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August 27, 2018
Tom Z. Collina

Nuclear Policies Clash in Defense Bills

Tom Z. Collina

The Democratic-led Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill on June 16, setting up a tug-of-war over nuclear weapons policy with the Republican-led House of Representatives, which passed its version May 26. The House and Senate versions of the bill differ significantly on nuclear policy directives to the Obama administration, which has threatened to veto the House bill.

The White House on May 24 issued a Statement of Administration Policy on the House bill, objecting to sections that “impinge on the President’s authority to implement the New START Treaty and to set U.S. nuclear weapons policy.” In particular, the administration found that section 1055, which would limit the president’s ability to implement reductions under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, would “set onerous conditions” on the president’s ability to “retire, dismantle, or eliminate non-deployed nuclear weapons.” The conditions include the completion of new nuclear weapons production facilities, which is not expected until the mid-2020s. “The effect of this section would be to preclude dismantlement of weapons in excess of military needs,” the White House said.

The Senate committee bill would require the secretary of defense to submit reports on the “military effectiveness” of U.S. nuclear delivery systems and on the number of nuclear weapons in the “deployed and non-deployed stockpiles, including each category of non-deployed weapons.”

However, the bill would not set conditions for nuclear arsenal reductions.

No date has been set for the full Senate to vote on the bill. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has said he may offer amendments to the bill that would mirror the House language more closely. To become law, the House and Senate defense authorization bills must be reconciled, and the resulting legislation must be passed by both chambers and signed by the president.


The Democratic-led Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill on June 16, setting up a tug-of-war over nuclear weapons policy with the Republican-led House of Representatives, which passed its version May 26.

Russia Below Some New START Limits

Tom Z. Collina

Russia already has met most of its arsenal reduction obligations under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the United States, according to data exchanged by the two countries and disclosed June 1 by the U.S. Department of State.

In the first nuclear stockpile data exchange under the accord, Moscow reported that it was below the treaty’s limits of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed delivery vehicles and close to the 800 limit on launchers, as of the treaty’s entry into force Feb. 5.

The data exchange, which, under the terms of the treaty, had to take place within 45 days of New START’s entry into force, indicates that Russia had 1,537 deployed strategic warheads, 521 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, and 865 launchers. The United States had 1,800 deployed strategic warheads, 882 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, and 1,124 launchers. Both countries have seven years to meet the treaty’s targets. The data are to be updated every six months.

The new data are consistent with statements that Obama administration officials made during last year’s Senate debate on the treaty. “I would point out that while [Russia’s] strategic nuclear delivery vehicles are under the current levels of the treaty, the number of warheads is actually above the levels. So they will be reducing the number of warheads,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 18, 2010, in response to a question from Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Russia presumably reduced its warhead levels after Gates’ statement, although actual arsenal holdings for 2010 are classified.

According to Congressional Research Service estimates based on public information, in 2010, Russia had more than 2,700 warheads deployed on 620 delivery vehicles. About 850 of these warheads were in storage for use on 77 heavy bombers. Under New START rules, these warheads are not directly counted because they are not deployed. Instead, each bomber is counted as one warhead. Thus, these 850 warheads would now be counted as 77 warheads under New START. That helps explain how quickly Russia reduced its forces on paper, although Moscow still had to remove from deployment about 100 delivery systems and a few hundred warheads loaded on long-range missiles, such as the SS-18, each of which has 10 warheads.

The number of Russian delivery vehicles already was low, experts say, because Moscow was in the process of retiring older strategic missiles while the treaty was under negotiation. Russia is expected to build new strategic forces over the next decade. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told reporters in March that “the armed forces will receive new strategic and tactical missile systems, such as RS-24 Yars, Bulava and Iskander M.” Putin said that “starting from 2013, the production of [ballistic] missile systems must be doubled.”

Current U.S. strategic delivery systems, by comparison, will stay in service for decades and are in the process of being modernized. For example, current plans call for spending $125 billion over the next decade on new strategic submarines and maintaining the Trident D-5 submarine-launched missile, a new intercontinental ballistic missile to replace the current Minuteman III, new long-range nuclear-capable bombers, and a “long-range standoff” missile to replace the current air-launched cruise missile.

Critics of New START seized on the new data to reiterate one of their main arguments from the Senate debate: Although the treaty imposes the same ceilings on both sides, Russia is much less affected by them because it already was planning to reduce its arsenal. In a June 6 Senate floor speech, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who led the Republican opposition to the treaty, argued that “the New START treaty is perhaps the first bilateral treaty that resulted in U.S. unilateral reductions in nuclear forces.” Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, wrote on his Web site June 17 that New START “handed the Russians deep reductions in our nuclear capabilities in return for essentially nothing.”


The first data exchange on nuclear forces under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty shows that Russia has already made most of the required arsenal reductions.

Missile Defense Cooperation Stalls

Tom Z. Collina

In what might have been the last chance to reach agreement before upcoming national elections in each country, Russia and the United States were unable to strike a deal on missile defense cooperation when their defense ministers met June 8-9 in Brussels. “I think the Russians have a long history of hostility and wariness about missile defense, and so I think we just have to keep working at it,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters at NATO headquarters June 9. The two sides are not expected to meet again on missile defense cooperation until the next NATO summit, in May 2012.

In an unsuccessful attempt to iron out their differences before the defense ministers meeting, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev met May 26 on the sidelines of the summit in Deauville, France, of the Group of Eight industrialized countries. After the meeting, Medvedev told reporters that missile defense “will be finally solved in the future, like, for example, in the year 2020, but we, at present, might lay the foundation for other politicians’ activities.”

Russian officials had been ratcheting up the pressure on missile defense in advance of the Brussels meeting. In a May 18 press conference, Medvedev said, “If missile defense systems are to be developed—which would mean the disruption of strategic parity—the treaty could be suspended or even terminated.” He was referring to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which took effect in February. “We are ready to cooperate, and at the same time, we hope that we get assurances that these capabilities are not directed at us,” he said.

At issue are U.S. plans to deploy hundreds of increasingly capable missile interceptors by 2020 at sea and on land as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, which NATO agreed to last November to counter the missile threat seen to be emerging from Iran. Russia, for its part, agreed to work with NATO to seek areas of cooperation, such as sharing information on third-party missile launches and joint exercises. The Pentagon has been interested in gaining access to data from Russian radars located northwest of Iran, such as the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan, that could provide useful tracking information on potential Iranian missile launches toward Europe or the United States.

Ultimately, the missile defense cooperation effort stalled, officials said, because the United States and NATO could not convince Moscow that the interceptor system would not undermine Russian security—that is, that NATO would not use the system to intercept Russian strategic nuclear forces. “I still think there are those in Russia who are skeptical of our motives,” Gates said at the Brussels press briefing. Obama’s top adviser on Russia, Michael McFaul, explained the problem by saying, “They don’t believe us.”

Russia will hold parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections next March. The U.S. elections will follow in November 2012. Missile defense is a potent political issue in both countries.

Russia: Do Not Target Us

To gain assurances that the NATO system is not a threat, Russia first proposed a “joint” system in which both sides would have control over any decision to launch interceptor missiles. NATO rejected this plan months ago. “We cannot outsource our collective defense obligations to non-NATO members,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said June 15 in London at a conference on missile defense at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Moscow then shifted gears and asked for legally binding guarantees that NATO would not aim its interceptors at Russia’s strategic missiles. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told The New York Times May 22, “We do not want any missiles aimed at Russia” and repeated Moscow’s request for “some kind of written guarantees from NATO that the missiles will not threaten Russia.”

NATO formally rejected Russia’s proposal. In June 15 remarks at the RUSI conference, Rasmussen said, “Russia says it wants guarantees. We can give these by agreeing that our systems will not undermine the strategic balance, that they will strengthen each other’s security and not weaken it. But I remain convinced that the best guarantee for Russia is to be part of the process.”

What Russia Wants

The Kremlin appears deeply concerned about the European missile interceptor plan, which envisages more than 500 missile interceptors based on more than 40 ships and two European land bases, in Poland and Romania, and a radar based in southeastern Europe, by the end of this decade.

Russian demands, at first vague, have become more specific over time. In addition to legal guarantees, Moscow’s NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, wrote in The New York Times June 7 that Moscow wants “a common perimeter of missile defense with all ballistic-missile defense capabilities pointed outside the Euro-Atlantic region. It should be geared primarily for areas that could pose threats, and these in reality can only emanate from the south.” In other words, in Russia’s view, there is no justification for interceptors pointed east at Russian territory and, in particular, no need for an interceptor site in Poland, which NATO plans to deploy in 2018.

