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

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement"
July 1, 2020
Shervin Taheran

U.S. to Test INF Treaty-Range Missiles


April 2019
By Shervin Taheran

Just weeks after declaring its intent to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States announced plans to test two missiles this year with ranges that exceed the treaty’s limits. The tests are scheduled to take place after Aug. 2, when the U.S. treaty withdrawal is set to take effect, Defense Department officials told reporters March 13.

The United States plans to test a ground-based variant of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile, shown here in 2003. (Photo: Christopher Senenk/U.S. Navy/Getty Images)First, reportedly in August, the Pentagon plans to test a mobile, ground-launched variant of the Navy’s Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile, with a 1,000-kilometer range. The new cruise missile could be deployed within 18 months, according to defense officials.

Next, a mobile, ground-launched ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers, is likely to be tested in November. The officials said this new weapon will not be ready for deployment for at least five years.

The United States announced on Feb. 2 that it would immediately suspend its adherence to the INF Treaty and withdraw completely from the pact in six months, citing Russian deployments of cruise missiles that U.S. officials said violated the treaty’s range limits. (See ACT, March 2019.) The Pentagon would cancel the scheduled U.S. tests if Russia returns to compliance with the INF Treaty before the U.S. withdrawal, the defense officials said March 13.

There have been no discussions with allies in Europe and Asia about hosting the new missiles, the officials said, but one speculated that the new ballistic missile could be deployed in Guam, a U.S. territory located about 3,000 kilometers from China.

The Defense Department has not yet indicated the cost of developing the new weapons. Last year, Congress approved $48 million for research and development on “concepts and options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems” in response to Russia’s alleged violation of the INF Treaty. (See ACT, November 2018.)

Russia has disputed U.S. claims that its 9M729 cruise missile violates the treaty, but reacted to the U.S. treaty suspension by announcing its own plans to develop weapons that exceed treaty restrictions and by officially matching the U.S. treaty suspension on March 4.

The same day the U.S. suspension was announced, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered preparations for the development of a ground-launched adaptation of the Kalibr nuclear-capable, sea-launched cruise missile. He added that Russia would “not deploy intermediate-range or shorter-range weapons, if we develop weapons of this kind, neither in Europe nor anywhere else, until U.S. weapons of this kind are deployed to the corresponding regions of the world.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has yet to develop plans to prevent Russia from building more ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in the absence of the INF Treaty, according to a senior military leader.

“I don’t know that we have a plan today. I know we’re working on what we think that plan might be,” said U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, head of the U.S. European Command and the NATO supreme allied commander in Europe, in March 5 congressional testimony.

When dealing with peer competitors such as Russia, he added, “we should look toward treaty capabilities in order to provide some stability.”

Treaty-prohibited missiles to be tested after INF Treaty termination.

THAAD Sale to Saudi Arabia Moves Forward

 

The U.S. Defense Department announced March 4 that it recently awarded Lockheed Martin a nearly $1 billion contract to begin work on a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ballistic missile defense package for Saudi Arabia. The contract marks the start of a $15 billion deal for the kingdom to receive 44 THAAD batteries, including 360 missile interceptors.

The contract followed November 2018 letters of offer and acceptance between the United States and Saudi Arabia formalizing terms for the sale of the THAAD launchers, missiles, and related equipment. The $15 billion package is part of a larger $110 billion weapons deal that the United States negotiated with Saudi leaders in 2017.

The November letters were exchanged as the United States was under political pressure to reduce defense cooperation with Saudi Arabia following the October 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a commentator for The Washington Post, and amid concerns about U.S. support for Saudi military actions in Yemen.

The initial sale was approved by the State Department and Congress in August 2017 and November 2017, respectively, when there was speculation that Riyadh was negotiating to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems. Russian-Saudi talks on an S-400 transfer remain underway this year, according to Alexander Mikheyev, chief executive officer of Russia’s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

THAAD Sale to Saudi Arabia Moves Forward

U.S., Israel Conduct Joint THAAD Exercise

For the first time, the United States deployed a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ballistic missile defense battery to Israel for a month-long readiness exercise. The early March exercise served as “a demonstration of the United States’ continued commitment to Israel’s regional security,” said a March 4 statement by the U.S. European Command.

The deployment to southern Israel in the Negev desert was unrelated to a specific event, but helped Israel to integrate the system into the nation’s defenses and “simulate different scenarios,” according to Israel Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.

