"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
The United States and the Americas

U.S. Says Ukraine Gives Cluster Munitions Assurances

September 2023
By Gabriela Iveliz Rosa Hernández

Following months of internal debate, the United States approved the transfer to Ukraine of thousands of cluster munitions worth up to $250 million after Kyiv offered assurances regarding their use.

Firemen try to put out fire at Donetsk University of Economics and Trade in Russian-occupied Donetsk, Ukraine, on Aug. 5. The city’s mayor told reporters that Ukrainian forces used cluster munitions to attack the building. The United States recently provided Ukraine with cluster munitions, which are banned by more than 100 countries. (Photo by Victor/Xinhua via Getty Images)Cluster munitions are banned by more than 100 countries, including many U.S. allies, because they scatter bomblets across battlefields that sometimes fail to explode on impact and can kill or maim combatants and civilians who encounter duds long after the fighting ends.

The agreement between Washington and Kyiv on July 7 is classified. “The Ukrainian government has offered us assurances in writing on the responsible use of [cluster munitions], including that they will not use the rounds in civilian-populated urban environments and that they will record where they use these rounds, which will simplify later demining efforts,” Colin Kahl, U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, told a press conference.

When asked by Arms Control Today about the assurances, a U.S. State Department official referred to a tweet by Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov on July 7. The tweet read, “We will not be using cluster munitions in urban areas (cities) to avoid the risks for the civilian populations—these are our people; they are Ukrainians we have a duty to protect. Cluster munitions will be used only in the fields where there is a concentration of Russian military.”

According to another U.S. State Department official on Aug. 3, the assurances cover the batch of Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) approved on July 7, but likely would apply to the next batch as a baseline if the United States decided to approve another transfer. These weapons have a rate of unexploded ordnance higher than 1 percent.

Reznikov’s tweet said that cluster munitions would not be used on the internationally recognized territory of Russia and that Ukraine will keep a strict record of the use of these weapons and their locations.

Ukraine is to report such details to its partners to ensure the appropriate standard of transparent reporting and control. Following the expulsion of Russian forces from Ukraine's internationally recognized territories, these territories will be prioritized for demining efforts, according to Reznikov. According to CNN, Ukraine submitted its first report on cluster munitions use, including the rounds fired and the number of Russian targets destroyed, after a U.S. request on Aug. 9. Two weeks later, the Washington Post reported that the United States was satisfied with Kyiv's follow-through.

Asked by Arms Control Today to comment about the possibility of future cluster munitions transfers to Ukraine by allies who are not states-parties to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), the first State Department official said that the United States would not discourage or encourage such transfers and that such a decision would be a bilateral matter between the ally and Ukraine. But Washington would like allies to establish assurances similar to those already established with Ukraine on how the weapons will be used, the official said.

In January, U.S. allies such as Estonia also were weighing giving Ukraine cluster munitions, according to EER, an Estonian newspaper. Foreign Policy reported that Turkey allegedly sent similar munitions to Ukraine in November 2022, but Turkey and Ukraine denied that transfer. Meanwhile, Lithuania’s defense minister on Aug. 25 suggested that Vilnius should leave the CCM so it can “acquire and use” cluster munitions, the Lithuanian public broadcaster reported.

Ukrainian officials repeatedly have asked the United States for cluster munitions to defend against the Russian invasion. After finally agreeing, the Biden administration said the decision was not taken lightly. It assessed that the current monthly production of U.S. artillery rounds would not meet Ukraine’s needs. (See ACT, January/February 2023; October 2022).

“Ukraine is short on artillery, and being short on artillery, it is vulnerable to Russian counterattacks that could subjugate more Ukrainian civilians. That is the thinking behind our decision,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on July 7.

Kahl said that the cluster munitions delivered to Ukraine will consist only of those with a dud rate of less than 2.35 percent. “Compare that to Russia, which has been using cluster munitions across Ukraine with dud rates of between 30 and 40 percent,” he said.

But The New York Times reported that the cluster munitions sent to Ukraine are generally known to have a failure rate of 14 percent or more under real-world conditions. The newspaper identified the U.S. munitions as 155mm M864 weapons that can deliver 72 dual-purpose grenades to the target area.

During the first year of the war, Russia is estimated to have fired cluster munitions from a range of weapons, expending tens of millions of submunitions, or bomblets, across Ukraine. Ukraine also has used them to defend against Russia’s brutal assault, although far less often than Russia, according to Human Rights Watch.

Russia, Ukraine, and the United States have not joined the CCM, which prohibits states-parties from developing, producing, acquiring, using, transferring, or stockpiling cluster munitions, but 23 NATO members have.

Civil society groups condemned Washington’s decision to provide cluster munitions. “Beyond making the United States a global outlier, acting in contradiction to partner nations’ and NATO allies’ express ban on and statements against the transfer and use of these weapons could hurt the U.S. ability to forge and maintain coalitions that have been so crucial to supporting Ukraine, and undermines the United States’ ability to criticize other governments who use them. It would also harm efforts to promote other arms control agreements,” the U.S. Cluster Munitions Coalition said in a statement on July 7.

Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom reaffirmed support for the CCM. The U.S. cluster munitions transfer and other issues will be discussed Sept. 11-14 in Geneva during the 11th meeting of state-parties to the convention.

The United States transferred the weapons, which are banned in more than 100 countries, after Ukraine said they will be used against Russian forces, not in civilian-populated urban areas. 


Lawmakers Seek Overdue Justice for Nuclear Victims

September 2023
By Chris Rostampour

Renewed bipartisan efforts are underway to extend and expand a federal program that offers health care benefits and compensation to some victims of U.S. nuclear weapons production and testing.