Russia also reportedly wants an agreement on the total number of missile interceptors that NATO would deploy, as well as on their speed and their deployment locations. Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said NATO missile interceptors should have a speed limit that would not allow them to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the Kommersant newspaper reported June 6. “That is why the speed of interceptor missiles should be limited, say to 3.5 kilometers per second,” he said. Additionally, there should be a cap on the quantity of missile interceptors deployed, he told Ekho Moskvy radio. “There should be not 1,000, but 100, 200, or 300 of them, so that they cannot intercept all ICBMs.”

The currently deployed Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IA interceptors have a maximum speed of about 3 kilometers per second. The next generations, the SM-3 IIA and IIB, are expected to have maximum speeds of 4.5 kilometers per second or faster. Russia is worried that if the SM-3 IIB is fast enough, it could intercept Russian ICBMs.

“The Russian bear sits in its lair, and the NATO huntsman comes over to his house and asks him to come hunt the rabbit…. Why do your rifles have the caliber to hunt the bear, not the rabbit?” Rogozin said June 15 at the RUSI conference, according to Reuters.

U.S. officials say Moscow has nothing to fear because the NATO system could not handle Russia’s fast and vast arsenal. “If we tried to go in that direction it would not work, it would bankrupt us,” James Miller, U.S. principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told a RUSI panel June 15, Reuters reported.

Moscow also is concerned about where the interceptors are deployed. Russia on June 12 objected to the USS Monterey’s presence in the Black Sea. The Monterey, armed with SM-3 IA missiles, is the first component to be fielded of the Obama administration’s phased approach to European missile defense. The Russian Foreign Ministry warned against “the appearance of elements of U.S. strategic infrastructure in the immediate proximity to our borders.”

Meanwhile, Russia has obtained China’s support to condemn NATO’s missile defense plan, Reuters reported June 15. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which encompasses China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, issued a statement that “the unilateral and unlimited growth of missile defense systems by any state or a group of states can cause damage to strategic stability and international security.”

Questions About Prospects

Russian officials are most concerned about the SM-3 IIB, which, U.S. officials point out, does not yet exist and would not be deployed until 2020, four years after Obama leaves office, assuming he serves two terms. The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has issued contracts to three companies—Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon—to explore concepts for this missile. Because the system is in the early phases of its development, the schedule could slip, or the program could be scrapped by the next administration.

A Defense Science Board task force is reviewing the mission of the SM-3 IIB. The interceptor is supposed to have what U.S. officials refer to as a “limited” capability against ICBMs, which means that it is effective against long-range missiles only in their ascent phase, known as early intercept, before the warhead separates from the missile. After that, the SM-3 IIB might not be fast enough to “catch” the warhead and might not be able to distinguish a real warhead from decoys. Critics say one of the SM-3’s greatest weaknesses is its inability to distinguish real warheads from decoys after their separation from the missile.

A version of the report has already surfaced on Capitol Hill, and its “unclassified conclusion is that MDA’s plans to achieve an early-intercept capability as part of the Phased Adaptive Approach [are] simply not credible,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said during a June 15 hearing of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. In response, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen said he had “confidence that we can continue to pursue that path” of the SM-3 IIB, even though “the missile you’re talking about I know doesn’t exist yet.”

In April, a group of 39 Republican senators wrote to Obama asking for his written assurance that he would not provide any “early warning, detection, [or] tracking” information to Russia. That is the type of information Obama had been proposing to exchange. The senators wrote that “any agreement that would allow Russia to influence the defense of the United States or our allies…would constitute a failure of leadership.” The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012 would prohibit the transfer of such missile defense data to Russia. The Senate version of the bill would allow it.


Russia and the United States were unable to strike a deal on missile defense cooperation during a June 8-9 meeting in Brussels. The effort stalled, officials said, because Russia remains wary that the European interceptor system will undermine its security.

House Takes Up Export Reform Debate

Xiaodon Liang

Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee heard testimony May 12 on the Obama administration’s export control reform initiative, praising and criticizing different aspects of the process. Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), speaking about a planned new single licensing agency, said she was not convinced “the creation of a costly and perhaps unaccountable new federal bureaucracy” was necessary but was sympathetic to President Barack Obama’s goal of boosting exports through streamlining of regulatory requirements. According to the administration, the proposed reform intends to create four “singularities”: a single licensing agency, a single list of controlled items, a single online license management system, and a single enforcement agency. (See ACT, October 2010.)

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the panel’s ranking member, introduced legislation May 26 to replace the lapsed Export Administration Act (EAA), which serves as the basis for the Department of Commerce’s controls on dual-use items. (See ACT, May 2010.) The EAA expired in 2001, but has been preserved through the declaration of an economic state of emergency in annual executive orders.

At the hearing, Berman asked if the centralization of licensing powers would negate checks and balances built into the current, multidepartment licensing process. In his testimony, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller said he expected that each department would continue to bring different concerns to the process but that intense scrutiny would be focused on a smaller number of “particularly challenging” cases.

Miller also said U.S. policy on arms sales to the Middle East will be reassessed on a “country-by-country” basis. Some transfers already have been frozen, he said, declining to provide details at an open hearing.


Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee heard testimony May 12 on the Obama administration’s export control reform initiative, praising and criticizing different aspects of the process.

Pentagon to Revise Nuclear Guidance

Tom Z. Collina

Implementing a key recommendation from the April 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] Report,” the Obama administration announced in May that it has started the process of revising guidance issued by the Bush administration for nuclear weapons operations and deterrence policy.

In May 4 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller said that the review will assess “deterrence requirements, including analyzing potential changes in targeting requirements and force postures.” Miller said the review would inform the administration’s goals for future nuclear reductions below the levels of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). According to senior administration officials, the Pentagon review will provide options to President Barack Obama by late summer or early fall, but final decisions may not be public until the United States reaches agreements with Russia for comparable policy changes.

The Obama administration has been operating under a 2008 guidance document. After Obama’s inauguration, administration officials determined they did not need to revise the Bush guidance in advance of the negotiation of New START, as the treaty’s modest reductions in weapons levels to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed delivery vehicles were consistent with existing plans. The 2010 NPR report, however, found that an “updated assessment of deterrent requirements” would be needed for reductions below New START levels.

The size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is determined in large part by the missions assigned to U.S. nuclear forces and the number of targets against which they must be aimed. For example, since the 1960s, the primary mission for U.S. strategic weapons has been to attack “counterforce” targets, that is, an adversary’s leadership and nuclear and other military targets, to be able to degrade their ability to inflict further damage through a second or third strike. The operational requirements for a counterforce mission are reflected in current U.S. nuclear policy, which calls for more than 1,000 deployed strategic warheads, with hundreds kept at high levels of alert, ready to launch upon warning of an enemy attack.

In addition, a “hedging” policy requires the military to keep about 2,000 warheads in reserve, which could be “uploaded” onto deployed delivery systems, to guard against strategic surprises or unforeseeable technical failure. To reduce the U.S. arsenal below New START levels and to change the alert posture, officials say, the core missions assigned to the nuclear arsenal, such as counterforce, may need to change. “To develop these options for further reductions, we need to consider several factors, such as potential changes in targeting requirements and alert postures that are required for effective deterrence,” national security adviser Tom Donilon told the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference March 29.

This has already become a controversial issue on Capitol Hill, where House Republicans are seeking to limit the Obama administration’s ability to change the current guidance. For example, the House version of the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act would prohibit the president from reducing the hedge force until new weapons production facilities are completed. The bill also would prohibit any shift from counterforce targeting unless the president submits a report to Congress on the proposed changes.

Another reason for revising the nuclear guidance, according to the officials, is that the Obama administration’s NPR set new nuclear policy that is not reflected in existing Pentagon plans. For example, the Bush administration policy was to “use” nuclear weapons to deter an adversary’s use of weapons of mass destruction and conventional weapons, an approach that is presumably reflected in the targeting guidance, which is classified. Obama’s NPR narrowed the nuclear mission somewhat to the “fundamental” role of deterring nuclear attack with a limited range of other contingencies, but the Bush-era guidance has not been changed to reflect this new policy.

New Nuclear Options for the President

According to administration officials, as of mid-May, Obama was preparing to send a memo to the Pentagon with his directions for conducting the guidance review. Then, by late summer or early fall, the Pentagon is to submit a set of options for Obama to consider; he could accept them or send them back for further review. Ultimately, Obama will issue a revised presidential policy directive, to be followed by more detailed directives from the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Once we have that review in place, then we’ll be able to actually start a real negotiation with the Russians in terms of providing them with a position,” White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Gary Samore told Arms Control Today in an April interview.

