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"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
The United States and the Americas

China Showcases Hypersonic Weapon Near Taiwan, U.S. Tests


September 2022
By Shannon Bugos

The United States completed tests for four different hypersonic weapon prototype systems this past summer, with one failure and three successes. Securing wins in hypersonic weapons development has been a major priority for the U.S. Defense Department in its quest to catch up to China, which recently launched a hypersonic glide vehicle in an exercise near Taiwan, and Russia, which used hypersonics for the first time in warfare in Ukraine.

In late May, the Operational Fires (OpFires) program run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) successfully executed its first flight test of a hypersonic weapon at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of DARPA)Members of Congress have repeatedly expressed dismay with the Pentagon’s perceived lack of advancement in the development and deployment of new hypersonic weapons. Russia first deployed a hypersonic short-range ballistic missile, the Kinzhal, in 2017 and a hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, the Avangard, in 2019. China followed in 2020 by deploying the Dongfeng-17 (DF-17) system, a road-mobile hypersonic boost-glide system.

“What we are concerned about is falling behind” in the deployment of new hypersonic weapons capabilities, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) told Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall in a May hearing.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has taken issue with that narrative, explaining in April that “hypersonics is a capability, but it’s not the only capability.”

After three testing failures in 2021, the Air Force’s Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) system conducted two consecutive successful flight tests in May and July. (See ACT, June 2022.)

The ARRW system, slated to be the first deployed U.S. hypersonic weapon, completed its primary and secondary objectives during the most recent test, according to an Air Force statement.

“We have now completed our booster test series and are ready to move forward to all-up-round testing later this year,” said Maj. Gen. Heath Collins, the program executive officer for weapons in the Air Force.

Nevertheless, the service is still determining what mix of capabilities it requires to counter U.S. adversaries and how hypersonic weapons, such as the ARRW system, fit into that equation.

“Obviously, you wouldn’t buy something that doesn’t work,” said Andrew Hunter, the top Air Force acquisition official, on July 16. “But even if it does work, it’s got to be the right contribution to the overall weapons mix and the highest priority targets.”

Adding to the list of wins for the Pentagon, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) conducted two successful tests of hypersonic weapons systems: Operational Fires (OpFires) and the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC).

OpFires, a hypersonic boost-glide weapons system, fulfilled all of the test objectives during its first flight test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in late May, according to a July 13 DARPA statement. The test marked the first use of a Marine Corps logistics truck as a medium-range missile launcher, the agency noted. The capability is scheduled to have additional flight tests and finish up a critical design review this year.

The May test was a “promising step” toward developing an “on-demand capability for accurately firing medium-range missiles from highly agile, readily available logistics trucks that are already in both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps inventory,” remarked Lt. Col. Joshua Stults, the DARPA program manager for the OpFires system.

DARPA then successfully tested the HAWC system, an air-launched hypersonic cruise missile, in early July. The test featured the Raytheon Technologies version of the vehicle, which was last tested in September 2021. Lockheed Martin tested its version of the HAWC system in March. (See ACT, May 2022; November 2021.)

After release from an aircraft, the HAWC vehicle was boosted to the correct point, at which the scramjet engine fired up and propelled the vehicle at an unspecified hypersonic speed for more than 345 miles.

But not all U.S. hypersonic weapons tests achieved the desired results. The collaboration between the Army and the Navy on the common hypersonic glide body was met with failure in the system’s first all-up-round test on June 29 due to the occurrence of an “anomaly” after ignition.

“While the [Defense] Department was unable to collect data on the entirety of the planned flight profile, the information gathered from this event will provide vital insights,” said Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Cdr. Tim Gorman.

The Navy leads the design of the common hypersonic glide body, developing a new booster for a glide vehicle adapted from an Army prototype system. Each service will tailor its own launchers for the new vehicle, with the Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon system launching from trucks and the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike system launching from a submarine or destroyer.

The Army and Navy successfully tested the common hypersonic glide body in March 2020 and held four more tests, three successful and one unsuccessful, in October 2021 to inform the development of various components of the system. (See ACT, November 2021; April 2020.)

