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– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Kingston Reif

Arms Control Association Urges Passage of the House Version of the FY 2020 NDAA

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For Immediate Release: July 12, 2019

Media Contacts: Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104

(Washington, DC)—The Arms Control Association strongly supports the House version of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill, which the House will vote on Friday, would place a much-needed check on the Trump administration’s unnecessary, unsustainable, and unsafe plans to augment the role of and increase spending on nuclear weapons and undermine critical arms control and nonproliferation agreements.

We applaud in particular the leadership of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) for his efforts to reorient U.S. nuclear policy and shepherd the strongest and most sensible NDAA in recent memory on the issue to the brink of final passage.

The House NDAA would prohibit deployment of a new and more usable low-yield warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles as proposed in the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, express support for extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and require reports on the implications of allowing the treaty to expire in 2021 with nothing to replace it, prohibit funding to develop land-based, intermediate-range missiles banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and reduce funding to build a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles and expand the production of plutonium pits.

In addition, the bill would prohibit funding for any use of military force in or against Iran unless Congress has declared war or in the event of a national emergency created by an Iranian attack upon the United States.

By passing the legislation, the House would greatly increase its leverage to retain these and many other important provisions in upcoming conference negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate. Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill rubber stamps the Trump administration’s redundant and reckless effort to expand U.S. nuclear capabilities.

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The Arms Control Association strongly supports the House version of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would place a much-needed check on the Trump administration's nuclear weapons policies.

National Missile Defense Set Back


July/August 2019
By Kingston Reif

The problem-plagued system designed to defend the U.S. homeland against a limited long-range ballistic missile attack has suffered another setback, throwing into doubt the Pentagon’s plans to improve the capability and expand the size of the system.

The United States tests a Ground-based Interceptor (GBI) on March 25 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Missile Defense Agency has stopped all work on the Redesigned Kill Vehicle that was once to be launched toward targets by GBIs.  (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)On May 24, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) directed Boeing Co., the lead contractor for the $67 billion Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, to stop all work on a new kill vehicle for the system after spending about $700 million on the effort.

A Defense Department spokeswoman told Inside Defense on May 24 that the department “has determined that the current plan is not viable and has initiated an analysis of alternative courses of action.”

The department’s decision follows years of warnings from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) about the feasibility of MDA plans for the new kill vehicle, known as the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV).

The RKV joins several other high-profile missile defense efforts over the past decade that have been canceled while under development and after several billion dollars was spent on them. These include the precision tracking space system, the airborne laser, and the kinetic energy interceptor.

The RKV was intended to be more reliable and cost effective than the current generation of kill vehicles amid an evolving threat, particularly from North Korea.

The MDA planned to deploy the RKV beginning in 2021 atop 20 additional interceptors in Alaska to augment the existing fleet of 44 interceptors there and in California. The GMD system has an intercept success rate of just more than 50 percent in controlled testing.

The demise of the RKV raises several questions about MDA plans, including if and how it will expand the number of interceptors, how long the current kill vehicles can reliably remain in service, and whether additional intercept tests of those kill vehicles will take place.

Trouble From the Start

There have been serious concerns about the GMD system since it was rushed into service by the George W. Bush administration in 2004.

The system has never been tested against complex decoys and countermeasures that North Korea could develop. In addition, 20 of the 44 currently deployed interceptors are armed with an older prototype kill vehicle design known as the CE-I, which failed to intercept the target in its last test in 2013 and has not had a successful interception since 2008.

In recent years, the GMD system appeared to be making some progress. The three most recent intercept tests have been successful, including the first against an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-class target, in May 2017, and the first simulating an attack against more than one target, in March 2019. (See ACT, May 2019.)

Then came the cancellation of the RKV. The MDA announced in March 2014 that it would build and deploy by 2020 a redesigned kill vehicle that would have better performance and be more easily producible, testable, and maintainable than the current versions. (See ACT, July/August 2014.) The program soon encountered trouble.

The United States plans to spend nearly $500 billion to maintain and replace its nuclear arsenal over the next decade—a level of spending that is unnecessary, unsustainable, and unsafe. Learn more.

In May 2017, the GAO raised several red flags in an annual report assessing the MDA’s progress on developing, fielding, and maintaining the U.S. ballistic missile defense system. For example, the U.S. Northern Command and the U.S. Strategic Command questioned whether the seeker planned for the kill vehicle would be able “to detect and track threats in an ICBM-range environment,” according to the GAO.

The GAO recommended that the Defense Department conduct a comprehensive review of the RKV program, but the department did not perform such a review.

