels established in the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and thus “could improve stability by reducing Russia’s incentive to build a new heavy ICBM.”

The report noted that Russia is already below New START limits and said that the United States “can follow Russia downward below New START ceilings,” allowing both countries to avoid “costly or destabilizing modernization efforts.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said last year that it would take steps, such as building a new heavy ICBM, if the United States followed through on its plans to field missile interceptors in eastern Europe capable of targeting Russian long-range missiles.

As part of its declared effort to respond to U.S.-NATO plans to field missile interceptors in eastern Europe by 2020, Russia said in September that it would deploy a new “heavy” intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in 2018.

Report Critiques U.S. Missile Defense

Tom Z. Collina

Arguing that the U.S.-based ballistic missile interceptor system is “very expensive” but has “limited effectiveness” against potential attacks from Iran, a September report by the independent National Research Council recommends replacing the current system with a revamped but largely similar system and expanding it by adding a new site in an East Coast state.

The panel of experts said, however, that its proposed system might not be effective against likely threats, saying “it depends” on how the United States and potential attackers design their systems and how much they know about each other’s technology.

The 260-page report, requested by Congress and organized by the National Academy of Sciences, proposes to build faster missiles, more-maneuverable interceptors, and additional sensors to “fix” the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system now deployed in Alaska and California. The proposed system, like the current one, would seek to intercept incoming warheads while in space, or in the “midcourse” of their trajectory.

The expert panel considered alternatives to midcourse interception, such as striking enemy missiles while still in their early “boost” phase, but found these options impractical. A missile’s boost phase is simply too short—just a few minutes—for an interceptor to reach it in time, the report said. Moreover, airborne lasers would have to fly near enemy airspace and would be vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire, while space-based interceptors would require hundreds of satellites and cost as much as $500 billion over 20 years, the experts estimated.

The midcourse approach provides significantly more time for the intercept, but has its own drawbacks, according to the report. Most notably, it must confront the “discrimination problem” of telling the difference between real warheads and decoys, also known as countermeasures.

The Discrimination Problem

One of the main conclusions of the report is that no practical missile defense system “can avoid the need for midcourse discrimination,” which “must be addressed far more seriously if reasonable confidence is to be achieved.” Until that reality is accepted, they say, “there will be no end to the poorly thought[-]out schemes proposing to avoid the need for midcourse discrimination.”

The report finds that, “at some point, countermeasures of various kinds should be expected.” Initial decoys may be unintentional, such as debris from the booster rocket that would be traveling along with warheads through space. Yet, “as threat sophistication increases, the defense is likely to have to deal with purposeful countermeasures,” that adversaries may use to “frustrate U.S. defenses.”

At the same time, the report says that it is not clear if its own proposed system would be effective against decoys. On this central question, the panel says that its plan “offers the greatest potential for effective discrimination” but “it is by no means a certain solution” and “there is no unequivocal answer” to the question of whether missile defense can work against countermeasures.

The effectiveness of any defense against decoys “inevitably will vary with time” as the offense adapts to the defense’s fielded system and the defense seeks to respond to fielded countermeasures, they said. The report notes that confidence in U.S. defenses can only be established through “operational tests that are realistic.”

Many experts say that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) never has conducted tests against realistic countermeasures, in part because the systems have had enough trouble against targets without decoys and in part because planners assume that countries such as Iran and North Korea would not initially deploy countermeasures on their missiles. The report said the MDA has canceled research programs that would try to deal with countermeasures and that the committee “could not find anyone at MDA” who could explain much of the past research in this area.

Philip Coyle, director of the Pentagon’s operational testing office during the Clinton administration, said in a Sept. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today, “Discrimination is the Holy Grail, but no one really knows how to find it or how to get there. And like Monty Python [in the British comedy group’s movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail], the Missile Defense Agency has only pretend solutions, banging coconuts together to make the sounds of horse’s hooves, when what America needs is real horses.”

Current U.S. System ‘Fragile’

The report, called “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives,” is sharply critical of the current 30-interceptor system deployed on the West Coast, which it describes as “fragile” and ineffective against “any but the most primitive attacks.”