This surge of activity in development of U.S. offensive hypersonic weapons over the past few years was sparked by the deployment of such capabilities by China and Russia. The recent U.S. tests occurred as Beijing and Moscow continue to quickly advance their respective hypersonic programs.

According to state-owned media sources, China launched DF-17 missiles from a ground-based platform during live-fire exercises near Pingtan Island in the Taiwan Strait in early August. A few days before those exercises, Beijing demonstrated the hypersonic weapon system, which was last seen in a 2019 military parade, in a video celebrating the 95th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.

Russia has two deployed hypersonic systems, the Avangard and the Kinzhal, the latter of which was used to strike targets in Ukraine in March and possibly in May. (See ACT, April and June 2022.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin also announced on July 31 that the Zircon, a sea-launched hypersonic cruise missile he described as having “no obstacles,” will be deployed in August.

“The area in which the ship equipped with Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles will carry out its duty will be selected based on Russia’s security interests,” Putin said. Zircon was last tested in May. (See ACT, July/August 2022.)

The development and deployment of hypersonic weapon capabilities by China and Russia has propelled the United States to quickly build its own such weapons and to establish defenses against Chinese and Russian hypersonics.

The Pentagon has begun investing substantial funds in the creation of a counterhypersonic weapons ensemble, consisting of a constellation of low-orbit surveillance satellites and a regional hypersonic interceptor, called the Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI), designed to strike enemy boost-glide missiles while in the final stage of their flight.

Despite a finding by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that these systems are being advanced without a thorough assessment of the technical risks involved, the Defense Department is rushing ahead with plans for their development and deployment.

In late June, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency awarded Raytheon and Northrop Grumman contracts of approximately $61 million each to develop prototype GPI missiles. After rigorous testing of both prototypes, one will be chosen for full-scale production and be deployed within the Aegis ballistic missile defense system.

A few weeks later, the U.S. Space Development Agency awarded $700 million to L3Harris and $617 million to Northrop Grumman to build 14 satellites each for the so-called tranche-1 tracking layer of a missile warning and tracking system in low-earth orbit.

The rapid development of the satellites, slated to begin launching in 2025, was made possible due to the decision by Congress to appropriate $550 million for the effort in fiscal year 2022. Ultimately, as many as 200 satellites could be deployed as part of this system.

China Showcases Hypersonic Weapon Near Taiwan, U.S. Tests

Congress Notifications Reinstated on Some Gun Exports


September 2022
By Jeff Abramson

The Commerce Department has decided to begin notifying Congress about some applications for semiautomatic gun export licenses, updating a controversial Trump-era regulation that removed the weapons from such congressional review. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Congress seems to be regaining some of the oversight over the export of semi-automatic guns that was taken away by the Trump administration. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)The move, which took effect in mid-July, falls short of a promise made by then-former Vice President Joe Biden during his presidential campaign to return oversight for such exports to the State Department, which administers the U.S. Munitions List (USML) and the provisions under the Arms Export Control Act that provide mechanisms for Congress to block arms sales. Instead, the weapons that fall under the revised rule will remain on the Commerce Control List, which is overseen by the Commerce Department and is undergirded by a different law that does not provide for the same congressional disapproval procedures.

The rules apply to licenses for semiautomatic weapons exports amounting to $4 million or more, averaging $1 million per year on typical four-year licenses, the same dollar threshold that was used for notifications when the weapons were on the USML. The new rules generally will not apply to NATO countries and many other U.S. allies, but will apply to Mexico, South Africa, and Turkey.

A lack of transparency makes it difficult to determine the total value of licenses that will be impacted. According to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, after the Trump-era change from March 2020 to the end of June 2021, nearly $16 billion of license applications were approved, and nearly $1 billion in shipments occurred. Not all of those licenses and shipments were necessarily for the category of semiautomatic weapons that will now be subject to congressional notification.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a long-time critic of the Trump change, issued a statement May 31, saying, “This new rule is a start, but not the goal. I will continue to push the Biden administration to restore the export control of lethal arms like assault rifles and sniper rifles back to the State Department, and in so doing, also restore Congress’ right of review and disapproval under the Arms Export Control Act.”