However, according to the administration officials, any significant changes to U.S. nuclear policy and posture are not likely to be announced before the end of the year because the United States would take such steps only in tandem with Russia. For its part, Russia has been reluctant to discuss future arms reductions until related issues, such as possible U.S.-Russian cooperation on ballistic missile defense in Europe, are resolved. (See ACT, April 2011.) Given upcoming presidential elections in Russia and the United States, significant progress on bilateral nuclear reductions may be unlikely before 2013.

The NPR report noted that due to improved relations, strict numerical parity between the United States and Russia is “no longer as compelling as it was during the Cold War.” However, Miller told the Senate, the NPR also said large disparities in nuclear capabilities could raise concerns on both sides and “may not be conducive to maintaining a stable, long-term strategic relationship, especially as nuclear forces are significantly reduced.” It is therefore important, he said, “that Russia joins us in moving towards lower levels.”

From Triad to Dyad?

According to Miller’s testimony, the Pentagon analysis will look at “possible changes to force posture that would be associated with different types of reductions.” These changes could include, for example, ending counterforce targeting or moving from a nuclear force based on a triad of delivery vehicles—intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers—to a dyad that might eliminate nuclear-armed bombers. Under New START, the Pentagon plans to keep only 60 nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 bombers. By comparison, the Pentagon currently plans to keep up to 420 ICBMs and 240 SLBMs.

In the April interview, Samore said that “we’ve reached the level in our forces where further reductions will raise questions about whether we retain the triad or whether we go to a system that only is a dyad. Those are important considerations.”

Another issue to be explored for the next nuclear arms treaty, according to the administration officials, is the possibility of setting one overall limit for strategic, tactical, and nondeployed weapons. Up to now, bilateral arms control treaties have dealt with deployed strategic (long-range) and intermediate-range weapons, but have not covered tactical (short-range) weapons or weapons in storage. “One approach to take,” according to Samore, “which is our inclination at this point, is to have a single ceiling that would include both deployed and nondeployed, strategic and nonstrategic [weapons].”

The review also is expected to consider options for changing the alert posture of nuclear weapons to increase the amount of time the president would have after a nuclear attack to decide on a response. During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Obama said that the capability for prompt launch “increases the risk of catastrophic accident or miscalculation.” Obama’s NPR report, however, concluded that the current alert posture—U.S. heavy bombers off full-time alert, nearly all ICBMs on alert, and a “significant number” of submarines on alert deployed at sea—should not be changed. Reducing alert rates, the report found, “could reduce crisis stability by giving an adversary the incentive to attack before ‘re-alerting’ was complete.” Samore said, “We’re expecting that options will be presented to the president that will look at the implications of changing the alert status and postures and what impact that would have on force size and structure.”

Others issues expected to be in the review include bilateral monitoring of nuclear warhead storage and dismantlement facilities, which have not been covered by a treaty before; whether the United States should continue counterforce targeting of Russian ICBM silos, which presumably would be empty when a U.S. response arrived if the United States did not launch first; the need to plan for fighting two nuclear wars, with China and Russia, simultaneously; and the potential contributions to deterrence of non-nuclear strategic systems, such as a conventional prompt global-strike capability (see ACT, April 2011).

Proponents of nuclear reductions say that they could be a source of significant budgetary savings, particularly as the Department of Defense prepares to replace or modernize each leg of the U.S. nuclear triad. Current administration plans call for spending $125 billion over the next 10 years on new strategic ballistic missile submarines and maintaining the Trident D-5 SLBM, a new ICBM to replace the current Minuteman III, new long-range nuclear-capable bombers, and a “long-range standoff” missile to replace the current air-launched cruise missile. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told a May 18 press conference that if Obama’s goal of reducing defense spending by $400 billion over the next 12 years is to be achieved, “then I don’t think we can afford to have anything that’s off the table.”

New START Inspections Begin

Meanwhile, under New START, the United States and Russia exchanged initial databases of nuclear weapons inventories and their locations in March, Miller testified. Those databases will be updated every six months, he said.

New START, which entered into force Feb. 5, does not count hundreds of U.S. strategic delivery vehicles that were previously counted under the original START, which was in force from 1994 to 2009. Under New START, the United States is required to show Russia that these formerly nuclear systems, including converted cruise missile-carrying submarines and the B-1B bomber, are now only conventional weapons systems and that a number of ICBM silos and heavy bombers are no longer in use. The U.S. exhibition of the converted B-1B occurred on March 18, Miller said.

Russia exhibited the RS-24 road-mobile ICBM and its associated launcher in March, and the United States exhibited the B-2 bomber in early April, he said. The treaty allows each party to conduct up to 18 on-site inspections each year. The United States completed the first of these inspections in Russia on April 16, and Russia conducted its first inspections in mid-May.


The Pentagon will provide options to President Barack Obama for future nuclear reductions below New START levels and for policy changes in areas such as targeting, prompt-launch alert posture, and retention of the nuclear “triad.”

Missile Defense Test a ‘Success’: Pentagon

Tom Z. Collina

In the most ambitious test to date of the Obama administration’s planned missile interceptor system for Europe, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced last month that it had conducted a “successful” intercept test of the Phased Adaptive Approach system. The trial essentially clears the way for the first phase of the system to be deployed this year, pending selection of a host country for the forward-based radar in southeastern Europe.

The test, which used the Aegis ship-based defense system and Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IA missile, was the first in which an intermediate-range missile was the target, as well as first to rely on remote tracking data, the MDA said in an April 15 press release. Previous tests of the system had primarily used the ship-based radar to track the target. In this test, the target missile was tracked by a radar based hundreds of miles away. The use of a forward-based radar to track a target greatly increases the area that can be defended by an Aegis ship, the MDA said.

According to the MDA, the test involved an intermediate-range (3,000–5,500 kilometers) target missile launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 3,700 kilometers southwest of Hawaii, which was tracked by an AN/TPY-2 X-band mobile radar on Wake Island. The radar sent target missile trajectory information to the command, control, battle management, and communications system, which transmitted remote target data to the Aegis destroyer USS O’Kane, located west of Hawaii.

The destroyer’s on-board AN/SPY-1 radar eventually detected the target missile and sent tracking information to the SM-3 IA interceptor, which was launched approximately 11 minutes after the target, the MDA said. The SM-3 maneuvered to a designated point in space and released its kinetic “hit-to-kill” warhead, which destroyed the target missile, the MDA said.

The first phase of the European system will involve Aegis-capable ships in the Mediterranean Sea armed with SM-3 IA interceptors to be guided by an AN/TPY-2 radar based in southeastern Europe. The first ship, the USS Monterey, was deployed in March (see ACT, April 2011), but the host country for the radar—initially planned to be Turkey—has not been announced. Turkish officials are concerned that the radar could complicate their relationship with Iran, which is the presumed target of the European systems. “In any political process, when we are weighing up options, we certainly take account of our relationship with Iran,” Turkish Ambassador to Iran Umit Yardim said, according to the April 26 Tehran Times.

After host-country details are worked out, the radar itself could be on-site in a matter of weeks, according to a U.S. Senate staffer.

With the success of the April 15 test, those details are likely to determine whether the European system’s first phase can be completed this year as planned. Subsequent phases, involving additional deployment sites and more-advanced interceptors and sensors, are planned for 2015, 2018, and 2020.

Concerns About Testing

This aggressive deployment schedule raises concerns that the system will not be adequately tested, according to April 13 Senate testimony by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The 2015 phase, for example, calls for land-based interceptors, called Aegis Ashore, to be deployed in Romania and is dependent on next-generation versions of Aegis systems and the new SM-3 IB interceptor, all of which are currently under development. According to the GAO, the MDA plans to make production decisions for the Aegis Ashore interceptors to be deployed in Romania before conducting ground and flight tests. The GAO concluded that the MDA’s plans amount to “a highly concurrent effort with significant cost, schedule and performance risk.”

A Senate Democratic staffer countered that the SM-3 IB is essentially the same missile as the IA; the main difference is the new kill vehicle, a nonexplosive guided warhead. Although the new kill vehicle has been having problems with keeping out moisture (a challenge for sea-based systems), they should be resolved before 2015, the staffer said. Moreover, the Aegis Ashore components are essentially the same as those now on Aegis ships, which the Navy knows how to build and deploy, he said. The SM-3 IB is scheduled to have its first intercept test late this summer, and the MDA is building a test version of Aegis Ashore in Hawaii.