Despite the warnings, the MDA in late 2017 announced plans to accelerate development of the RKV while planning to increase the number of ground-based interceptors in Alaska from 40 to 60 between 2021 and 2023. The agency planned to begin deploying the new kill vehicle after a single flight intercept test.

The GAO said in May 2018 that the revised plan was “inconsistent with the acquisition best practice to ‘fly before you buy,’” as the MDA will begin production “based on the results of design reviews rather than flight testing.”

The agency’s revision of the RKV acquisition plan “is more likely to prolong the effort rather than accelerate it,” the GAO added.

Nearly two years later, the MDA announced in its fiscal year 2020 budget request plans that it would delay the fielding of the RKV, as well as the fielding of the additional 20 interceptors in Alaska, citing design issues. (See ACT, April 2019.)

Rear Adm. Jon Hill, the MDA deputy director, told reporters on March 12 that it would have been “the wrong step” to repeat the mistake the Bush administration made in 2004 in deploying the GMD system despite “reliability issues.”

The GAO noted in its June 2019 report that the RKV program “accepted too much risk and has since experienced development challenges that set the program back likely by over two years and increased the program’s cost by nearly $600 million.”

The Pentagon issued its stop work order for the RKV a few days before the GAO issued its report.

Next Steps Uncertain

The RKV was supposed to be the solution to the performance issues afflicting the existing GMD system kill vehicles and the path to expanding the system to address the advancing North Korean long-range missile threat. Instead, the MDA is back at square one.

“[T]he goal of the RKV program remains critical to ensuring that the nation’s only defense against rogue threats is reliable and effective,” a House committee staffer told Arms Control Today in a June 20 email. “As the U.S. is expanding the capacity of [ground-based interceptors] to 64, the need to deliver a reliable and effective kill vehicle becomes even more necessary,” the staffer said.

The need for a next-generation kill vehicle is especially acute for the 20 interceptors armed with the CE-I. The oldest kill vehicle in the fleet was fielded between 2004 and 2007. According to the GAO, ground-based interceptors “only have an initial service life of 20 years and [the] MDA previously decided not to make any upgrades to the CE-I because of initial plans to begin replacing them with RKVs in 2020.”

One option would be to reopen the production line for the latest configuration of the newer CE-II kill vehicle. The MDA does not appear to have any flight tests planned for this kill vehicle because it had planned to focus on testing and fielding the RKV.

The House committee staffer said that, with the RKV program delay, the Defense Department “should look for opportunities to test the existing fleet to address service life and obsolescence issues.”

Meanwhile, the future of another new kill vehicle development effort, the multiple object kill vehicle, is also uncertain. The MDA had planned to begin fielding that kill vehicle, which would allow a single GMD interceptor to destroy multiple targets, in 2025. But the fiscal year 2020 budget request would provide only $13.6 million for the program, which would significantly delay it. The request follows two years in which lawmakers provided $112 million, a reduction of $330 million below the MDA’s request.

 

The future of a major U.S. missile defense system has grown uncertain after the Pentagon canceled a long-planned upgrade.

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Trump Arms Control Plans Draw Criticism


June 2019
By Kingston Reif and Shervin Taheran

Amid growing concern about the future of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control efforts, the Trump administration is still evaluating a potential extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and appears to lack a clear plan to achieve a newly announced goal of negotiating more comprehensive agreements with Russia and China.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 14. The two agreed that the United States and Russia will hold meetings to discuss a broad range of arms control issues. (Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)A decision on whether to extend New START is one that President Donald Trump “will make at some point next year,” said Tim Morrison, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense at the National Security Council, in May 29 remarks at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

Administration officials have repeatedly downplayed the risks of the treaty expiring in February 2021 with nothing to replace it. They also have provided few details on how they would persuade Russia to limit broader categories of weapons and China to participate in arms control talks for the first time.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters following a May 14 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Sochi, Russia, that the United States and Russia “agreed that…we will gather together teams that will begin to work not only on New START and its potential extension, but on a broader range of arms control issues that each of our two nations have.”

It remains unclear when such talks will begin, how frequently they will take place, who will lead the negotiating teams, what the Trump administration would be willing to offer for concessions from Russia and China, and whether New START would be extended in the absence of progress on a more comprehensive deal.

New START, which caps deployed U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 warheads and 700 missiles and bombers each, allows the two sides to extend the pact for up to five years until 2026 without requiring U.S. Senate approval.

U.S. officials, notably National Security Advisor John Bolton, have criticized New START because it limits deployed strategic nuclear weapons only. Before joining the Trump administration, Bolton was a frequent and vocal critic of New START, castigating the agreement as unilateral disarmament.