At a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on July 14, Menendez pressed Alan Estevez, undersecretary for industry and security at the Commerce Department, on this issue. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asserted that the Commerce Department “is helping put more assault weapons in more hands, and this needs to stop.” On July 19, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) and Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) raised similar concerns during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

At the hearings, Estevez defended the administration, saying that an interagency process continues to be followed for licenses and that the Commerce Department brings enforcement capabilities that the State Department lacks. He also mentioned Ukraine as a place where it was justified for such weapons transfers to proceed.

On July 14, the House approved its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2023 fiscal year that included an amendment offered by Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.). The amendment would establish similar notification requirements and disapproval procedures for firearms that had been in the first category of the USML prior to the transfer of oversight from the State Department to the Commerce Department. It is unclear whether the final defense act will include this provision. Last year, the act did not retain the Torres provision, even though it had been included in the House version by a 215–213 vote.

The Commerce Department modifies but does not reverse a Trump-era rule that limited congressional oversight.

Rocket for New U.S. ICBM Explodes


September 2022
By Shannon Bugos

The rocket boosting a new reentry vehicle for the future U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system exploded 11 seconds after launch in its first test, setting the $100 billion nuclear modernization program off to a rocky start.

A version of the Minotaur rocket that exploded in its first test on July 6, in a setback for the U.S. nuclear modernization program. (Photo by U.S. Air Force)The test involved a Minotaur II+ rocket carrying a prototype Mark 21A reentry vehicle built by Lockheed Martin. The vehicle will house a W87-1 nuclear warhead, which is in the midst of a modification program administered by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). A nuclear warhead was not used during the July 6 test at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

“The test launch will demonstrate preliminary design concepts and relevant payload technologies in [an] operationally realistic environment,” said the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center in a press release prior to the test. Following the failed test, the center commented only that “an investigative review board has been established to determine the cause of the explosion.”

The blast sparked a fire on the base, prompting the dispatch of local firefighters.

The rocket and reentry vehicle will be placed on the U.S. Air Force’s new LGM-35A Sentinel ICBMs. The Sentinel system was initially known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent before its renaming in the spring. (See ACT, June 2022.)

The Air Force plans to purchase more than 650 Sentinel ICBMs to replace the existing fleet of 400 Minuteman III missiles, plus spares and test missiles, starting in fiscal year 2029. Testing of the Sentinel missiles, under development by Northrop Grumman, is slated to begin in 2024.

The Pentagon had scheduled a long-planned test of a Minuteman III ICBM for early August. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin elected to delay the test by about two weeks due to heightened tensions with China over Taiwan, John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, announced on Aug. 4. The department had cancelled another ICBM test in March. (See ACT, April 2022.)

“As China engages in destabilizing military exercises around Taiwan, the United States is demonstrating instead the behavior of a responsible nuclear power by reducing the risks of miscalculation and misperception,” said Kirby.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, denounced Austin’s decision.

“These weak-kneed pearl-clutching attempts at appeasement hurt our readiness and will only invite further aggression by our adversaries,” Rogers said.

The rescheduled test took place on Aug. 16 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. “The ICBM’s reentry vehicle traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands,” the Air Force said in a statement.

ICBMs constitute the land-based leg of the U.S. nuclear triad and are dispersed across three Air Force bases in five states: Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

The service released on July 1 a draft report examining the environmental impact from the construction of the Sentinel system to include the missiles themselves, as well as their vast supporting infrastructure, and the decommissioning and disposal of the Minuteman III missile system. The Air Force began work on the statement in the fall of 2020.

The report found that the plan for replacing all Minuteman III missiles with Sentinel missiles will “have potentially significant adverse effects on cultural resources, public health and safety, socioeconomics, and utilities and infrastructure” in the short term and, in some cases, the long term.