The GAO said it has similar concerns with the MDA’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, based in California and Alaska and intended to counter a limited North Korean or Iranian missile attack against the United States. The GAO testified that, in the MDA’s rush to meet President George W. Bush’s directive to field an initial national missile defense capability by 2004, assets were built and deployed before developmental testing was complete. As a result, GMD intercept tests conducted to date already have led “to major hardware or software changes to the interceptors—not all of which have been verified through flight testing,” the GAO said. As an example, the GAO cited a new version of the interceptor’s exoatmospheric kill vehicle, or EKV, called the Capability Enhancement II, which already has been delivered and fielded even though the last two GMD flight tests, which were the only ones to use this new EKV, failed to intercept their targets.

Deliveries of the new EKV, made by Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems, were halted after the kill vehicle failed to hit its mark in a Dec. 15 flight test, MDA spokesman Rick Lehner said April 5. Future deliveries depend on the results of a “failure review,” Lehner said, and the MDA is likely weeks or months away from releasing a final report. The December test failure followed a failed intercept in January 2010 that was blamed on the EKV and sensors. The next test is planned for late 2012.

In all, the GMD system has been successful in only eight of 15 intercept attempts since 1999, the MDA says. MDA Director Patrick O’Reilly testified to the House Armed Services Committee March 31 that he considers the 30 deployed GMD interceptors essentially to be prototypes.

Seeking to distance itself from the Bush administration’s controversial development strategy that led to GMD deployment before testing was complete, the Obama administration has stated that new capabilities “must undergo testing that enables assessment under realistic operational conditions” before they are deployed, according to the April 13 Senate Armed Services Committee testimony of Brad Roberts, the Defense Department’s deputy assistant secretary for missile defense policy. This commitment, said Roberts, “reflected our assessment that it is no longer necessary to pursue a high-risk acquisition strategy that simultaneously develops and deploys new systems.” Nevertheless, J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of operational testing, testified April 13 that the current test program was “success-oriented”—meaning it does not allow time for repeat tests in case of failure—and that “the ability to conduct comprehensive quantitative assessments” of U.S. ballistic missile defense system capability “remains a number of years away.”

Missile defense skeptics argue that the MDA should adhere to the principle of “fly before you buy” and that MDA should test both the U.S.-based and European systems against more realistic threats. They say that the United States has to expect that adversaries, such as Iran and North Korea, will respond to U.S. missile defenses by adding countermeasures—which are simple means, such as balloon decoys—to defeat the interceptors. They note that the U.S. intelligence community concluded a decade ago that any country capable of fielding long-range ballistic missiles can develop effective countermeasures. Both the U.S. and European systems are designed to intercept targets in space, where countermeasures can be particularly effective at fooling the defense.

The April 15 test of the phased approach did not include countermeasures, and the MDA has given no indication if such tests will take place.


The missile interceptor system that the Obama administration plans to deploy in Europe succeeded in a key test by using remote tracking data to intercept an intermediate-range missile.

Russia Makes New Proposal on Missile Defense

Tom Z. Collina

Seeking to build a cooperative relationship with the United States on missile defense, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters March 15 that Moscow would like a formal, legally binding agreement with NATO that neither side would target the other’s offensive missiles with missile defense interceptors. According to a senior Obama administration official, a version of this proposal, along with an agreement on sharing missile early-warning information, could form the basis of a deal by this summer.

Since last November, when NATO agreed for the first time to deploy territorial missile defenses against emerging missile threats from Iran, the United States and Russia have been trading proposals on how to cooperate on missile defense. (See ACT, March 2011.) NATO and Russia agreed to develop proposals for cooperation and produce a progress report for a NATO-Russia Council meeting of defense ministers in June.

Although the United States has stated repeatedly that its missile defenses pose no threat to Russia, Moscow apparently remains unconvinced. Russian leaders are concerned that U.S.-NATO missile defense interceptors could target their strategic nuclear force, “which is the basis and guarantee of our sovereignty and independence,” Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said in February.

“This is not the first time we are being told, ‘This is not directed against you,’ and then end up with problems on our hands,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said March 2, apparently referring to NATO expansion. Moscow would like to have a legal commitment from NATO before going ahead with missile defense cooperation, Lavrov said. “Needless to say, for our part, we are ready to provide such guarantees,” he said.

The United States insists there should be two independent missile interceptor systems, while Russia had been advocating for a joint system. Moscow’s position, however, seems to be softening. In his March 2 remarks, Lavrov said Moscow’s stance is that NATO should defend the territory of NATO member states while Russia defends its own territory, with no shared authority to launch. “NATO’s [control] button will always be the U.S. button. The same goes for our button. We will have sole control of our button,” Lavrov said.

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher said March 21 at a missile defense conference in Washington that the United States is “eager to begin a joint analysis, joint exercises, and sharing of early-warning data that could form the basis for a cooperative missile defense system.” However, she said, “in the end, NATO will defend NATO, and Russia will defend Russia.”

“We’ve disagreed before, and Russia still has uncertainties,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said March 21 in a speech to Russian naval officers in St. Petersburg. “However, we’ve mutually committed to resolving these difficulties in order to develop a road map toward truly effective anti-ballistic missile collaboration.”

Political Agreement Has Precedent

Russia’s proposal for a legally binding agreement not to target each other with missile interceptors is a nonstarter on Capitol Hill, according to administration officials and Senate staff, as Senate Republicans have been clear in their opposition to any legally binding limitation on U.S. missile defenses. However, according to Senate staff, politically binding commitments would not require Senate approval and have a precedent: In 1994 the United States and Russia made a political commitment not to target each other with nuclear weapons. Even so, say Senate staffers, a U.S. political commitment not to target Russia’s missiles with U.S.-NATO missile interceptors would not go unnoticed by missile defense supporters. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), for example, has been critical of the Obama administration for not seeking a missile defense capability that could counter Russia’s force of more than 1,000 nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles. The United States currently fields 30 interceptors in Alaska and California to counter a limited attack from Iran or North Korea. Those interceptors would not be able to stop a full attack from Russia. Moreover, the U.S. system has failed numerous intercept tests, including the last two attempts, and none of the tests has attempted to simulate realistic threats such as simple countermeasures.

It is not clear if a commitment that is not legally binding would be enough to convince Russia to cooperate with NATO’s missile defense plans. On the other hand, as U.S.-NATO missile defense deployment moves ahead, Moscow appears to have little leverage to prevent it, Senate staffers said.

Joint Data “Fusion” Center

In addition to a possible political commitment not to target each other with interceptors, a NATO-Russia agreement on missile defense cooperation could include the sharing of early-warning information and other intelligence data. Gates said in St. Petersburg, “This collaboration may include exchanging launch information, setting up a joint data fusion center, allowing greater transparency with respect to our missile defense plans and exercises, and conducting a joint analysis to determine areas of future cooperation.”

The Pentagon has been interested in gaining access to data from Russian radars located northwest of Iran, such as the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan, that could provide useful tracking information to NATO on an Iranian missile launch toward Europe.

Under the U.S. proposal, the joint data fusion center would allow Russian and NATO officers to have simultaneous access to missile launch data from sensors in NATO countries and Russia, giving both sides a full, real-time picture of potential threats, U.S. officials said. These centers would combine data from fixed and mobile radar sites, as well as from satellites, according to media reports.

Meanwhile, on March 7 the United States began deploying its Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense in Europe by sending the USS Monterey to the Mediterranean Sea. The guided-missile cruiser is armed with SM-3 BlockIA missile interceptors and the Aegis radar system, which is capable of tracking short- and medium-range missiles. Other Aegis-capable ships have been deployed by the United States to the Mediterranean since 2009, but the Monterey is “the first sustained deployment of a ballistic missile defense-capable ship” to support the phased approach, Tauscher said March 21.

As another part of the first phase of the U.S. approach, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) plans to deploy a ground-based AN/TPY-2 radar in southeastern Europe. U.S. plans originally had the radar going to Turkey, but the host country has not been announced. Turkey reportedly has not granted its consent out of concern that information from the radar might be shared with Israel.

Under the current schedule, the MDA will have 23 Aegis-capable ships by the end of this fiscal year, mostly in the Pacific, and 107 SM-3 Block I/IA missile interceptors, according to budget documents. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30. According to the documents, the MDA also will have 26 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor missiles for two THAAD batteries that could be deployed in Europe.