Tina Cordova (L) and Laura Greenwood of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium demonstrate to call attention to the legacy of the U.S. nuclear testing program and urge federal medical and other compensation for those still suffering the disastrous effects of those tests. (Photo courtesy of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium)On July 27, a group of lawmakers led by U.S. Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) secured enough votes to advance legislation that would extend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) for 19 years and expand its historical and geographical coverage.

The legislation, an amendment to the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed the Senate by a 61-37 vote. It still must be approved by a House-Senate conference committee.

RECA originally passed Congress in 1990 with bipartisan support. It aims to provide compensation for some victims exposed to radiation during U.S. atmospheric nuclear testing and employees of the U.S. uranium mining industry. The program, which expires in 2024, has been revised multiple times, but several impacted communities and individuals suffering lingering health effects have never received recognition or assistance despite a decades-long struggle.

Communities that would be eligible for compensation for the first time include individuals in Missouri who were impacted by nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project and the Downwinders in New Mexico, who were affected by the 1945 Trinity Test. In addition, RECA would be amended to recognize new regions in Arizona, Colorado, Guam, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah among those affected by nuclear testing. Coverage also would be expanded to new categories of employees in the U.S. uranium mining industry, including former workers from 1971 to 1990.

Republicans and Democrats advocating for RECA’s expansion are working to keep the usual party politics of the NDAA process from scuttling the amendment.

Luján highlighted this collaboration on Aug. 9 as President Joe Biden visited Belen, N.M., as part of a tour of the U.S. Southwest.

“Mr. President, we’re fighting with everything that we have with members of the Senate and the House across the country in hopes that we can keep this in the National Defense Authorization Act and make sure that these families are seen and get the help that they deserve,” Luján said.

Biden responded that he is “prepared to help in terms of making sure that those folks are taken care of.”

The following day, Hawley issued a statement saying, “Compensating victims of government-caused nuclear contamination and negligence should not be a partisan issue. It’s about justice.”

According to the Justice Department, RECA since its inception has awarded more than $2.6 billion to more than 54,000 claimants.

For decades, advocates have tried to bring attention to the environmental and humanitarian impacts of U.S. nuclear tests, including 216 atmospheric tests at various sites around the country and in the U.S. territories in the Pacific Ocean.

New scientific research released in June revealed that the fallout from the U.S. atmospheric tests was significantly underestimated. The study, from Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, documented how 94 nuclear blasts in New Mexico and Nevada spewed radiation across the entire country and reached beyond the U.S. borders to Canada and Mexico.

Renewed bipartisan efforts are underway to expand a federal program offering health care and compensation to victims of U.S. nuclear weapons testing. 

U.S. Completes Landmark CWC Destruction

September 2023
By Mina Rozei

After decades of effort, the United States completed the destruction of its vast chemical weapons arsenal and marked the final step in eliminating the world’s known chemical weapons stockpiles.

Operators place the last M55 rocket containing GB nerve agent on a conveyor to begin the destruction process at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant on July 7. This was the last munition destroyed in the declared U.S. chemical weapons stockpile. (Photo by U.S. Army)Apart from the four countries that remain nonsignatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)—Egypt, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan—every nation in the world is now free of its verified chemical weapons arsenals.

Russia and Syria have been accused by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversees the CWC, and many countries for holding secret stocks and using them against adversaries in recent years.

The CWC prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, and retention of chemical weapons.

The main goal of the convention, ratified in 1997, is the verification and destruction of all known chemical weapons stockpiles. The United States declared that it possessed nearly 30,000 metric tons of chemical weapons. Russia declared that it had roughly 40,000 metric tons of chemical weapons in its stockpile, the world’s largest.

When the United States ratified the convention in 1997, it was given 10 years to completely and verifiably destroy its chemical weapons arsenal at its nine military sites. After the United States received two five-year extensions from the OPCW, the final destruction deadline was set for Sept. 30, 2023, for the two remaining sites, at Blue Grass, Kentucky, and Pueblo, Colorado. Although there were doubts about whether this date could be met, the process was completed in July, more than two months early.

U.S. officials worried that adversaries such as Iran, Syria, and Russia would point to the delays as evidence of hypocrisy and undermine the U.S. commitment to eliminating chemical weapons. According to Craig Williams, head of the Kentucky Citizens Advisory Commission at the Blue Grass facility, meeting safety and environmental standards was crucial to the process. “The primary challenge was convincing the military to abandon their selected technology, incineration (with no public input), and implementing an acceptable alternative, neutralization,” he said.

The destruction of all known chemical weapons stockpiles was a turning point in arms control more broadly, not just for the CWC regime. But other serious issues remain. Although Russia is a CWC state-party, questions have been raised about its treaty compliance. Russia’s use of chemical weapons in assassinations and its alliance with the Syrian regime highlight cracks in CWC implementation.

OPCW investigative teams determined that Syria used chemical weapons on multiple occasions between 2013 and 2018 in the Syrian civil war and that Islamic State forces also used them. In addition, four countries still have not joined the treaty.

Meanwhile, new challenges face the Blue Grass and Pueblo facilities and the people who work there. According to Irene Kornelly, head of the Citizens Advisory Commission at the Pueblo site, “The closure of the chemical destruction facility is the biggest issue facing the Pueblo community. The goal is to make this property a viable part of the Pueblo community with jobs and a vibrant economy.”

These accomplishments and challenges will be on the agenda when the 28th conference of CWC states-parties convenes in The Hague on Nov. 27-Dec. 1.

The destruction of the last U.S. chemical weapon marked the final step in eliminating the world’s known stockpiles.  