As part of the report, the Air Force also had to evaluate possible alternative plans to the Sentinel system for the future of the ICBM force.

The report describes four possible alternatives to the current plan, including rebuilding the Minuteman III missile fleet to existing specifications, constructing and deploying a smaller ICBM, constructing and deploying commercial launch vehicles containing nuclear-capable reentry vehicles, or converting existing Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles for deployment in land-based silos.

The Air Force eliminated these alternatives due to the perception that they did not meet all of the system requirements in areas such as sustainability, integration, performance, survivability, safety, and risk.

The service ultimately determined that only in pursuing the new Sentinel system would the United States be able “to continue to offer long-term tangible evidence to both allies and potential adversaries of our nuclear weapons capabilities, thus contributing to nuclear deterrence and assurance, and providing a hedge against arms competition.”

Notably, an alternative that the Air Force chose not to examine was reducing the size of the ICBM force to below 400, as some arms control experts have suggested.

“The current force level of 400 deployed ICBMs is not––and has never been––a magic number, and it could be reduced further for a variety of reasons, including those related to security, economics, or a good faith effort to reduce deployed U.S. nuclear forces,” Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists wrote in a July 13 blog post.

The Defense Department had solicited a study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on potential alternatives for the land-based leg of the nuclear triad, to possibly include the reduction of the ICBM force. The study was to be completed by the end of January 2022, but has not been made public.

On the original timeline, that study would have been finished at a time when the Biden administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) also wrapped up, leaving little room for the study to influence the U.S. nuclear force posture in a meaningful way. The public release of the NPR has been delayed in part due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, although it is unlikely that the Pentagon will deviate from pursuing the Sentinel program.

Congress supported the new ICBM program in fiscal year 2022 with $2.6 billion. (See ACT, January/February 2022.) In June, the House authorized $3.6 billion for the program in fiscal year 2023, but the defense authorization bill has yet to make its way through the Senate. The relevant pieces of appropriations legislation, which allow for actual spending, have not moved through either chamber. (See ACT, June 2022.)

Overall, the House approved a $37 billion boost to the Biden administration’s request of $813 billion for national defense for fiscal year 2023. The lawmakers rubber-stamped all nuclear modernization programs, including funding for the fleet of Columbia-class submarines, the B-21 Raider strategic bomber, and the long-range standoff weapon, an air-launched cruise missile.

The House also added $45 million for the development of a new sea-launched cruise missile and its associated nuclear warhead, which the Biden administration had not requested.

 

The test failure is a setback for the $100 billion nuclear modernization program.

Biden Reverts to Obama-Era Landmines Policy


July/August 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball and Magritte Gordaneer

After a months-long policy review, the Biden administration announced on June 21 that it will reverse the Trump administration policy that allowed for wider use of anti-personnel landmines. The decision means the United States is returning to the Obama-era policy that bars the use of the weapons anywhere except in support of its ally South Korea on the Korean peninsula.

Ukrainian deminers collect unexploded material during a demining operation in Horenka village in the Kyiv region in May as Russia pressed its war in Ukraine.  (Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)The policy to limit the use of anti-personnel landmines will “align the United States’ policy and practice with key provisions of the Ottawa Convention for all activities outside the context of the Korean peninsula,” Stan Brown, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said in a briefing on June 21.

As a result of the decision, Brown said, “we’re not going to export or transfer anti-personnel landmines; we’re not going to use them outside the Korean peninsula. We would also undertake to destroy all anti-personnel stockpiles not required for the defense of [South] Korea; and again, we would not assist, encourage, or induce anyone outside the context of the Korean peninsula to engage in any activity that would be prohibited by the convention.”

As a candidate, President Joe Biden pledged to reverse what he characterized as President Donald Trump’s “reckless” stance on landmines.

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, typically referenced as the Ottawa Convention or the Mine Ban Treaty, seeks to end the use of anti-personnel landmines worldwide. It was opened for signature on Dec. 3, 1997, and entered into force on March 1, 1999.