In the second phase, land-based interceptors would be deployed in Romania in 2015, followed by interceptors in Poland in the third phase, planned for 2018. Each phase calls for increasingly sophisticated and capable SM-3 interceptors. The fourth phase, planned for 2020, calls for fielding the SM-3 IIB interceptor, which is supposed to be capable of knocking down long-range ballistic missiles. That system, which has drawn the strongest objections from Russia, is still in the early stages of design and development.


U.S. Alters Non-Nuclear Prompt-Strike Plan

Tom Z. Collina

Wrestling with an issue that has proven controversial with the U.S. Congress as well as Russia, the Department of Defense has decided not to develop systems for its Conventional Prompt Global Strike mission based on traditional ballistic missiles, according to a Feb. 2 White House report to Congress.

Instead, the report says, the Pentagon will continue to explore “boost-glide” concepts that have a nonballistic flight trajectory, which is deemed less likely to be mistaken for a nuclear attack and would not be counted by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which limits only missiles with a ballistic trajectory.

The Pentagon’s interest in a conventional prompt-strike capability stems from the fact that the only weapons in the U.S. arsenal that can reach a target anywhere on the globe in less than an hour are deployed long-range ballistic missiles, all of which are currently armed with nuclear warheads. But using nuclear weapons to attack potential non-nuclear targets, such as leaders of a terrorist group or an adversary’s imminent missile launch, would seem to be inconsistent with current U.S. policy for using such weapons. The 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review Report” states that the “fundamental role” of U.S. nuclear weapons is to “deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners.” The report also says that the United States will continue to strengthen its conventional capabilities “with the objective of making deterrence of nuclear attack on the United States or its allies and partners the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons.”

Moreover, the Bush administration argued that the availability of conventional strike weapons could give the president more options in a crisis, reducing the chance that nuclear weapons would be used. A February 2011 report by the NationalDefenseUniversity made a similar point, saying that a conventional strike weapon “might enhance deterrence and assurance by providing an effective and usable (and thus more credible) strike option.”

On the other hand, skeptics such as Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) argue that conventional strike weapons may prove to be unusable as the United States would lack the necessary intelligence to use them quickly against such time-sensitive targets. The time required to verify that intelligence reports were sufficiently credible to justify action would allow the use of other, slower weapons in the U.S. arsenal, such as conventional cruise missiles, they say. For example, they argue, cruise missile-carrying submarines or airplanes could be moved within range of a potential target while breaking intelligence reports were being assessed.

Moreover, according to defense experts, the United States routinely deploys military assets to most “hot spots” where a crisis could be expected to emerge, such as submarines off the coast of North Korea or bombers in Afghanistan. The only regions where the United States might not have such reach would be deep inside large countries with significant air defenses, such as China or Russia. One possible mission for conventional prompt-strike weapons, congressional staffers say, is to be able to knock out Chinese anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities early in a crisis. China has conducted a series of ASAT tests, most recently on Jan. 11, 2010, according to a Jan. 12, 2010, Department of State cable released by WikiLeaks. “This test is assessed to have furthered both Chinese ASAT and ballistic missile defense…technologies,” the cable said.

The Bush administration had proposed to place conventional warheads on existing Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Congress blocked that plan in 2008 out of concern that Russia might mistake a conventionally armed strategic missile for a nuclear one and perceive that it was under U.S. nuclear attack. For their part, Russian leaders have said they are concerned that even long-range missiles that are clearly identified as non-nuclear could be used against Russia’s nuclear forces and thus should be considered strategic weapons. During the New START negotiations, Russia initially sought to ban the deployment of conventional warheads on strategic ballistic missiles. The United States rejected this proposal, in part because Congress generally has been supportive of preserving the option for a conventional strike mission.

As a compromise, New START’s preamble states that the parties are “mindful of the impact of conventionally armed ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] and SLBMs on strategic stability.” The treaty does not prohibit conventional strike systems, but it would count those based on treaty-limited strategic delivery systems, such as the Trident II SLBM and the Minuteman III ICBM, toward the treaty’s ceiling of 1,550 nuclear warheads. During last year’s Senate debate on New START, some Republican senators were concerned that a large deployment of conventional strike weapons would prevent the United States from deploying all 1,550 nuclear weapons allowed by the treaty. To reassure these senators, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that if the United States were to deploy treaty-limited conventional systems, they would amount to only a “niche capability.” Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, then the head of U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress that the United States would size a conventional strike force to avoid “perturbing our strategic relationship with Russia and China.”

According to the White House report, a weapons system with a conventional warhead that does not use treaty-limited ICBMs or SLBMs and “does not fly a ballistic trajectory over most of its flight path” would not be counted by New START.


Addressing some congressional as well as Russian concerns, the Defense Department “at present has no plans to develop or field” conventionally armed ICBMs or SLBMs “with traditional ballistic trajectories,” according to the White House report, which was required by the Senate’s Dec. 22, 2010, resolution of ratification for New START.

Instead, the Pentagon will pursue “boost-glide” systems, which use nontraditional ballistic missiles to “boost” delivery vehicles into space that then “glide” at hypersonic speeds in the upper atmosphere for more than half of their flight. In the United States’ view, these systems would not be limited by New START and could be distinguished by Russia from nuclear-armed missiles.

According to the White House report, the “basing, launch signature, and flight trajectory [of these systems] are distinctly different from that of any deployed nuclear-armed U.S. strategic ballistic missile.”

Unlike U.S. ICBMs and SLBMs, which are based in the central United States and at sea, respectively, boost-glide systems would be based on the coasts, possibly at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Cape Canaveral in Florida, or both. Because Russia is “capable of monitoring U.S. ICBM fields, and possibly [SLBM] deployment areas,” according to the report, Moscow could verify that no nuclear launch had occurred. Moreover, says the report, each missile type has a unique infrared signature, and Russia would be able to tell the difference between a Trident SLBM and a missile used for boost-glide, for example.

In addition, Russian early-warning systems can track U.S. launches into space, and boost-glide trajectories look very different from ICBMs or SLBMs. For example, the apogee (highest point) for a boost-glide system is typically less than 100 nautical miles, compared to ICBM or SLBM apogees of 800-1,600 nautical miles, according to the report. Finally, U.S. nuclear-armed re-entry vehicles cannot maneuver as they re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, but the report says a boost-glide system would, enabling it “to provide precision accuracy and to avoid overflight of selected areas.” However, the report notes that, in addition to providing an observable difference from ICBMs and SLBMs, this maneuverability would give the United States an advantage in carrying out an attack because it adds “an element of uncertainty in terms of impact location.”

According to congressional staff, the boost-glide approach should reduce concerns about Russian misperceptions but not necessarily doubts about the need for the system. There are still significant questions about what the weapon is for, against whom it would be used, and how many would be built and at what cost.

Systems Under Development

The Defense Department has not established an acquisition program for a specific boost-glide conventional-strike system, but is exploring three options: the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2), the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW), and the Conventional Strike Missile (CSM). For fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration has requested $240 million for a conventional strike program that includes the three options; the Pentagon plans to spend approximately $2 billion between 2011 and 2016 for research and development of these systems.

As part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Falcon program, the Pentagon has been developing two HTV-2s at a cost of $308 million from fiscal year 2003 through 2011. The first flight test took place from Vandenberg in April 2010, and “significant hypersonic flight data was captured,” although the HTV-2 signal was lost only nine minutes into flight, according to the report. The second test is planned for this fiscal year, to be launched from Vandenberg, the report says. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

The AHW technology experiment is being run by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command and Army Forces Strategic Command. It uses a hypersonic glide body that will have an initial flight test at the Kauai Test Facility in Hawaii in late fiscal year 2011 at a cost of $180 million from fiscal year 2006 to 2011.

The U.S. Air Force Space and MissileSystemsCenter runs the CSM program, the leading contender for the conventional strike mission. Under the current schedule, the CSM program will have a first flight demonstration at Vandenberg in fiscal year 2013 using a kinetic energy projectile (KEP) warhead at a cost of $477 million from fiscal year 2008 to 2013. The report says that an operational CSM could provide “complete global coverage of potential targets” from Vandenberg. The KEP warhead would “neutralize the target” by delivering thousands of “high density, cube-shaped metal fragments” at high speed, the report said.

“New” Strategic Arms?

Although boost-glide systems would not count as existing strategic weapons under New START, they could qualify as “new” kinds of strategic offensive arms, according to an October 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service. As a result, Russia could raise the issue of whether future boost-glide systems should count under the treaty. Nevertheless, the United States would not have to delay its boost-glide programs while such discussions are underway, even if Russia ultimately were to disagree with a U.S. decision to proceed with these systems. The United States would be obligated to try to resolve the issue within New START’s Bilateral Consultative Commission, but, according to the State Department’s article-by-article analysis of the treaty, “there is no requirement in the treaty for the deploying party to delay deployment of the new system pending such resolution.”