The system was first deployed in 2004 by President George W. Bush “before its development was complete in order to meet what was considered an urgent need to get a system deployed quickly,” according to the report. The report was referring to the effort to field a system to counter a feared long-range ballistic missile threat from North Korea, which has yet to materialize. Iran, the other potential threat often cited to highlight the need for missile defense, has yet to test a ballistic missile that could reach the United States.

The Bush administration withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 to allow for the West Coast deployment. According to the report, the system has cost $34 billion through fiscal year 2009, the last year for which the study cited cost figures. According to the MDA, five of the eight intercept tests that have been conducted since December 2004 have failed, and there have been no successful intercept tests since 2008. The next intercept test is planned for 2013.

The report finds the West Coast system’s “shortcomings” so serious that it recommends the technology be completely redesigned, rebuilt, and retested, with a faster two-stage missile booster based on the canceled Kinetic Energy Interceptor program; a heavier interceptor, or “kill vehicle”; and more-capable sensors, including “stacked” X-band AN/TPY-2 radars. The report suggests that the current interceptors, which cost $70 million each to build, could be used as test targets for the new system.

Once this development work is complete, the report says that 30 new interceptors should be deployed on the East Coast, possibly at Fort Drum in New York or an unspecified site in northern Maine, and then used to replace the missiles deployed at the West Coast sites. The report’s co-chairs, former Lockheed Martin Missile Systems chief L. David Montague and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Walter B. Slocombe, said at a Sept. 11 press briefing that their redesigned system would take at least six to eight years to deploy.

East Coast Site by 2015?

After the report’s conclusions were partially released in an April letter to Congress, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to build a third strategic missile interceptor site on the East Coast by the end of 2015. After the research council released the full report, Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, issued a Sept. 11 press statement saying that the report “validates, and informed, the provision of the [fiscal year 2013] National Defense Authorization Act which calls for the development of an East Coast site to improve the defense of the United States.”

That legislation, passed in May, would increase spending on the U.S. GMD system by $460 million above the $903 million requested by the Defense Department. Of that additional amount, $100 million would be used to study the deployment of missile interceptors on the U.S. East Coast by late 2015. The research council estimated that this new project would cost $19-25 billion over 20 years. The Defense Department has said a third interceptor site is unneeded, and the Senate version of the bill does not support a third site. (See ACT, June 2012.)

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is building a different interceptor system for NATO, known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach, to handle potential future attacks from Iran against Europe. The system’s fourth phase, to be deployed around 2021, is intended to be able to intercept long-range missiles that could reach the United States.

The report states that its plan for an East Coast site would make Phase 4 of the European approach redundant and thus argues for cancellation of that phase. The report finds that the Standard Missile-3 IIB interceptor planned for Poland and Romania in Phase 4 would not be able to fly fast enough to catch missiles launched from Iran on “lofted,” or high, trajectories.

The expert panel notes that its proposed interceptor for the U.S. East Coast could be placed in Europe and would be fast enough, at 6 kilometers per second, to intercept missiles launched from Iran over Europe, but does not recommend this path. Such a move would “clearly exacerbate political tensions in the region” as such a missile would be able to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) based in southwestern Russia. “The committee does not advocate introducing an interceptor with fly-out velocity greater than about 4.5 [kilometers per second] into Europe,” the study says.

Moscow has made clear its concerns that Phase 4 of the European system could be used against Russian ICBMs, although U.S. officials have repeatedly said that the interceptors would not be aimed at Russia.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 17, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced during a trip to Asia that the United States and Japan had agreed to field a second X-band radar in Japan as part of joint missile defense deployments in the region to protect U.S. troops and “the U.S. homeland from the North Korean ballistic missile threat.” Chinese experts, however, told The New York Times they feared the system was really aimed at China, and that Beijing’s relatively small nuclear deterrent could be undermined by U.S. missile interceptors. Panetta said that the system was not aimed at Beijing.