Designed to intercept short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the THAAD system uses an X-band radar that Israel has deployed at its Nevatim airbase since 2008.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the THAAD system, noting in a March 4 statement that “together with our defense systems we are even stronger in order to deal with near and distant threats from throughout the Middle East.” The deployment occurs during a push to tighten U.S.-Israeli military cooperation following U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of U.S. troop reductions in Syria and amid tensions with Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israeli missile defense systems also include the Iron Dome system, designed to intercept short-range rockets and artillery shells, and Patriot and Arrow ballistic missile defense systems. Israel is testing an advanced version of David’s Sling, an air defense and tactical missile defense system.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

U.S., Israel Conduct Joint THAAD Exercise

Open Skies Treaty Flights Resume in 2019

The United States conducted an airborne surveillance mission over Russia under the auspices of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty on Feb. 21, the first routine treaty flight since 2017. Following agreed procedures, all treaty parties received advance notification of the mission, and six Russian officials flew on the unarmed U.S. aircraft “to monitor all phases of the flight,” said Defense Department spokesperson Lt. Col. Jamie Davis.

Using an OC-135B observation aircraft, shown here in 2000, the United States conducted an Open Skies Treaty flight over Russia in February. It was the first routine treaty flight since 2017. (Photo: Mike Freer/Touchdown Aviation)Last year, there were no regular treaty flights because of a dispute over on-board observers that was resolved in October. There was, however, one “extraordinary flight” on Dec. 6 over Ukraine, requested by Ukraine shortly after a Russian attack on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea.

The United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty by applying excessive restrictions on surveillance flights over Kaliningrad, a sensitive Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania, but U.S. officials expressed hope that the dispute could be settled. Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said on Sept. 18 that Russia has “made overtures that suggest” it could resolve the alleged violation. (See ACT, January/February 2019.)

The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002, aims to increase confidence and transparency between the United States, Russia, and European nations by allowing unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of its participants for information-gathering purposes. The 34 parties have yearly quotas on overflights and must make the collected information available to all treaty parties.—SHERVIN TAHERAN
 

Open Skies Treaty Flights Resume in 2019

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, March 20, 2019

U.S. Plans Flight Tests of INF-Treaty Range Missiles Defense Department officials told a group of reporters March 13 that the Pentagon is planning to test two types of conventional missiles currently prohibited by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by the end of this year. The announcement comes just over a month after the Trump administration announced Feb. 2 that it would withdraw from the treaty Aug. 2 unless Russia returns to compliance with the agreement. The first missile, a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of roughly 1,000 km (600 miles), will likely be...

CBO Predicts Increased Nuclear Arsenal Costs


March 2019
By Shervin Taheran

The United States will spend nearly half a trillion dollars over the next 10 years to sustain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, according to a January report from congressional auditors. The estimate is 23 percent higher than a previous 10-year forecast conducted two years ago.

Projected costs for the still-under-development B-21 strategic bomber will contribute to a significant increase in U.S. nuclear weapons spending over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. (Photo: Northrop Grumman)The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report includes the projected costs to sustain and modernize U.S. delivery vehicles, warheads, and their associated infrastructure. The $494 billion estimate includes spending by the Defense Department and the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration from this year through 2028. The CBO estimates that nuclear forces account for roughly 6 percent of the total 10-year cost of all national defense programs.

A 2017 CBO report estimated 10-year spending at $400 billion. (See ACT, March 2017.) The new estimate’s $94 billion increase reflects some spending that was not included in the date range of the previous report and inflationary adjustments, but about 40 percent of the boost reflects plans to increase spending on new weapons, cost growth in some existing modernization programs, and “more concrete” modernization plans for nuclear command-and-control systems.

The CBO report notes that the Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review factored into the increased costs, and the report points to three particular new efforts that are projected to increase the total estimated costs by $17 billion over the next 10 years: a new sea-launched cruise missile; a nuclear warhead with a relatively low yield for submarine-launched ballistic missiles; and a plutonium pit production boost to at least 80 pits per year by 2030.

Notable Increases

Estimated costs of U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories and supporting activities came to $106 billion over the next 10 years, an increase of $19 billion over the 2017 estimate. Modernization costs for nuclear command, control, communications, and early-warning systems were estimated to grow by $19 billion, to $77 billion, over 10 years, although the CBO report indicates there is substantial uncertainty due to plans still being formulated.

The cost of U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) jumped to $61 billion over 10 years, $18 billion more than the 2017 estimate, largely attributed to the ramp-up in development of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program and the inclusion of advancing development costs for a new re-entry vehicle and interoperable warheads for the new ICBMs.

Forecasted spending on U.S. ballistic missile submarines also increased significantly, with the report estimating
a total of $107 billion over 10 years, an increase of $17 billion from the previous estimate.

The CBO report estimates that the United States will spend $49 billion over 10 years on strategic bombers, but a footnote explains that this projection covers only partial costs of the B-52 bomber and the new B-21 bomber. If the full cost of B-52 and B-21 bombers were included, the footnote states, bomber costs would total $104 billion over 10 years, and the total cost of nuclear forces would be $559 billion.