The Russian legislature disagrees. According to Russia’s resolution of ratification for New START, questions about new kinds of strategic offensive arms should be resolved within the consultative commission “prior to the deployment of" such new strategic weapons.



The Pentagon will continue to explore a concept called "boost-glide" for its Conventional Prompt Global Strike mission, rather than pursuing systems based on traditional ballistic missiles, a White House report says.


Funding for U.S. Nuclear Triad Set to Grow

Tom Z. Collina

President Barack Obama last month sent Congress a budget request for fiscal year 2012 that would significantly increase funding for maintenance of the nuclear stockpile, modernization of the weapons production complex, upgrades to strategic delivery systems, and deployment of ballistic missile interceptors.

All told, these commitments, which were key to winning Department of Defense and Senate support for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), would add up to almost $300 billion over the next decade. The budget documents add specifics to the earlier commitments.

The administration is requesting $7.6 billion for Weapons Activities at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency within the Department of Energy. This request for fiscal year 2012 represents an increase of $620 million, or almost 9 percent, over the 2011 request and 19 percent more than approved by Congress for fiscal year 2010.

The increased NNSA Weapons Activities budget for fiscal year 2011 was approved as part of the continuing resolution (CR) that Congress passed in December and was one of the few programs to receive an increase above fiscal year 2010 levels. The CR lasts only through March; Congress is working on another CR to fund the government for the remaining months in the current fiscal year.

Speaking Feb. 16 at a nuclear policy conference in Arlington, Va., NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino said that the fiscal year 2012 budget was “the first payment on the $85 billion commitment” that the administration made last November as part of the updated “National Defense Authorization Act of FY 2010 Section 1251 Report.” (See ACT, December 2010.) The November version was an update of a congressionally required report, issued last May, in which the administration outlined its plans to ramp up the weapons activities budget over the next decade.

As a Senate condition for New START’s entry into force, which occurred Feb. 5 (see p. 36), Obama certified Feb. 2 that he would request full funding for two major NNSA weapons-related construction projects: the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) project in New Mexico and the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) in Tennessee. Construction projects account for the largest growth area in the Weapons Activities budget, increasing by $477 million, or 26 percent, for a total 2012 request of $2.3 billion.

The CMRR is to be built at Los Alamos National Laboratory to support the production of 50 to 80 plutonium components, or “pits,” per year. The administration’s fiscal year 2012 request calls for $300 million for the CMRR, a 33 percent increase from the fiscal year 2011 appropriation. Facility construction, which is projected to be completed by 2023, is estimated to cost between $3.7 billion and $5.9 billion. The UPF at the Y-12 National Security Complex would replace aging facilities for uranium-component handling. The administration is requesting $160 million for the UPF for fiscal year 2012, a 39 percent increase from fiscal year 2011. The facility is projected to cost between $4.2 billion and $6.5 billion and be completed by 2024. Both facilities could be operational by 2020, although completion could take longer. Cost and schedule for the CMRR and UPF will not be finalized until the projects achieve 90 percent design maturity, which the NNSA says they will achieve in late 2012.

The multibillion-dollar price tags for these facilities have raised the eyebrows of at least one veteran of the nuclear weapons complex, who said in a Feb. 25 interview that budget pressures may force the NNSA to redesign the facilities to make them smaller and more affordable. Otherwise, the large budgets for the CMRR and UPF could “starve the science program,” he said. He said both facilities could be reduced in size and cost if their basic designs were rethought. “You could cut the size of UPF by 50 percent if you rethink what you need to build,” he said.

According to the NNSA, its budget request “reflects the partnership” with the Defense Department “to modernize the nuclear deterrent.” Under the Obama administration’s spending plan, the Defense Department is to contribute a total of $2.2 billion to the NNSA weapons activities budget from fiscal year 2013 to 2016.

Within the weapons budget request, almost $2 billion is for Directed Stockpile Work, which ensures the operational readiness of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. The NNSA is extending the lifetimes of current warheads by 20 to 30 years, without nuclear explosive testing, by refurbishing warheads through the Lifetime Extension Program (LEP). Explosive testing is banned by the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which the United States has signed but not ratified.

New Life for B61 Bomb

In the administration’s budget request, funding for the LEP jumps by 93 percent, from $249 million in fiscal year 2011 to $497 million in fiscal year 2012. The bulk of the increase, $224 million, goes to extending the life of the B61 Mod 3, 4, and 7 nuclear bombs, which would be consolidated as the B61-12. Fewer than 100 B61-7 strategic bombs are deployed near B-2 heavy bombers based in the United States, and about 180 B61-3 and -4 tactical bombs are deployed at European bases in NATO, according to public estimates. Obama has announced his intention to seek agreement with Russia to reduce U.S. and Russian stockpiles of tactical weapons.

The B61 “primary” stage would be rebuilt with the existing nuclear pit, according to NNSA budget documents, and the “secondary” stage would utilize reused or remanufactured parts from the B61-4. In modern U.S. warheads, the fission energy from the primary ignites the fusion energy in the secondary, which can produce nuclear explosive yields of hundreds of kilotons. According to the NNSA, the B61 LEP includes consideration of “increasing safety, and improving the security and use control,” and “modifications could be employed to provide greater reliability; and components and materials with known compatibility and aging issues could be replaced, providing better alternatives.”

An LEP for the W76 warhead used on the Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), costing $257 million in 2012, began in 2008 and is scheduled to be completed by 2017, according to the administration’s budget documents. A lifetime extension study on the W78 warhead for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is also underway, with a budget of $26 million in 2011 and a requested increase to $51 million in 2012. The NNSA is considering reducing the number of warhead types by developing a common warhead to replace both the W78 and the newer warhead on Trident D-5s, the W88.

According to the NNSA budget proposal, “LEPs not only extend the life of weapons, but provide opportunities to enhance surety by installing enhanced safety and security features.” The goal of surety enhancements is to improve the safety (to prevent accidental detonation), security (to increase physical protection), and use control (to permit only authorized use) of the nuclear stockpile, the NNSA says. According to the budget request, “This approach is applicable to other future envisioned refurbishments and stockpile improvement projects needed, meeting both NNSA and Department of Defense…requirements.”

According to the former weapons complex official, the “major driver” of warhead lifetime extensions is the NNSA’s desire to retrofit all warheads to use insensitive high explosives (IHE), which are less prone to accidental detonation than conventional explosives. The B61 already has IHE, but the W78 and W88 do not. When these warheads are rebuilt, they would need to use a different primary design that uses IHE, such as the W87 warhead on the Minuteman III, the former official said. It is likely that Los Alamos would have to produce new pits for these new primaries, he said.

The NNSA’s stated intention to “enhance” existing warhead designs has led some experts to be concerned that, in the name of safety and security, changes could be made that cannot be certified through nuclear testing and thus may lead to reduced warhead reliability. They argue that deviating from already well-tested designs is unwarranted and should be minimized. Seeking to restrain changes to existing warheads, the April 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] Report” laid out several principles to guide the life extension effort. (See ACT, May 2010.)

The NPR report states that life extensions “will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.” According to the report, “In any decision to proceed to engineering development for warhead LEPs, the Administration will give strong preference to options for refurbishment or reuse. Replacement of nuclear components would be undertaken only if critical Stockpile Management Program goals could not otherwise be met, and if specifically authorized by the President and approved by Congress.”

The NPR report thus puts a high fence around “replacement.” Replacement is the riskiest approach as it would use new warhead designs that are not currently in the stockpile although they would be based on tested designs. “Reuse” would take parts already in the stockpile and use them in different warheads. “Refurbishment” would use the same parts or rebuilt parts of the same design in the same warhead and thus represents the lowest-risk approach. A warhead design not in the stockpile and not based on a tested design would be considered a “new” weapon and is ruled out by the NPR report.

In April 2010, Senior White House Coordinator for WMD Counterterrorism and Arms Control Gary Samore said, “Replacement would be to make a weapon with a physics package that had been previously tested but is not currently deployed.… I think refurbishment and reuse will be perfectly fine for the foreseeable future.”