Arguing that the U.S.-based ballistic missile interceptor system is “very expensive” but has “limited effectiveness” against potential attacks from Iran, a September report by the independent National Research Council recommends replacing the current system with a revamped but largely similar system and expanding it by adding a new site in an East Coast state.

Cartwright Urges Nuclear Spending Cuts

Tom Z. Collina

As the possibility of automatic cuts looms over the ongoing debate on reducing U.S. defense spending, the former head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) has called for cutting the nuclear weapons budget by roughly $120 billion over the next two decades.

Gen. James Cartwright, who oversaw U.S. nuclear weapons under President George W. Bush and served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until he retired last year, testified before the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee July 25 that his proposal to reduce U.S. nuclear forces by 80 percent from current levels could save about $100 billion in delivery system costs and $20 billion in nuclear warhead costs. Cartwright presented testimony jointly with former U.S. ambassador to Russia and the United Nations Thomas Pickering.

Cartwright chaired a panel that in May called for deep reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, doing away with all intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and removing the threat of a “decapitating” first strike against Russia. (See ACT, June 2012.) The panel would keep 900 warheads in the U.S. force, compared to about 5,000 today, with half of them deployed but off alert and half in storage.

Cartwright testified that, of the 900 warheads, 720 would be assigned to Trident Ohio-class submarines, with future sub production reduced from 12 to 10. The remaining 180 warheads would be assigned to 18 B-2 bombers. B-52 bombers no longer would carry nuclear warheads, and the order for the planned new strategic bomber would shrink from up to 100 planes to about 30. In addition, all Minuteman ICBMs would be retired, the Minuteman’s replacement canceled, and all tactical nuclear weapons eliminated.

At the hearing, Cartwright and Pickering did not release a detailed accounting of their budget estimate. However, according to preliminary estimates provided by Global Zero, which sponsored the May report, savings over 10 to 15 years would come largely from taking U.S. nuclear weapons out of NATO ($3 billion), eliminating current ICBMs and canceling a new version ($13 billion), scaling back current Ohio-class submarines and buying fewer new ones ($25 billion), retiring B-52 bombers and the associated refueling tanker fleet ($12 billion), and reducing investments in nuclear command, control, and communications and in early-warning satellites. Over 15 to 20 years, buying only 30 new bombers instead of 100 would save about $38 billion, Global Zero said.

The $10 Billion Bomb

In addition to saving $100 billion on delivery systems, Cartwright and Pickering estimated saving $20 billion from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous part of the Energy Department that oversees the nuclear weapons production complex. Half of this amount would be saved by decreasing the number of warhead types in the U.S. active stockpile from seven today to four by 2022, which would reduce the need to refurbish warheads through the life extension program (LEP), Cartwright and Pickering said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the energy appropriations subcommittee, opened the July 25 hearing by revealing that NNSA estimates for the cost of the B61 bomb LEP had doubled from $4 billion to $8 billion. Moreover, she said that an independent Defense Department review pegged the cost at $10 billion. This new price tag requires the NNSA to find billions of dollars “at a time when budgets are shrinking and sequestration is a real possibility,” she said.

Sequestration is a mechanism under which congressional funding of government agencies is cut automatically if it exceeds the amount that Congress had previously budgeted. Under the 2011 Budget Control Act, growth in the Pentagon budget will be reduced by roughly $500 billion over the next decade if Congress cannot find an alternative way to cut the federal deficit by January. Although sequestration once was considered an unlikely prospect, congressional inability over the last eight months to agree on how to tackle the deficit has increased anxieties in Washington that the automatic cuts actually may occur. Even if full sequestration is avoided, the Pentagon may face hundreds of billions of dollars in budget cuts beyond the approximately $490 billion in spending-growth reductions that are already planned.

The NNSA could save money by not building a new $6 billion plutonium facility, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility Replacement (CMRR), at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Cartwright said. The new facility would not be needed for a 900-warhead stockpile, which would require only 18 new plutonium “pits,” or warhead cores, per year, not 80 as currently planned, Cartwright said. Even so, Cartwright said that, through extra shifts and additional equipment, the capacity of the current facility could be increased from 20 pits “to perhaps as high as 80 per year.”