Cost-Saving Alternatives

Many nuclear experts and policymakers have expressed concern about the rising costs, their impact on other national security priorities, and whether the spending plans are sustainable. To address some of these issues, the CBO released a Dec. 2018 update to a biennial report, “Options for Reducing the Deficit,” which identified savings of approximately $100 billion over 10 years by modifying the number of warheads and delivery systems, deferring modernization programs, and canceling some programs. This estimate is over 40 percent larger than the savings the CBO projected in its previous deficit-reduction report in 2016. (See ACT, January/February 2017.) The difference reflects the CBO’s inclusion in the newer report of additional cost-saving options, such as cancelling the new ICBM in the GBSD program and replacing the interoperable nuclear warhead program with less expensive life extension programs, for savings of $30.4 billion.

 

The estimated cost of sustaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons over the next 10 years has
increased 23 percent.

MOX Program Suffers ‘Irreversible’ Blow


A U.S. federal appeals court delivered a further blow Jan. 8 to efforts to salvage a U.S. program to build a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility in South Carolina.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has called the U.S. decision to cancel construction of a mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant in his state a "colossal mistake" and “shortsighted.” (Photo: Adem Altana/AFP/Getty Images)The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a district court injunction that prevented the U.S. Energy Department from pursuing its plans to end the controversial MOX fuel program. (See ACT, December 2018.)

Adding to the court ruling, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a Feb. 8 cancellation of contractor CB&I AREVA MOX Services’ license to continue with the project.

Tom Clements, director of the nuclear facility monitoring group Savannah River Site Watch, hailed the “irreversible step” to cancel the license and applauded the decision to end the “wasteful, mismanaged project.”

At one time, the United States intended to dispose of surplus plutonium from its nuclear weapons program by using the material to manufacture fuel for civilian nuclear power plants.  After years of ebbs and flows on that policy decision, the Energy Department decided in October 2018 to terminate plans for the fuel fabrication plant and pursue a “dilute and dispose” plan instead. Nearly $6 billion has been sunk into the canceled project, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated last year. The termination also resulted in more than 1,000 employee layoffs by the end of January, according to local news reports.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a MOX fuel project supporter, called the decision to terminate the program a “colossal mistake” and “shortsighted.”

There are now plans to turn the incomplete MOX fuel facility into a production center for plutonium pits, the fissile core of the first stage of a modern nuclear weapon, to implement the Trump administration’s directive to increase pit production.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

MOX Program Suffers ‘Irreversible’ Blow

Report Blows Whistle on Saudi Nuclear Talks


Trump administration efforts to promote the sale of civilian nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia drew renewed congressional scrutiny in February. The U.S. House Oversight Committee released a Feb. 19 report describing White House efforts to rush the sale of nuclear power reactors while underplaying the legal obligations of the Atomic Energy Act, which requires the negotiation of a bilateral agreement to ensure nuclear technology is not misused.

Hashim Yamani, president of the King Abdullah City of Atomic and Renewable Energy, arrives for a 2016 White House visit. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)The report describes the concerns of White House national security staff that the administration undertook “unethical and potentially illegal” actions in 2017 to see through a sale of nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia. The report points particularly to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former National Security Council staff director Derek Harvey, among several other named former officials or associates of President Donald Trump, including his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to adopt the “gold standard” of these agreements, known as 123 agreements for the section of the law that applies to them, has worried nuclear nonproliferation experts. Nations adopting that standard, such as the United Arab Emirates in 2009 and Taiwan in 2013, agree to forgo enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium and to adopt an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to confirm the peaceful nature of their nuclear activities. Concerns about Saudi Arabia grew after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said last year that Saudi Arabia would develop nuclear weapons if Iran did and after the October 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. (See ACT, December 2018.)

Meanwhile, members of Congress have continued to scrutinize the 123 agreement negotiations by introducing legislation that would increase congressional oversight. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs nonproliferation subcommittee, has offered bills to give Congress a more active role in approving 123 agreements. A Feb. 12 bipartisan resolution by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) says that any agreement with Saudi Arabia should adhere to the gold standard.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Report Blows Whistle on Saudi Nuclear Talks

Controversy Over Nuclear Safety Board Scope and Size

Overlooked but significant controversies have been simmering about an independent government board in charge of overseeing safety standards and practices at the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons complex, and the battle for independent oversight between the board and the agency. These issues are made all the more concerning against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s costly and expanding plans to recapitalize the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and increase the production of plutonium cores for nuclear weapons. In May 2018, the Energy Department issued Order 140.1 , which would change...

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch | INAUGURAL ISSUE, Feb 21, 2019

INF Treaty Suspension Opens the Door to New Missile Pursuits The United States and Russia formally suspended their obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty Feb. 2. The United States formally informed the other parties to the treaty that it would withdraw in six months if Russia did not eliminate its nuclear-capable 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile, which the United States intelligence community assesses can fly beyond the 500-kilometer range limit set by the treaty. The announcement opens the door to accelerated work by the United States on research and...

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