The NNSA is considering a currently unused diagnostic tool, called “scaled experiments,” to support life extensions “by providing data on plutonium behavior under compression by insensitive high explosives,” according to the agency’s budget documents. These experiments would explosively test a scaled-down hollow sphere or shell of plutonium, which would not reach criticality and thus would not violate the CTBT, which prohibits all nuclear test explosions. The United States has not conducted scaled experiments “in a long time,” D’Agostino said in a Feb. 18 interview. (The transcript of the interview, which covered a range of NNSA issues, will be published later this month.)

By contrast, since last September the NNSA has conducted three subcritical experiments, which do not use plutonium spheres. Before that, the NNSA had not conducted subcritical experiments for almost four years. In a March 1 e-mail to Arms Control Today, NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera said, “There was a pause in conducting subcritical experiments because NNSA decided to upgrade nuclear safety protocols at the facility in Nevada where they are performed.  That process took longer than anticipated.”

The NNSA has asked the JASON group of senior science and defense consultants to provide advice on the integration of scaled experiments with the ongoing stockpile stewardship program before the agency proceeds with such experiments, LaVera said.

The fiscal year 2012 budget request refers to the study in its description of the NNSA’s planned work in “advanced certification.” The budget document does not specify the amount requested for that study, but LaVera said it was $1.2 million.

Some sources who follow the issue closely say such experiments may be of marginal utility and could necessitate the construction of a large new testing facility in Nevada, possibly raising the suspicions of other countries.

Delivery Systems Get Boost

As required by the Senate’s New START resolution of ratification, Obama certified Feb. 2 that he intends to “modernize or replace the triad of strategic nuclear delivery systems,” including a heavy bomber and air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), an ICBM, and an SLBM and a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine to launch it. These items are included in the $553 billion Defense Department budget request for fiscal year 2012. The administration’s May 2010 report on upgrading the nuclear deterrent states that, over the next decade, the United States will invest “well over $100 billion in nuclear delivery systems to sustain existing capabilities and modernize some strategic systems.”

The Pentagon’s fiscal year 2012 budget request includes $197 million for research and development on a new Air Force long-range bomber, either manned or unmanned, to be fielded in the mid-2020s. The Pentagon plans to spend $3.7 billion to develop the nuclear-capable aircraft over the next five years, with 80 to 100 aircraft ultimately planned.

The Air Force plans to retain the B-52 heavy bomber through at least 2035 for nuclear and conventional missions, with upgrades and life extensions to the fleet. The B-2 fleet is being upgraded as well.

The Defense Department intends to replace the current ALCM with the advanced long-range standoff cruise missile. The Air Force expects low-rate initial production of the new missile to begin approximately in 2025, while the current ALCM will be sustained through 2030.

The budget plan would spend $1.07 billion to develop a new ballistic missile submarine, the so-called SSBN(X), to replace the current Trident Ohio-class subs. The November version of the report on the U.S. nuclear deterrent states that the current subs have had their service life extended by a decade and will commence retirement in 2027. Construction for new submarines would begin in 2019 for first deployment in 2029. The estimated 2011-2020 cost for the new submarine is approximately $29.4 billion.

The November report said the Navy plans to sustain the Trident II D-5 missile, to be carried on the current Trident fleet and the next-generation submarine, through a least 2042.

Regarding ICBMs, the Air Force plans to sustain the Minuteman III through 2030. As stated in the NPR report, preparatory analysis on a new ICBM is underway, although a decision is not expected for several years. The fiscal year 2012 budget, however, does not contain $26 million that the administration pledged in November to spend on studying a next-generation ICBM. The omission is “a sign of things to come,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Feb. 17 at the Arlington conference. He said he saw it as showing “a gradual retreat.”

Ballistic Missile Defense: $100 Billion

Obama certified to the Senate that he would “continue development and deployment of United States missile defense systems” to defend against threats from North Korea and Iran. The certification covers all phases of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, and development of two-stage Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) missiles, originally planned for deployment in Europe, as a technological hedge.

The administration is requesting $10.7 billion for missile defense in fiscal year 2012, up from the current $10.2 billion. This total does not include $995.2 million for the Space Based Infrared System-High satellite program. Annual funding for missile defense is expected to remain roughly at $10 billion for the next decade.

The GMD system, which is meant to protect the United States from limited long-range missile attack from Iran and North Korea, is funded at $1.16 billion in fiscal year 2012, down from the $1.34 billion request for fiscal year 2011. In 2012 the GMD program plans to acquire six GBI missiles and order five more. Thirty GBI missiles currently are deployed in Alaska and California. The missiles have failed in their last two intercept tests, in January and December 2010. The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has established a Failure Review Board to investigate the causes and recommend fixes. The next test, called FTG-06b, is planned for fiscal year 2012. The MDA plans to have 47 GBI missiles by 2016.

The fiscal year 2012 budget request asks for more than $2 billion for the phased approach, which calls for deployment of interceptors in Europe, starting this year, to establish a limited capability to intercept missiles from Iran. (See ACT, March 2010.) The MDA plans to deploy SM-3 missiles on Aegis ships and on land in Romania in 2015 and Poland in 2018. In fiscal year 2012, the MDA plans to procure 46 SM-3 Block IB interceptors and deliver the final six SM-3 Block IAs and 12 additional SM-3 Block IBs. The MDA is requesting funds to continue development for the SM-3 Block IIA and SM-3 IIB. By 2016 the MDA plans to have 113 Block IAs, 223 Block IBs, and five Block IIAs, for a total of 341 SM-3 missiles and 41 Aegis missile defense-capable ships. The SM-3 Block IIB, which would cost $1.7 billion through fiscal year 2016, is not scheduled for deployment until the fourth phase of the planned approach, called Early Intercept and Regional ICBM Defense, in 2020.

The requested budget for directed energy research, including the Airborne Laser (ABL), is $469 million through 2016. According to the 2010 “Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report,” this program has experienced repeated schedule delays and technical problems since its start in 1996; the aircraft-based laser has been shifted to a technology demonstration program. (See ACT, July/August 2009.) In 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the ABL “has significant affordability and technology problems and the program’s proposed operational role is highly questionable.”

The Pentagon announced that it would not support the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a joint program with Germany and Italy, past 2013. The system is intended to protect battlefield troops from short-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and aircraft and was slated for delivery in 2018. The program failed to perform within time and cost projections, despite some notable progress, the Pentagon said Feb. 14. “Our partners may go forward with some MEADS, but it is not our plan to do so,” Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale said at a briefing for reporters on the budget request. The German government said Feb. 15 that it would abandon MEADS as well.


The fiscal year 2012 budget request would boost funding for maintenance of the nuclear stockpile, modernization of the weapons production complex, upgrades to strategic delivery systems, and deployment of missile defense interceptors.

New START in Force; Missile Defense Looms

Tom Z. Collina

Two years after pushing the “reset button” on their relations, the United States and Russia on Feb. 5 exchanged the instruments of ratification for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), officially bringing the treaty into force. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed the treaty documents in Germany during the annual Munich Security Conference.

“With the exchange of these instruments,” Clinton said in Munich, “we commit ourselves to a course of action that builds trust, lessens risks, and improves predictability, stability, and security.” She said the two countries will immediately begin notifying each other of changes in their strategic forces, as required by the treaty. Starting March 22, the countries will exchange full data on their strategic nuclear forces for the first time since July 2009. These data exchanges will include information on the numbers, locations, and “unique identifiers” (serial numbers) for deployed and nondeployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers; the numbers of warheads, aggregated by operating base, on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, and counted for deployed heavy bombers (under New START, each deployed bomber is counted as one warhead although it can carry more); the numbers and locations of deployed and nondeployed launchers of ICBMs and SLBMs; and operating bases and test ranges where strategic arms may be located.

With the Feb. 5 entry into force, the United States and Russia, which have not conducted bilateral nuclear inspections since the original START expired on Dec. 5, 2009, can resume inspections in April. New START allows each side to conduct 18 on-site inspections per year and limits each side to 1,550 warheads deployed on 700 strategic missiles and bombers. In addition, the sides are limited to 800 deployed and nondeployed missile launchers and bombers. New START lowers treaty limits on both sides’ deployed nuclear warheads by about 30 percent from previous treaty restrictions.

The U.S. Senate approved New START Dec. 22 after a lengthy debate. (See ACT, January/February 2011.) Russia’s Federation Council, the upper house of the parliament, approved the treaty Jan. 26.

Further U.S.-Russian Reductions?