“What we need to focus on is the comprehensive nuclear threat,” Morrison said. “The higher priority is the totality of the Russian and Chinese [nuclear] programs, because we have so much time left on the clock for New START.”

New START Review Ongoing

Several issues would affect the administration’s treaty extension decision, said Andrea Thompson, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 15. They include Russia’s development of new types of strategic weapons systems and modernization of its large stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, its “record of being a serial violator and selective implementer of the arms control obligations and commitments that it undertakes,” and “China’s lack of transparency regarding the scope and scale of its nuclear modernization program” and unwillingness to discuss nuclear weapons issues with the United States.

Thompson and David Trachtenberg, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, largely refused to provide the administration’s views on what the implications would be for U.S. security without New START. Trachtenberg testified alongside Thompson at the May 15 hearing.

Asked by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the senior Democrat on the committee, whether Russia could target the United States with “hundreds or perhaps thousands of additional nuclear warheads” in the absence of the treaty, Thompson replied, “That is a great question for Russia.”

The testimony from Thompson and Trachtenberg on New START disturbed the Democratic committee members.

“Extending New START would be, in my mind, an easy decision,” said Menendez. “It's very difficult to understand why the administration would discard the robust constraints, transparency, and verification measures of New START with nothing to replace them.”

Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) strongly criticized any treaty extension. “Under present circumstances with [Russia’s] cheating and other things that they do, I'm opposed to extension,” he said.

Russia has repeatedly expressed interest in an extension, but it has raised concerns about U.S. procedures to remove submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and some B-52 bombers from treaty accountability. (See ACT, March 2019.)

“The extension of the New START is not a simple technicality that could be resolved in a couple of weeks,” Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, said on May 6 at the University of Pennsylvania. “Serious issues must first be settled.”

These concerns have not been well received by the White House. “We shouldn’t presuppose that the Russians are interested in extending the treaty,” Morrison said. “If they were, they wouldn’t be creating false narratives about U.S. compliance with the treaty.”

Broader Talks Scrutinized

The Trump administration’s desire to negotiate new arms control agreements with Russia and China has drawn criticism.

Russia has expressed a willingness to begin a dialogue with the United States on arms control and strategic stability, but it has its own list of concerns about U.S. policies and weapons systems, including missile defense systems, cyberweapons, weapons development in space, and advanced conventional arms.

The Trump administration has shown no indication that it would be willing to limit these weapons in an agreement with Russia or China. Even if it were willing to do so, it is highly unlikely an agreement could be reached before New START expires in less than two years.

Trump told reporters on May 3 that he had already spoken to China about a trilateral nuclear arms control deal and that “they very much would like to be a part of that deal.”

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on May 6, however, that China “will not take part in any trilateral negotiations on a nuclear disarmament agreement.”

China is estimated to possess about 300 nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists. In contrast, the United States and Russia are believed to possess more than 6,000 warheads each. China has never been a party to any agreement that limits the number or types of its nuclear weaponry.

In a May 6 interview in Finland, Pompeo acknowledged that a trilateral deal involving China and that covers all types of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons might be “too ambitious.” He noted that there are “just a couple years left before New START expires” and that it may be necessary to address the expiration of the treaty “on a bilateral basis.”

Asked at the May 15 hearing why he believed that China would want to engage in disarmament talks with the United States and Russia given Beijing’s much smaller nuclear arsenal, Trachtenberg replied that he could not “get into the mind of the Chinese leadership.” He said that “China should accept the responsibilities of a major power in the world today” by “engaging with respect to its nuclear arsenal.”

Menendez welcomed the administration’s interest in expanding the scope of arms control, but warned that “the limitations and verification measures of New START must remain in place while any such negotiation occurs.”

New START Bills Proposed

Democrats and one notable Republican have proposed several pieces of legislation in support of extending New START.

On May 9, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the committee’s top Republican, introduced a bill titled “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces.” The bill expresses the sense of Congress that New START should be extended by five years unless Russia is determined to be in material breach of the agreement or the treaty is replaced by a pact that contains equal or greater verifiable constraints on Russian nuclear forces.

The legislation also would require several briefings and reports, including an intelligence assessment of how the expiration of New START would affect the size and posture of Russian nuclear forces and the additional intelligence capabilities the United States would need to compensate for the loss of the treaty’s extensive transparency and on-site monitoring provisions.

The bill mirrors a similar piece of legislation introduced in March by Menendez and Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) titled “New START Policy 5 Act of 2019.”

In addition, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a bill on May 2 called “Save Arms Control and Verification Efforts (SAVE) Act” that calls for extending New START and would specifically prohibit any funding to increase the U.S. deployed strategic nuclear arsenal above the treaty limits through Feb. 5, 2026, if the president does not extend or attempts to withdraw from the treaty.