Congressman Aims to Bolster U.S. Hypersonics Testing

July/August 2023
By Shannon Bugos

The Pentagon’s efforts to develop and deploy new hypersonic weapons to rival those of China and Russia may receive a funding boost from Congress in order to overcome its insufficient testing infrastructure.

Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala. (R), talks with Admiral John C. Aquilino, commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, during the House Armed Services Committee hearing in April that included discussion of hypersonic weapons.  (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, vowed to make hypersonic capabilities a top priority in the U.S. national defense budget process for fiscal year 2024,
which is now underway.

Lamborn said on May 13 that he aims to speed up the “way too slow” hypersonic weapons systems development programs, primarily by increasing funding for “different testing capabilities and facilities.”

Adm. John Aquilino, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, acknowledged during an April hearing before the full committee that the Pentagon’s advancements in hypersonic weapons programs must
“go faster.”

“We are in a race with peer competitors that are determined to beat us in hypersonics,” Mark Lewis, a former Pentagon official with expertise in hypersonic weapons systems, stated on June 5. Lewis now works at Purdue University’s Applied Research Institute, which opened a new hypersonic technologies research and testing facility on June 6.

Earlier this year, the Defense Department identified significant inadequacies with ground-test capabilities and missile test ranges for hypersonic weapons, such as insufficient flight-simulation abilities and the need for new or upgraded instrumentation. (See ACT, March 2023.) In March, the Air Force announced that it was canceling the purchase of its Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), a hypersonic boost-glide system, due to a lackluster testing record. (See ACT, May 2023.)

But in April, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall suggested that all might not be over for the ARRW system, telling Congress that “we haven’t stopped on ARRW.” Kendall, a known skeptic of the ARRW program, said that the service will wait to see how the missile system finishes its testing program before making a judgment on its future.

Lamborn also emphasized the need for the United States to focus more on building up systems to defend against hypersonic weapons. This type of defense system received increased attention due to Ukraine’s interception on May 4 of a Russian Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile over Kyiv with a U.S.-made Patriot surface-to-air missile defense system.

After much media speculation, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed on May 9 that Ukraine used the Patriot system to down a Russian missile.

The United States, Germany, and the Netherlands all have supplied Ukraine with Patriot missile defense systems.

In late June, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees marked up their respective versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2024. The two chambers still need to merge their drafts into one piece of legislation and approve the final version.

Meanwhile, Iran claimed on June 6 that it has created a new hypersonic medium-range ballistic missile weapons system, named Conqueror, with speeds as high as Mach 15. Experts doubted Iran’s claim. John Krzyzaniak of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, tweeted, “[D]on’t be dazzled by ‘hypersonic’ claims,” noting that the system resembled a ballistic missile with maneuverable reentry vehicle capability.


The Republican chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee agrees with the Pentagon that the development of hypersonic weapons systems needs to be accelerated. 

ChatGPT Sparks U.S. Debate Over Military Use of AI

June 2023
By Michael Klare and Chris Rostampour

The release of ChatGPT and other “generative” artificial intelligence (AI) systems has triggered intense debate in the U.S. Congress and among the public over the benefits and risks of commercializing these powerful but error-prone technologies.

Sam Altman of OpenAI testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in May about the promise and dangers of ChatGPT, a “generative” artificial intelligence system. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)Proponents argue that by rapidly utilizing such systems, the United States will acquire a significant economic and military advantage over China and other competing powers. But many experts warn that the premature release of such potent but untested technologies could lead to catastrophic consequences and so the systems should be constrained by rules and regulations.

Generative AI systems employ sophisticated algorithms to convert vast amounts of raw data into texts, images, and other content that seem to be produced by humans. It is thought to have widespread application in industrial, business, and military operations.

The potentially disruptive consequences of exploiting generative AI technologies for commercial and geopolitical advantage and the accompanying need for new laws in the area provoked heated discussion at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law on May 16.

The lead witness, Sam Altman of OpenAI, the San Francisco startup responsible for ChatGPT, highlighted the technology’s great promise, but also warned of its inherent defects, such as a tendency to produce false or misleading results. “If this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong,” he told the subcommittee. “[W]e want to work with the government to prevent that from happening.”

Many analysts are particularly worried about the hasty application of advanced AI in the military realm, where the consequences of things going wrong could prove especially catastrophic.

Lawmakers and senior Pentagon officials who seek to apply these technologies as rapidly as possible argue that this approach will provide the United States with a distinct advantage over China and other rivals. But concerns have emerged in these circles over the premature application of AI to military use. Although officials believe that AI utilization by the military will enhance U.S. combat capabilities, many worry about the potential for accidents, enemy interference, and other dangerous unintended outcomes and so favor the cautious, regulated utilization of AI.

“To stay ahead of our potential adversaries…we need to identify key technologies and integrate them into our systems and processes faster than they can,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), chair of the Senate Armed Services cybersecurity subcommittee, said during an April 19 hearing on AI use by the Defense Department. But, he added, “the applications deployed must be more secure and trusted, meaning we [must adopt] more rigorous policy enforcement mechanisms to prevent misuse or unintended use.”

Witnesses at the April 19 hearing, including officials of leading defense contractors making use of AI, emphasized the need to adopt AI swiftly to avoid being overtaken by China and Russia in this critically important area. But under questioning, they acknowledged that the hasty application of AI to military systems entailed significant risk.

Josh Lospinoso of Shift5, for example, warned that the data used in training the algorithms employed in generative AI systems “can be altered by nefarious actors” and also are vulnerable to “spoofing” by potential adversaries. “We need to think clearly about shoring up those security vulnerabilities in our AI algorithms before we deploy these broadly,” he said.