Resolutions on the treaty passed by both legislatures, as well as recent statements by senior officials, indicate that the next round of bilateral arms reductions may be more complicated. Since New START was signed last April, the Obama administration has reiterated its interest in a follow-on round of negotiations with Russia to address further reductions in strategic nuclear weapons and, for the first time, tactical weapons and warheads in storage. When the Senate approved New START, the resolution of ratification conditioned entry into force on a presidential pledge to seek negotiations with Russia within one year “to secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner” and not to include missile defense in those talks. President Barack Obama made this certification Feb. 2, along with five others required by the Senate.

On Feb. 5 in Munich, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher said that the administration had begun talking with Russia about the full range of post-New START issues. Senior U.S. officials say, however, that they are in no rush to begin formal negotiations because the administration needs six to nine months to formulate its negotiating positions and that the Russians are not ready for new talks because of their concerns about U.S. missile defense plans.

For its part, Russia has been slow to embrace new talks. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov said Feb. 5 in Munich that further arms reductions cannot be achieved without “paying due respect” to factors that could harm strategic stability. He cited the possible U.S. deployment of weapons in outer space, U.S. plans to design nonnuclear strategic missile systems, the U.S.-NATO buildup of strategic missile defenses, and the growing disparity in conventional arms between Russia and NATO. Missile defense, he said, tops the list of Russia’s security concerns. “Any attempt to build a shield inevitably provokes creation of a better sword,” Ivanov said, in reference to U.S. missile defense plans and a possible Russian response. “We can break this vicious cycle only through coordinated efforts,” he said.

Using diplomatic language aimed at lowering expectations for near-term negotiations on tactical weapons, Ivanov said, “[W]e are ready to discuss this very complex topic in the framework of a comprehensive approach to strategic stability.” Referring to the estimated 180 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons based in Europe, Ivanov said that all tactical weapons should be based only on national territory and that “future hypothetical negotiations on tactical nukes must take into consideration not only Russia’s or NATO’s nuclear arsenals, but weapon systems of all nuclear and threshold states.”

North Korea, China, Pakistan, Israel, they are all our neighbors, they are not American neighbors,” Ivanov said, “so we think differently on this balance of strategic power.” Russia is believed to have roughly 3,000-5,000 tactical nuclear weapons; some are operational, and others are in storage.

“Cooperation” on Missile Defense

On missile defense, the respective resolutions of ratification approved by the U.S. and Russian legislatures highlight the challenges ahead. The U.S. resolution expresses opposition to negotiated limits on U.S. missile defenses. But the Russian resolution states that if the United States or “a group of states”—a reference to NATO—deploys a missile defense system “capable of significantly reducing the effectiveness” of Russia’s strategic forces, that would be grounds for Moscow to withdraw from New START and, presumably, reject any future arms reduction treaty.

In other words, the U.S. Senate would likely oppose any future treaty that limits U.S. missile defenses, while Russia’s legislature would not be likely to approve any such treaty unless there were meaningful limits on U.S. defenses. U.S. officials hope this conflict can be at least managed through greater transparency and “cooperation” on missile defense.

The object of Russia’s concern is the U.S.-NATO plan to deploy hundreds of Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) theater missile interceptors in Europe and, within a decade, a new version of the SM-3 with limited capability against strategic ballistic missiles. Called the European Phased Adaptive Approach, the plan calls for interceptor deployments in four phases of increasing range and capability to counter the evolving Iranian missile threat.

At its November 2010 summit in Lisbon, NATO agreed for the first time to deploy a territorial missile defense, based on the U.S.-supplied SM-3. (See ACT, December 2010.) Moscow is primarily concerned about the last of the four phases, called Early Intercept and Regional ICBM Defense, to be deployed around 2020. The Obama administration says the interceptors deployed during that phase would be capable of intercepting possible future ICBMs from Iran. Lavrov said in Munich that if the last stages of the phased approach are implemented, they would directly infringe on the efficacy of the Russian nuclear deterrent.

To defuse this brewing conflict, NATO has invited Russia to cooperate on missile defense. According to a Dec. 18, 2010, letter from Obama to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), this cooperation “could lead to adding Russian capabilities to those deployed by NATO to enhance our common security against common threats.” The letter points out that a cooperative system with Russia “will not be a joint system, and it will not in any way limit [the] United States’ or NATO’s missile defense capabilities.” The United States has stated repeatedly that its missile defenses pose no threat to Russia.

Russia apparently remains unconvinced. “We want to be reassured that whatever you do there doesn’t undermine the stability of deterrence, because deterrence is still with us,” Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, said Feb. 16 at a nuclear policy conference in Arlington, Va. “We haven’t reached a state...between our two countries that would allow us to abolish it. We would like to see it happen. But that’s going to be a long way [off],” he said.

NATO and Russia agreed in Lisbon to explore ways to cooperate on missile defense and to issue a progress report in June. Clinton, speaking in Munich, said that the United States is talking with Russia about missile defense. “[W]e are eager to begin a joint analysis, joint exercises, and sharing of early-warning data that could form the basis for a cooperative missile defense system. We will work together to ensure that our missile defense systems are mutually reinforcing,” she said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently formed a working group within the Russian government to develop ideas for missile defense collaboration with NATO, according to a Feb. 21 Interfax report. “I hope that by this June, when a meeting of defense ministers of the Russia-NATO Council takes place, the Russian delegation would reach certain progress towards agreements with NATO under which the [missile interceptor] system does not put into question our strategic nuclear potential, which is the basis and guarantee of our sovereignty and independence,” said Russia’s NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, who is leading the effort.

“Living Separately in Different Apartments”

Russia has made clear that it has in mind a deeper type of “cooperation” than NATO does. Rogozin told journalists after a Jan. 25 meeting of the NATO-Russia Council working group on missile defense that NATO’s proposals “could not be called cooperation. It’s not even a marriage of convenience. It’s like living separately in different apartments.”

Moscow has called for a combined “sectoral” missile defense in which NATO and Russia each assumes responsibility for countering missile threats over a specific part of Europe. Russian-NATO missile defense work “must be a joint system with shared responsibilities, information exchange and decision-making in order to make us an equal and responsible member,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Feb. 7, according to the Associated Press.

“If two separate networks are built, things won’t change for us and we will see a situation when the NATO system could potentially be used against Russia’s security interests. Cooperating on such a system would mean hurting ourselves,” Ryabkov said.

Russia apparently wants to prevent NATO’s interceptors from being aimed at Russian ICBMs, which could reduce Moscow’s ability to respond to a first strike.

“The principle ‘take it or leave it’ does not work here,” Lavrov said in Munich. “If our concerns are not taken into account, if no equitable, joint work is achieved, then we will have to compensate for the emergent imbalance,” he said, referring to the possibility that Russia could build up its offensive missile forces.

U.S. and European officials, however, say that Russia’s concept of a “joint system” is unrealistic because NATO must retain responsibility for its own defense and, in any case, Russia does not have operational missile interceptors capable of defending European territory. Meanwhile, they say, the eastern European states that formerly were in the Warsaw Pact and now are in NATO want to be defended by NATO, not Russia. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller, the top U.S. arms control negotiator, told the Arlington conference that Obama has decided that “NATO will protect NATO, and that’s the bottom line as far as we’re concerned.”

Alternative to Turkey

Meanwhile, the first phase of the European interceptor deployment, scheduled to be operational later this year, calls for SM-3 interceptors to be based on Aegis ships in the Mediterranean Sea and for a forward-based radar in southeastern Europe. Turkey, the United States’ first choice to host the radar, reportedly has not granted its consent out of concern that information from the radar, called the AN/TPY-2, might be shared with Israel.

In a Feb. 3 letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Republican Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), James Risch (Idaho), Mark Kirk (Ill.), and James Inhofe (Okla.) said they were opposed to Turkey’s conditions and that the United States should consider turning to Georgia to be the host country. “We believe that the Republic of Georgia’s geographic location would make it an ideal site for a missile defense radar aimed at Iran, and would offer clear advantages for the protection of the United States from a long range missile as compared to Turkey,” the senators wrote. “What’s more, the Republic of Georgia should be a significant partner for future defense cooperation with the U.S.Georgia is not a member of NATO, and a proposal to deploy missile defense assets there would likely meet with fierce opposition from Russia.

Delay in finding a suitable host for the AN/TPY-2 radar is just one factor that could cause the schedule for the phased approach to slip. According to a Jan. 26 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the deployment schedule is not adequately synchronized with acquisition, infrastructure, and personnel activities. As a result, the GAO found that the Department of Defense “is at risk of incurring schedule slips, decreased performance, and increased cost as it implements the phases” of the planned approach.


The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty entered into force February 5, but Russia and the United States appear to have difficult negotiations ahead on tactical nuclear weapons and missile defense.


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