Opponents of New START have also introduced legislation on the treaty. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bill on May 13 that would prohibit the use of funding to implement an extension of New START or any successor agreement unless the agreement includes China and covers Russia's entire inventory of strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) introduced companion legislation in the House.

The Trump administration has expressed interest in new strategic arms control talks, but specific suggestions remain unknown.

Pentagon Shifts Nuclear Funds for Wall

June 2019
By Kingston Reif

The Defense Department plans to help fund President Donald Trump’s goal of building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border by transferring $54 million appropriated by Congress in fiscal year 2019 to sustain U.S. nuclear missiles.

The United States conducts a May 1 test of a Minuteman III ICBM from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Pentagon plans to transfer funds from a Minuteman III upgrade program, among other U.S. nuclear weapons activities, to support Trump administration plans to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. (Photo: Aubree Milks/Defense Department)Although the amount is a fraction of the more than $24 billion Congress appropriated for nuclear forces at the department this year, the funding shift appears to contradict repeated statements from Pentagon officials that nuclear weapons are the Pentagon’s top priority.

Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, told Congress on May 1 that “[t]hree secretaries of defense have called nuclear deterrence the [Defense Department's] number one priority. It's very clear.”

The May 9 reprogramming transfers $24.3 million, out of an appropriation of $125 million, from the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile Launch Control Block Upgrade program. A document outlining the details of reprogramming states that funds are available due to a “slip in the production schedule for” the program.

The reprogramming also transfers $29.6 million, out of an appropriation of $47.6 million, for sustaining the nuclear air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). According to the department, money is “available due to contract savings” and “lack of executable requirements.”

The Air Force has initiated programs to replace the Minuteman III and the ALCM with a new fleet of missiles.

The transfers are part of a larger $1.5 billion reprogramming of appropriated department funds for the wall and come on top of shifts of $1 billion in funding from Army personnel accounts and $3.6 billion in funding for military construction projections that the Pentagon is repurposing for the wall.

In addition to transferring money from the two nuclear missile projects, the Pentagon also intends to shift $251 million from the Chemical Agent and Munitions Destruction program, a long-running effort to destroy the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile. Congress provided the department with $887 million for chemical destruction in fiscal year 2019.

The reprogramming document states that money is “available due to unexpected prior year funding plus current
year appropriation that was found to be more than sufficient to cover the…program[’]s funding needs.”

The United States has been destroying its declared arsenal of 28,000 metric tons of chemical agents, second in size to Russia’s, since the 1990s. It has destroyed about 90 percent and is scheduled to complete destruction by 2023. The United States, which has completed destruction of five of its stockpiles, currently operates a chemical weapons destruction facility in Colorado and plans to open one in Kentucky in a few years. (See ACT, November 2017.)

According to the Pentagon, the transfer of funds “does not inhibit the ability to pursue efforts/technologies to accelerate the destruction of the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpile.”

To pay for expanding the U.S.-Mexican border wall, the Defense Department is moving funds from nuclear weapon projects, once called the Pentagon’s top priority.

Congress Seeks Decision on Missile Defense Site

 

House Democrats and Republicans continue to press the Defense Department to designate a preferred location for a third long-range ballistic missile defense interceptor site.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan testifies to Congress in March. He has not announced where the Pentagon would like to build a third missile defense site in the United States. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on May 1 that a decision on a preferred site had been made and that he would share the result with Congress later that day. Shanahan has yet to announce a decision.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) has similarly pressed the Pentagon to make a final designation.

The current system to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited long-range missile attack, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, consists of interceptor sites in Alaska and California.

In the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required the Defense Department to conduct a study to evaluate at least three possible new long-range interceptor sites that could augment the GMD system, including at least two on the East Coast.

The Defense Department announced in 2016 that it had completed a draft environmental impact statement of three possible locations: Fort Drum in New York, Camp Garfield Joint Training Center in Ohio, and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan.

Fort Drum is located in Stefanik’s congressional district while Ryan represents Camp Garfield.

The fiscal year 2016 and 2018 defense authorization bills directed the Pentagon to designate a preferred location for a third site. Nevertheless, the Trump administration’s “2019 Missile Defense Review” report, published in January, said that no decision has been made to deploy a third GMD site and that the location for a potential site “will be informed by multiple pertinent factors at the time.” (See ACT, March 2019.)

The Missile Defense Agency has repeatedly stated that the estimated cost of $3–4 billion to build such a site would be better spent on improving the capabilities of the existing GMD system.—KINGSTON REIF

Congress Seeks Decision on Missile Defense Site

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