Manchin indicated that, for these and other reasons, Congress must acquire a better understanding of the risks posed by the Pentagon’s utilization of AI and develop appropriate guardrails. He asked for the witnesses’ help in “looking at how we would write legislation not to repeat the mistakes of the past,” alluding to congressional failure to impose such controls on social media and the internet.

Judging by his comments and those of his colleagues, any legislation that emerges from Manchin’s subcommittee is likely to incorporate measures intended to ensure the reliability of the data used in training complex algorithms and to prevent unauthorized access to these systems by hostile actors.

Other lawmakers have sought to write legislation aimed at preventing another danger arising from the hasty and misguided application of AI by the military: the possibility that AI-enabled autonomous weapons systems, or “robot generals,” will someday acquire the capacity to launch nuclear weapons.

The Defense Department currently is modernizing its nuclear command, control, and communications systems, including through the widespread integration of advanced AI systems. Some analysts fear that this process will dilute human control over nuclear launch decision-making. (See ACT, April 2020.)

To ensure that machines never replace humans in this momentous role, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Block Nuclear Launch by Autonomous Artificial Intelligence Act on April 26. If enacted, the law would prohibit the use of federal funds to “use an autonomous weapons system that is not subject to meaningful human control…to launch a nuclear weapon; or…to select or engage targets for the purposes of launching a nuclear weapon.”

In the House, the legislation was introduced by Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and co-sponsored by Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.). A companion bill was introduced in the Senate on May 1 by Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and co-sponsors Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Lieu said that passage of the bill “will ensure that no matter what happens in the future, a human being has control over the employment of a nuclear weapon, not a robot. AI can never be a substitute for human judgment when it comes to launching nuclear weapons.”

In the U.S. Congress and among the public, there are rising questions about the benefits and risks of commercializing these powerful but error-prone technologies, including in the military sphere.

New U.S. ICBMs May Be Delayed Two Years

May 2023
By Shannon Bugos and Gabriela Iveliz Rosa Hernández

The new U.S. Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program may face a delay of two years due to supply chain issues and an absence of skilled engineers, although the Pentagon aims to shorten the lag time by adjusting the program’s acquisition plan.

The new U.S. Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile program, shown in a U.S. Air Force illustration, may be delayed two years because of supply chain issues. (U.S. Air Force illustration)The Sentinel program “may miss its goal of initial deployment in May 2029 by as much as two years, according to information presented at a high-level Pentagon review last month,” Bloomberg first reported on March 23.

The Air Force said in a statement to Bloomberg that it has “identified and is ready to execute acquisition strategy changes to reduce risk and optimize schedule, wherever possible.” Deborah Rosenblum, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, told the House Armed Services Committee on March 28 that the $96 billion program remains a top priority for the Pentagon.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall sparked initial speculation in November about potential delays when he told a defense event in Washington, “I am concerned about the schedule, specifically for Sentinel.”

The Pentagon requested $3.7 billion for continued research and development and $539 million for initial procurement of the Sentinel system for fiscal year 2024. The Air Force aims to purchase a total of about 650 Sentinel ICBMs and deploy 400 of them to replace Minuteman III ICBMs. In April, the Defense Department began to solicit proposals for a new reentry vehicle to carry the nuclear warhead for the Sentinel missiles.

In its 2024 budget proposal, the Biden administration requested $56.5 billion for nuclear weapons-related activities at the Defense Department, which oversees nuclear weapons delivery vehicles, and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees nuclear warheads. Overall, the Pentagon is seeking a total budget of $842 billion, a 3 percent increase from the 2023 appropriation, and the NNSA is seeking $18.8 billion, a 10 percent increase from the 2023 appropriation. (See ACT, April 2022.)

The Pentagon’s request was informed by the fact that the United States is facing for the first time “two major nuclear powers, whose vital national security interests are in competition” with the United States, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress on March 29. “Both China and Russia have the means to threaten U.S. national security…but war with either is neither inevitable nor imminent.”

Two nuclear weapons capabilities endorsed by the Trump administration but denounced by the Biden administration were cut in the new budget request. This reflects the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, which stated that the Biden administration would not proceed with plans for the development of a nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) or the life extension program for the megaton class B83-1 gravity bomb. (See ACT, January/February 2023; December 2022.)

Funding for the SLCM and its associated nuclear warhead, the W80-4, was eliminated in the request, although Congress could reverse this later. For fiscal year 2023, Congress appropriated $25 million for the SLCM and $20 million for the warhead despite no such request from the administration.

In a marked change from his predecessor, Gen. Anthony Cotton, head of U.S. Strategic Command, did not explicitly express support for a nuclear-armed SLCM in a February letter to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The SLCM offers “additional options and supports an integrated deterrence approach,” he wrote, but “I support funding to assess the full range of possible options to address this challenge in a rapidly changing security environment with the backdrop of multiple nuclear adversaries.”

As for the B83-1 gravity bomb, the NNSA requested $31 million, but those funds would go to sustainment efforts to ensure the bomb’s safety and reliability rather than a life extension program.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget includes a $5.3 billion request for the B-21 Raider bomber, shown here at the unveiling ceremony in December. The high-tech stealth bomber can carry nuclear and conventional weapons and is designed to be able to fly without a crew on board. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)Meanwhile, the Defense Department’s other nuclear modernization programs continue apace. The Air Force requested $5.3 billion for R&D and construction of the B-21 Raider dual-capable strategic bomber, an increase from the fiscal year 2023 authorization of $4.9 billion. The Pentagon unveiled the bomber in December, and it will have its first flight test later this year. The Air Force plans to purchase at least 100 bombers.