The Obama administration announced in February that it had decided to delay construction of the CMRR by five years to redirect money to other programs, such as the $7 billion Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee. (See ACT, March 2012.) According to an April Los Alamos study on alternatives to the CMRR, which was not made public until August, the lab could support a production rate of 30 pits per year with assistance from other labs, such as Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, at a cost of $800 million over 10 years.

‘Not Your Father’s Nuclear Force’

Speaking to reporters Aug. 8 in Omaha, current STRATCOM head Gen. Robert Kehler said he agreed with the administration’s decision to give construction of the uranium facility priority over the CMRR. He also said that some of the need for pits could be met by reusing existing ones in storage rather than new production. “We don’t differentiate at all” between new pits and reused ones, he told reporters.

Kehler, seeking to show how STRATCOM has moved away from Cold War thinking, told a July 12 forum in Washington that “this is not your father’s nuclear force” and said that the U.S. nuclear stockpile had been reduced by 75 percent from the day the Berlin Wall fell. These are “very positive changes,” he said.

Regarding the triad of submarines, bombers, and ICBMs, Kehler said that “the triad is not a theological argument for me.” He said the triad continued to serve the country well today, but “it may not be true in the future.” Kehler said that if the president determines that U.S. deterrence needs have changed, “then we will make the adjustments that are necessary.”

On ICBMs, which Cartwright recommended retiring, Kehler said, “[T]here’s a big difference between a force that you can use promptly and one that you must use promptly. And I no longer see us in a scenario where we must use ICBMs promptly.” This reflects confidence among officials that U.S. submarine-based nuclear forces could survive a Russian first strike, and thus U.S. ICBMs would not have to be launched on warning of an attack.

Kehler said that the threat of a sudden nuclear war involving Russia and the United States “has receded by almost every measure” and is “at the lowest level that I have seen in my 37 years in the United States Air Force and military.”

Meanwhile, a State Department advisory group said that the United States and Russia could avoid “costly or destabilizing modernization efforts” by accelerating reductions under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and pursuing additional arsenal cuts.

The comment came in an Aug. 14 draft report by the department’s International Security Advisory Board. Arms Control Today obtained a copy of the draft report.

That preliminary report was drafted for the advisory board by a study group that is chaired by Harvard professor Graham Allison and includes former top officials of U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories. For the near term, the report recommends that Russia and the United States seek additional reductions below New START levels on the basis of a mutual understanding rather than a formal treaty. Such reductions “could improve stability by reducing Russia’s incentive to build a new heavy ICBM,” they wrote.

It is not clear when the final report will be released.


As the possibility of automatic cuts looms over the ongoing debate on reducing U.S. defense spending, the former head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) has called for cutting the nuclear weapons budget by roughly $120 billion over the next two decades.

Key Senator May Oppose New Treaties

Tom Z. Collina

A key Republican senator who voted for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) threatened to block future treaties, citing what he said was the failure of the Obama administration to keep its promise, made in talks with the Senate over New START in 2010, to increase funding for nuclear weapons programs.

At a June 21 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that he was “highly disappointed” that the administration had not requested as much for nuclear weapons in fiscal year 2013 as it said it would in 2010. Corker, who faces an August primary challenge, said he “would be very reticent to agree to any treaty with this administration on any topic, until something changes as it relates to the commitments on this START treaty.”

The White House has indicated that it is seeking a ratification vote on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea later this year, may seek approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty next year, and eventually may ask for a Senate vote on a follow-on treaty to New START.

Corker may become the ranking Republican on the committee in the next Congress, as the current ranking member, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), lost his primary election in May. If the Republicans win control of the Senate in November, Corker could become chairman of the panel.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the current committee chairman, addressed Corker’s criticism by saying that the administration has been “working hard” to provide increased support for weapons programs “at a time when almost all other budgets are being slashed.” Kerry pointed out that, for fiscal year 2012, the administration had requested the full amount projected in the November 2010 funding estimate, known as the 1251 report, but that it was “the House of Representatives that cut the funding below the request, not the president, and not the Senate.” For fiscal year 2013, the administration is requesting a 5 percent increase for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) weapons funding over the 2012 amount, he noted. (See ACT, April 2012.) The NNSA, which is a semiautonomous agency in the Department of Energy, is responsible for maintaining the nuclear weapons production complex.