The Air Force also requested $978 million for the new nuclear-capable Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) weapons system, which includes $67 million for a second year of procurement. The service aims to buy about 1,000 LRSO missiles, with initial deployment in 2030.

The Navy asked for $6.1 billion for R&D and procurement of what ultimately will be a fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, a decrease of $1 billion from the 2023 appropriation.

The request would procure “the second Columbia-class submarine, our nation’s most survivable leg of the strategic triad, and [keep] us on track for the delivery of the first vessel in” 2028, Erik Raven, undersecretary of the Navy, said in a March 13 congressional briefing.

Although not a host for nuclear delivery systems, the Army has been developing a conventional, ground-launched midrange missile, a capability previously prohibited under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This capability, known as the Typhon system, features modified Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) and Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Army received the first of four planned Typhon systems on Dec. 2.

For 2024, the Typhon program transitioned fully into the procurement phase, with the Army requesting $170 million for the procurement of 58 new Block V Tomahawk missiles.

Meanwhile, the NNSA budget seeks continued funding for the B61-12 gravity bomb, the W87-1 warhead, and the W-80 air-launched cruise missile programs at $450 million, $1.1 billion, and $1 billion, respectively.

The Federation of American Scientists reported on Jan. 9 that the deployment of B61-12 bombs to the six bases in Europe, which house an estimated 100 U.S. nuclear bombs under the NATO nuclear-sharing arrangement, appears imminent, if it has not begun already.

The NNSA also requested $390 million for an entirely new controversial warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the W93. The United Kingdom is pursuing a parallel nuclear warhead replacement program based on the W93 design. The Pentagon, meanwhile, requested $126 million for the warhead’s associated Mk7 aeroshell.

As for arms control and nonproliferation efforts, the NNSA requested $212 million, a 7.8 percent decrease from 2023 funding.

The NNSA is also in the midst of producing plutonium pits for nuclear weapons, an effort that has experienced significant delays in achieving the congressionally mandated goal of producing 80 pits per year by 2030. But Jill Hruby, NNSA administrator, reaffirmed to Congress on March 28 that the NNSA “remains firmly committed to achieving 80 [pits per year] as close to 2030 as possible.”

For 2024, the NNSA requested $921 million for pit production at Savannah River Site in South Carolina and $1.8 billion for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Meanwhile, the Missile Defense Agency set out its plan to continue efforts “to counter growing and more complex threats” and to improve the reliability and lethality of the Navy’s Aegis weapons system, including the SM variants.

On April 3, the agency announced the successful interception of a medium-range ballistic missile by two SM-6 interceptors fired simultaneously from an Aegis-equipped ship. The test marked the first interception of this class of missile in the terminal phase of flight by the SM-6 and the third successful test of an Aegis vessel using the SM-6.

For 2024 the agency requested a total of $1.8 billion for Aegis missile defense systems, including R&D on Aegis software and hardware, the development of land-based SM-3 missiles, and the procurement of 27 Aegis SM-3 Block IB missiles and 12 Aegis SM-3 Block IIA missiles for deployment at sea on Aegis ships and on land at the Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland.

Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill, the agency director, said on March 14 that his organization is “very excited about where we are today” with the Poland site. “We completed construction, which was the major tip over into combat system installation and testing. That testing is going on now” and is scheduled to finish by this fall.

The agency also requested $2.1 billion for Next Generation Interceptor missiles, which are intended to replace the current Ground Based Interceptor missiles that are part of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system. The agency plans to begin supplementing the existing 44 ground-based missiles with 20 next-generation missiles no later than 2028, bringing the fleet total to 64.

The Biden administration’s request also includes continued funding of $351 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, a slight decrease from the 2023 appropriation of $352 million. This program is aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as the coronavirus.

The new U.S. Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program may face a delay of two years due to supply chain issues and an absence of skilled engineers. 

U.S. Scraps Purchase of Hypersonic Boost-Glide Vehicle

May 2023
By Shannon Bugos

The United States has canceled the planned purchase of the Air Force’s hypersonic boost-glide system due to a lackluster testing record. But other Pentagon hypersonic weapons programs remain on schedule, with the Army planning to field the first U.S. hypersonic weapons system this fiscal year.

A lackluster testing record doomed the U.S. Air Force's hypersonic boost-glide system known as ARRW (Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon), shown on its first captive carry flight on a B-52 bomber over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. in 2019.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)“The Air Force does not currently intend to pursue follow-on procurement of ARRW [the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon] once the prototyping program concludes,” Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, told a congressional hearing on March 29.

Less than a week before, the Air Force conducted the ARRW system’s second all-up-round test flight, with a B-52H bomber releasing a prototype missile, but did not specify if it was successful as the first test was last December. (See ACT, January/February 2022.) Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall admitted to Congress on March 28 that the March 13 test failed.

The Pentagon has requested $150 million in research and development funding for the ARRW system in fiscal year 2024, a 30 percent increase from 2023. The program will wrap up after two more all-up-round test flights in order to gather data to inform future programs. The Air Force intended to begin procurement in 2023, but decided against it in light of three test failures in 2021. (See ACT, June 2022.)

Kendall said that the Air Force will focus instead on a program to which it is “more committed,” the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM), for which it requested $382 million for 2024.

Hypersonic boost-glide weapons programs remain underway for other services. The Army plans to deploy the first operational prototype battery of the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) system, also known as Dark Eagle, by the fall of 2023. The Pentagon requested $944 million for continued R&D and $157 million for procurement in 2023.