The fiscal year 2012 congressional appropriation for NNSA weapons funding was $416 million, or 4 percent, less than the administration’s $7.6 billion budget request, which matched the 1251 report’s projection for fiscal year 2012. Under the Senate resolution of approval for New START, this shortfall triggered a requirement that the administration report to Congress on how to address any funding gap. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta submitted this report on June 5, finding that the fiscal year 2013 request meets military requirements “even during a time of pronounced fiscal austerity” and that “no additional resources are requested.”

NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino testified June 21 that “we [will] have the resources we need” if Congress approves the administration’s full fiscal year 2013 request. “I’ve seen an unprecedented level of commitment on the part of [the] executive branch towards taking care of our nuclear security enterprise,” he testified.

House, Senate Differ

Corker stopped short of suggesting, as his House colleagues have, that New START should not be implemented unless the funding levels specified in the 1251 report’s 10-year projection are requested and appropriated.

In the House, Republican leaders such as Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, are trying to prevent the implementation of New START as well as additional reductions. The fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House on May 18, includes language that could block arsenal reductions under New START if the administration does not increase its spending request for certain nuclear weapons-related projects, for which the Pentagon and the NNSA did not ask.

In a May 15 statement, the administration issued a warning that it may veto the defense bill over these provisions, which the White House said would “impinge on the President’s ability to implement the New START Treaty and to set U.S. nuclear weapons policy.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee, which completed its version of the defense bill on May 24, did not seek to link New START implementation to additional funds for modernization. Instead, the committee found that “the linkage between nuclear modernization and the New START Treaty’s implementation is sufficiently established.”

At the June 21 hearing, Lugar said he was “very concerned by attempts to force U.S. withdrawal from the New START Treaty or suspend its implementation. We should not risk either the transparency achieved by the Treaty nor the reliability and performance of our strategic nuclear forces.”

Kerry said that “those who say we should just walk away from New START” have to explain how “retaining more nuclear weapons than our military advisers say we need, and how having less insight into Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal” would be beneficial. “We need to see the logic of that,” Kerry said.

New START on Track

As Corker accused the administration of breaking its promises, administration witnesses argued that New START was advancing U.S. security interests. Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, testified that the treaty, which entered into force in February 2011, “is providing ongoing transparency and predictability regarding the world’s two largest deployed nuclear arsenals” while preserving the U.S. ability to maintain a strong nuclear deterrent.

In the treaty’s first year, the United States and Russia conducted the maximum of 18 on-site inspections, Gottemoeller said. So far in the second year, Russia has conducted eight inspections, and the United States has conducted seven. These inspections have taken place at intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missile, and heavy bomber bases, as well as at storage facilities, conversion or elimination facilities, and test ranges, said Gottemoeller, who was the lead U.S. negotiator of New START.

On the issue of when the United States plans to reduce its arsenal to New START levels, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs Madelyn Creedon testified that the Pentagon plans to “make most of the reductions in deployed systems towards the end of the seven-year reduction period,” or by 2018. By then, the United States, which currently deploys 1,737 warheads, 812 delivery systems, and 1,040 launchers, must meet the treaty’s limits of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, 700 delivery vehicles, and 800 launchers.

Creedon testified that initial reductions will come from the conversion or elimination of systems that were counted under the 1991 START but are no longer maintained “in a deployable status.” These previously retired systems, often referred to as “phantoms” because they are no longer deployed but still counted under the treaty, include 50 empty Peacekeeper ICBM silos at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, 50 empty Minuteman III ICBM silos at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, three excess ICBM test silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California; and 34 B-52G and 13 B-52H bombers currently stored at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. The estimated cost to eliminate or convert these systems is $47 million, she said.

A key Republican senator who voted for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) threatened to block future treaties, citing what he said was the failure of the Obama administration to keep its promise, made in talks with the Senate over New START in 2010, to increase funding for nuclear weapons programs.