Since 2021, the Army has trained with the first LRHW training battery at Joint Base Lewis-McCord in Washington state. (See ACT, November 2022.) In February, the service practiced deploying the system from Washington to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Army planned to conduct a test of the LRHW system from Cape Canaveral on March 5, but aborted the test due to a battery failure during preflight checks.

The LRHW system shares a common hypersonic boost-glide vehicle with the Navy, which led its development.

The Pentagon requested $901 million for R&D on the Navy’s program, Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS), and $341 million for the procurement of an initial eight all-up-round tests in 2024. This fiscal year marks the first year of CPS weapons system procurement funding.

The missiles are scheduled for deployment on Zumwalt-class destroyers in 2025, and the Navy plans to deploy the CPS system on Virginia-class submarines in 2028. The Pentagon aims to
test-fire CPS missiles from the USS Zumwalt in December 2025. The Navy’s first CPS weapons system all-up-round test failed in June 2022.

The Navy also requested $96 million in 2024 for its other main hypersonic weapons program, the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare Increment II (HALO), which marks a 37 percent decrease from 2023. HALO missiles are intended for deployment on F/A-18 fighter jets.

Meanwhile, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) requested funds for its ongoing R&D on hypersonic weapons systems, including $82 million for the Tactical Boost Glide system, more than double the previous year, and $30 million for the MoHAWC weapons system, a hypersonic air-launched cruise missile, half of the system’s 2023 budget.

In total, the Defense Department asked for $11 billion for hypersonic weapons programs in 2024.

President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act on March 1 to accelerate the advancement of U.S. hypersonic weapons systems in order “to avert an industrial resource or critical technology item shortfall that would severely impair national defense capability,” he wrote in a directive to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The United States pursues not only offensive hypersonic weapons systems but also defensive capabilities to defend against Chinese and Russian hypersonic systems.

DARPA asked for $29 million, $10 million more than in 2023, for the Glide Breaker program, which is intended to strike hypersonic weapons systems from long-range distance.

The Missile Defense Agency requested $209 million for the development of a regional interceptor capable of defeating hypersonic weapons in their glide phase. The United States and Japan have discussed a potential partnership on this project, which would aim to deliver the Glide Phase Interceptor in 2034.

The agency also requested $69 million for the low earth orbit Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor, scheduled for launch in late 2023 with on-orbit demonstrations and testing in 2024. The agency plans to transfer the responsibility for the space sensor to the Space Force after successful demonstrations as part of its Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared system architecture.

This architecture includes layers in low and medium earth orbit to track a range of advanced missile threats, including hypersonic weapons. The 2024 budget requests for those layers came in at $1.3 billion and $538 million, respectively.

The Space Development Agency transitioned into the Space Force in October 2022. As a result, the space agency’s “Tracking Layer” is now synonymous with the Space Force’s low earth program. The 2024 funds will go toward the development of the Tranche 1 Tracking Layer, comprising 35 satellites that are slated to begin launching in 2024.

On April 2, the space agency launched 10 satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California into low earth orbit as part of Tranche 0. Two of the 10 are tracking satellites for hypersonic weapons systems. The agency plans to launch the remaining 18 Tranche 0 satellites in June.

The planned purchase of the Air Force’s hypersonic boost-glide system was canceled due to a lackluster testing record.  

U.S., South Korea Agree to Strengthen Nuclear Coordination

May 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States and South Korea announced steps to give Seoul more input into U.S. nuclear planning amid growing support in South Korea for a domestic nuclear weapons program to counter the threat from North Korea.

U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol shake hands during a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House on April 26. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)U.S. President Joseph Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol agreed to create the U.S-South Korean Nuclear Consultative Group during Yoon’s visit to Washington on April 26. According to a declaration issued by the two leaders, the group will “discuss nuclear and strategic planning” and manage the North Korean nuclear threat.

The declaration states that the United States “commits to make every effort to consult with [South Korea] on any possible nuclear weapons employment on the Korean peninsula,” consistent with U.S. nuclear policy, and will “maintain a robust communication infrastructure” for consultations. The two countries also will plan for South Korean “conventional support to U.S. nuclear operations in a contingency.”

Yoon has long sought greater South Korea’s involvement in the U.S. nuclear planning process. He suggested in January that Seoul may pursue its own nuclear weapons in the absence of stronger U.S. extended deterrence commitments and has called for the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. (See ACT, March 2023.)

The Biden administration has made clear it will not redeploy U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea but the declaration says the United States will “enhance the regular visibility of strategic assets.”

Yoon reaffirmed South Korea’s commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in the joint declaration, but it remains unclear if his country’s new role in U.S. extended deterrence planning will quell growing support among the South Korean public for a domestic nuclear weapons program.

Prior to the Biden-Yoon summit, North Korea demonstrated its advancing nuclear weapons capabilities by testing its first solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in April and displaying at least ten tactical nuclear warheads. The developments came as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, during an April 10 meeting of North Korea’s Central Military Commission, called for a more “practical and offensive” nuclear deterrent to respond to South Korean-U.S. military exercises “simulating an all-out war against” his country.

The new solid-fueled, three-stage ICBM, which North Korea calls the Hwasong-18, was tested from a mobile launcher near Pyongyang on April 13. North Korea launched the missile on a lofted trajectory, and it flew about 1,000 kilometers before splashing down between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

Kim oversaw the missile test, which was intended to “confirm the performance of the high-thrust solid-fuel engines for multi-stage missiles,” according to an April 14 statement from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA reported that Kim expressed “great satisfaction” with the launch and that the Hwasong-18 will “extensively reform the strategic deterrence components.”

A solid-fueled ICBM capability offers several advantages over the liquid-fueled ICBMs that North Korea tested in the past. Solid-fueled systems are more mobile and easier to conceal and can be launched more quickly than liquid-fueled systems. Liquid-fueled ICBMs are generally fueled shortly before launch, providing more time for an adversary to detect and respond to the launch. North Korea has tested solid-fueled systems in the past, but the Hwasong-18 is the first ICBM.

According to KCNA, Kim said that the Hwasong-18 will “radically promote the effectiveness of [North Korea’s] nuclear counterattack posture” and make the country’s “offensive military strategy” more practical.

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the Hwasong-18 test “needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing” the region. Watson called on North Korea to “immediately cease its destabilizing actions and instead choose diplomatic engagement.”

Japan, South Korea and the United States responded to the test with military drills and a trilateral pledge to strengthen defense cooperation and information sharing.

South Korea and the United States conducted aerial training involving B-52 strategic bombers the day after the Hwasong-18 test. The exercise demonstrated the alliance’s “combined defense capability” and “extended deterrence in the defense of the Korean peninsula,” according to an April 14 statement from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

Japan and the United States also held a bilateral air exercise on April 14.

Three days later, Japan, South Korea and the United States conducted a missile defense drill focused on tracking and sharing information about North Korean missile launches. The South Korean navy described the drill as “an opportunity to strengthen security cooperation…against North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threats.”

North Korean official Ri Pyong Chol criticized the military exercises in an April 17 statement and accused the United States of raising tensions and simulating a “pre-emptive nuclear strike and an all-out war.” Ri, vice-president of North Korea’s Central Military Commission, described the Hwasong-18 test as self-defensive and said the use of B-52 strategic bombers in the region is nuclear blackmail. He warned Washington against further actions that “endanger the security environment of the Korean peninsula.”

China also blamed the United States for driving regional tensions. In an April 13 press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that the U.S. “deployment of strategic weapons” and “massive military drills near the peninsula” have a “negative impact.” The United States needs to “act as soon as possible to address the legitimate concerns” of North Korea and “create conditions” to alleviate tensions and resume dialogue, he said.

The United States called out China and Russia for failing to condemn North Korea’s ballistic missile launches, which violate UN Security Council resolutions.

During a Security Council meeting April 17 on the Hwasong-18 launch, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the council’s failure to take action against North Korea “undermines the credibility of this council and the entire international nonproliferation regime.” Thomas-Greenfield did not specifically reference China and Russia, but said that two council members continue to “draw false equivalences between [North Korea’s] unlawful ballistic missile launches and lawful, defensive, pre-announced” South Korean-U.S. joint military exercises.

In that meeting, Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia said that Moscow opposes Security Council meetings “for the purpose of propaganda and exerting pressure.” He said that the situation on the Korean peninsula is “tense indeed” but that the United States is "directly involved in the stepping-up of the escalation.”


The allies announced steps to give Seoul more input into U.S. nuclear planning as support grows in South Korea for a domestic nuclear weapons program to counter North Korea. 

U.S. Is Largest Arms Exporter in a Changing Market

April 2023
By Ethan Walton and Jeff Abramson

The United States remains the largest and growing exporter of major conventional weapons systems, according to an annual survey by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Ukrainian forces are seen in March at their artillery position in Zaporizhzhia during the war between Russia and Ukraine. In 2022, Ukraine was the third-largest importer of weapons systems tracked by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (Photo by Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) Although the report’s authors are cautious in predicting the future, their findings appear to show shifts in the global arms trade, in part driven by the war in Ukraine, that will result in more weapons flowing to Europe and a diminished role for Russia in the coming years.

The United States accounted for 40 percent of all major arms exports during 2018–2022, up from 33 percent during 2013–2017, compared to Russia’s 16 percent share, the report said. The report focuses on five-year comparisons and uses its own metrics to standardize values across weapons systems platforms.

Continuing a trend noted in earlier reports, arms imports increased in Europe, rising 47 percent over the period, while global trade declined by roughly 5 percent. Given the many commitments by the United States and countries in the region to replenish weapons stocks that have been transferred to Ukraine, it is logical to expect even higher imports in the future in Europe. (See ACT, April 2022.)

During a Feb. 16 virtual event hosted by the Forum on the Arms Trade, Pieter Wezeman, a co-author of the report, questioned whether Europe should rapidly rearm given that Russia appears less militarily capable than expected “or whether there are other ways to deal with that Russian threat.”

Ukraine, which in prior years barely registered on the global arms import trade chart, was the third-largest importer of the weapons systems tracked by SIPRI in 2022. Still, the value of its imports was lower than might be expected as the SIPRI approach emphasizes high-value weapons such as fighter jets, which countries supplying Ukraine largely withheld during the reporting period.

But in mid-March, Poland and Slovakia announced plans to provide MiG fighter aircraft to Ukraine, despite concerns that the transfer would escalate the war. Those same concerns had kept Western countries from providing the fighter jets earlier. Whether significantly more fighter jets, including U.S. and European versions not derived from Russian designs, will also be sent to Ukraine is likely to be one of the most watched issues in the arms trade over the coming months.

Since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the United States has pledged more than $33 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. U.S. President Joe Biden has indicated repeatedly that Washington will stand by Kyiv, but the topic has become more controversial as the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign heats up. In responses to Fox News released March 13, for example, both former President Donald Trump and potential Republican presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis (Fla.) indicated that they are not as supportive of such assistance to Ukraine.