Israel Has Nuclear-Armed Sub, Report Says

Tom Z. Collina

Deepening long-held suspicions about a sensitive aspect of German-Israeli military cooperation, Der Spiegel magazine reported in its June 4 issue that Israel has deployed nuclear-armed cruise missiles aboard submarines built and subsidized by Germany.

Israel, which does not officially admit it has any nuclear weapons, is widely believed to have produced up to 200 warheads and bombs. Israel has operated a nuclear reactor and an underground plutonium-separation plant in Dimona since the 1960s. In 1991, as the Persian Gulf War was getting under way, Germany approved the subsidized sale of two Dolphin-class diesel-powered submarines to Israel; a total of six has been ordered so far, three of which have been delivered.

There has been speculation that Israel would put nuclear-armed missiles onto the German submarines but little firm evidence.

The magazine article, drawing on sources in Germany, Israel, and the United States, says the new evidence “no longer leaves any room for doubt” that Israel has a sea-based nuclear deterrent. “From the beginning, the boats were primarily used for the purposes of nuclear capability,” one German ministry official told the magazine. In addition to revealing that the submarines are nuclear armed, the article also states that senior German leaders knew that the boats, built at a shipyard in Kiel, would be used for this purpose.

Sources told Der Spiegel that the Israeli defense technology company Rafael built the sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) for the submarines, based on the Popeye cruise missile, which is estimated to have a range of around 1,500 kilometers with a warhead weighing up to 200 kilograms. The only public evidence of the nuclear version of the missile was a single test conducted off the coast of Sri Lanka, the article says. This missile test was first reported by London’s Sunday Times in June 2000.

According to the article, the newest Dolphin submarines are equipped with fuel cell propulsion, which allows for quieter operation and longer periods between refuelings. Earlier Dolphin submarines had to surface every few days to run the diesel engine to recharge its batteries. The new boats will be able to travel underwater at least 18 days at a time. The Persian Gulf coast of Iran is no longer out of the operating range of the Israeli fleet, the article says.

Israel is known to have nuclear-capable aircraft and land-based missiles. The addition of nuclear-armed submarines would mean that Israel now has a full triad of land-, air-, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems and that, for the first time, some of its nuclear forces would be invulnerable to a nuclear first strike by an adversary. No other state in the Middle East is known to have nuclear weapons, although Iran in particular is suspected of seeking them.

Iranian Sub Plans

Meanwhile, Iran said June 12 that it is planning to build a nuclear-powered submarine, which could theoretically give Tehran a non-weapons rationale to produce weapons-grade uranium. Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency quoted Rear Adm. Abbas Zamini, the deputy commander of the Iranian navy for technical affairs, as saying, “Right now, we are in the initial phases of manufacturing atomic submarines.”

Iran, which says it is not pursuing nuclear weapons, states that it is enriching uranium to a level of about 5 percent to produce nuclear power and to 20 percent to run a research reactor in Tehran to make medical isotopes. Uranium enriched to a level below 20 percent is known as low-enriched uranium (LEU). Nuclear weapons typically require uranium enriched to about 90 percent, known as weapons-grade. The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty bars enriching uranium for use in weapons, but it does not forbid enrichment for use in naval reactors.

According to Princeton University professor Frank von Hippel, U.S. and British naval reactors are currently fueled with 93 to 97 percent-enriched uranium, Russian naval reactors are fueled with 40 to 90 percent-enriched uranium, and French naval reactors are fueled with LEU. India’s prototype naval reactor is reportedly fueled with uranium enriched to the 40-percent range, Brazil’s prototype is to be fueled with LEU, and China’s naval reactor is reportedly fueled with LEU, von Hippel said.

Zamini did not indicate what level of enrichment Iran would use for its naval reactors.

Deepening long-held suspicions about a sensitive aspect of German-Israeli military cooperation, Der Spiegel magazine reported in its June 4 issue that Israel has deployed nuclear-armed cruise missiles aboard submarines built and subsidized by Germany.


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