The war is also expected to keep Russia on a downward arms trade trajectory. Although Russia still accounts globally for the second-largest percentage of major exports, its 16 percent share in 2018 to 2022 is significantly less than the 22 percent in the previous five-year period. A prolonged war in Ukraine will likely force Russia to use its own weapons rather export them. Meanwhile, Washington and its allies are expected to continue pressuring importers to not deal with Moscow, which has relatively few outstanding international orders for weapons systems, according to the report.

India, the world’s largest importer of major weapons systems, sustains an evolving relationship with Russia. Over the past five years, it received 31 percent of Russia’s global arms exports, but those comprised only 45 percent of India’s total imports, down from 64 percent in the previous five years. India has taken a middle stance on the war in Ukraine, rhetorically supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty but continuing significant imports of Russian oil.

As New Delhi emphasizes self-reliance in its defense industry and separate ties with the West, its approach and role in the arms trade is changing. France overtook the United States as India’s second-largest major weapons systems provider, accounting for 29 percent of imports, including 62 combat aircraft and four submarines. The United States accounted for 11 percent of India’s imports. In January, the two countries established a strategic partnership on critical and emerging technologies to collaborate on artificial intelligence, quantum technology, and defense industrial capacities.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest importer, purchased more than three-quarters of its major weapons systems from the United States. Within the Middle East more broadly, the United States provided 54 percent of imported major weapons systems. Whether a new Biden administration conventional arms transfer policy that appears to more highly value human rights will lead to a decline in weapons systems transfers to the region, home to many autocratic regimes, is as yet unclear.

Other recent developments may also dramatically change regional demand for weaponry. On March 10, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reopen diplomatic relations in a deal China helped mediate. A day earlier, The New York Times reported that Saudi Arabia was seeking more U.S. weapons systems and assistance with civilian nuclear capabilities as a price for normalizing relations with Israel. A potentially less tense Middle East could result in fewer weapons systems heading to the region, but there could be an increase in transfers driven by a U.S. desire to limit Chinese and Russian influence and to promote Israeli-Saudi relations.

Over the past five years, Chinese exports have declined from 6.3 percent during 2013–2017 to 5.2 percent during 2018–2022. China was not a significant exporter to the Middle East. It sent 80 percent of its major weapons systems transfers to Asia and Oceania, with more than half going to Pakistan, according to the report.

A new report appears to show shifts in the global arms trade that will result in more weapons flowing to Europe and a reduced role for Russia.

New U.S. Arms Policy Boosts Human Rights Focus

April 2023
By Jeff Abramson

The Biden administration announced a long-anticipated policy that more fully emphasizes human rights concerns among a list of priorities for U.S. engagement in the international arms trade.

U.S. Marines conduct post-flight inspections on an AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. A Biden administration decision to approve the sale of a version of the helicopter to Nigeria has been controversial because of the country’s human rights record. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jered T. Stone)Administration officials did not explicitly identify how the new policy would impact controversial arms sales to specific countries, such as Israel or Nigeria, but it pointed to Ukraine as a model for the types of partners it seeks.

Known as the conventional arms transfer policy, this presidential directive is not binding in itself, but instead “establishes the executive branch’s priorities and rationale for adjudicating the export of conventional arms,” according to National Security Memorandum-18 released Feb. 23.

In a section dedicated to human rights, the policy states that the United States will not transfer arms when it assesses that it is “more likely than not” that they will be used to commit an array of human rights abuses. It also indicates that a recipient’s previous actions will be considered in making that judgment and that future developments can lead to reassessment and possible cessation of weapons transfers.

The new policy replaces the 2018 Trump administration policy and earlier versions that applied a more difficult standard to meet for denying an arms transfer request, requiring government officials to prove they had “actual knowledge” that weapons would be misused. Some critics also had faulted the Trump policy for not explicitly acknowledging past or future behavior in arms transfer decisions. (See ACT, January/February 2021; May 2018.)

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the new policy. In a statement on Feb. 27, he said that it “represents a meaningful step forward in ensuring the United States does not contribute to human rights abuses through its arms exports.”

During a March 9 event hosted by the Stimson Center, administration officials did not specify which countries might no longer receive arms under the new policy. But Mira Resnick, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for regional security, pointed to a decision by the Biden administration in 2021 to suspend specific deliveries to Saudi Arabia because it was “more likely than not that those precision-guided munitions would contribute to unacceptable civilian harm.” (See ACT, March 2021.)

The policy also places a new emphasis on security sector governance. Resnick pointed to Ukraine’s improvements in anti-diversion and anti-corruption policies since Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea and the eastern region of Ukraine as critical in enabling Washington now to transfer billions of dollars in weapons systems and other support so Ukraine can defend itself against renewed Russian aggression.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concern about the new approach politicizing what had been “an effective policy” under the Trump administration. In a statement Feb. 24, they also said that the U.S. defense industry “is struggling to meet the demand for weapons our country and allies need.”

Like the conventional arms transfer policies of most previous administrations, the Biden policy does not explicitly rank priorities. It does include among its objectives to strengthen the “manufacturing and defense industrial base and ensure resiliency in global supply chains.” Resnick cited exploring new ways to provide “competitive financing” as an example of this. She indicated that one way to support U.S. industry could be to allow countries to pay over time, as some other countries do, rather than in advance as is current U.S. practice.

In 2021, an administration official indicated that the new policy would be used to review “the proper relationship of the United States” to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which had been signed during the Obama administration but rejected during the Trump administration. (See ACT, October 2021.) Resnick said the administration was still determining its “proper position” on the ATT. She added that the United States was the world’s largest arms exporter and would “continue its global leadership” on “opposing the irresponsible and illicit transfer of conventional arms.”


The Biden administration announced a policy that more fully emphasizes human rights among a list of priorities for U.S. engagement in the international arms trade.  


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