Today, 164 countries are party to the treaty, representing more than 80 percent of the world’s states and all NATO allies except the United States. The Ottawa Convention has won strong global support because anti-personnel landmines are indiscriminate weapons that devastate civilian communities during conflict and for decades after the conflict has ended.

Brown said that the United States “will continue to pursue materiel and operational solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention, while we at the same [time] ensure our ability to meet our alliance commitments.”

Pressed about when the United States could deploy an alternative weapon along the DMZ that would allow it to accede to the Ottawa Convention, Brown said that “it is being worked on, but I would have to defer you to the Department of Defense for the specific acquisition and operational capabilities of future devices.”

Currently, the United States does not maintain any active anti-personnel minefields, not even in South Korea or on the DMZ with North Korea, where the landmines are all owned by South Korea. According to the U.S. State Department, the United States has roughly three million anti-personnel landmines, which are defined as victim-activated. Aside from a single use in Afghanistan in 2002, the United States has not used these weapons since the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

“The administration’s policy stands in a sharp contrast to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, where there’s compelling evidence that Russian forces are using explosive munitions, including landmines, in an irresponsible manner which is causing extensive harm to civilians and damage to vital civilian infrastructure there,” Brown said. Russia is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty but Ukraine is.

The United States recently transferred Claymore mines to Ukraine. They are command-detonated weapons, meaning they tend to be less lethal to civilians. The Ottawa Convention outlaws landmines that are victim activated.

The U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines welcomed the policy adjustment, calling it “an important first step toward the ultimate goal of the United States joining the Mine Ban Treaty and banning the use, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines worldwide.”

States-parties to the Ottawa Convention, including Germany, Norway, and Spain, and Switzerland, praised the Biden policy adjustment in statements delivered at Mine Ban Treaty meetings in Geneva in late June, which the United States attended as an observer and used as a venue to announce its new policy.

Norway’s delegation, in a tweet on June 21, said, “Norway warmly welcomes the United States new landmine policy, bringing [it] in closer alignment with the requirements of the Mine Ban Treaty, and an important step toward possible accession.” The German delegation called it an “important step to achieve a mine-free world and universalization of the Ottawa Convention.”

The decision means the United States will bar the use of the weapons, except in support of South Korea on the Korean peninsula.

Russian-U.S. Arms Dialogue Remains Uncertain


July/August 2022
By Shannon Bugos

As Russian-U.S. tensions over Ukraine continue to grow, neither side is showing any sign of quickly resuming bilateral contact over strategic stability issues that could help avoid misunderstandings and escalation.

In remarks to the Arms Control Association annual meeting, Mallory Stewart, U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, was pessimistic about resuming stability talks with Russia because "it’s very hard to... think that our diplomacy will be taken seriously on that side.”  (Photo by Allen Harris/Arms Control Association)Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 30 that “Russia is open to dialogue on ensuring strategic stability, preserving agreements on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and improving the situation in arms control.”

U.S. President Joe Biden similarly stated in June that engagement with Moscow on strategic stability and nuclear arms control issues must continue even as “we rally the world to hold Russia accountable for its brutal and unprovoked war on Ukraine.”

“Today—perhaps more than any other time since the Cold War—we must work to reduce the risk of an arms race or nuclear escalation,” Biden wrote in a June 2 letter to the Arms Control Association. “My administration is committed to reducing the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons, protecting the American people, and reinvigorating the global nuclear order to reduce the risk of use and proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

But senior U.S. administration officials indicated that current conditions in Ukraine prevent the resuscitation of the bilateral strategic stability dialogue with Russia that the United States paused at the outset of the war.

Prior to Biden’s statement, a senior U.S. official told The New York Times on June 1 that “right now it’s almost impossible to imagine” how the dialogue might resume before the last treaty limiting the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals expires in 2026. Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin extended this treaty, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), last year for five years. (See ACT, March 2021.)

Mallory Stewart, assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, made a similar point during the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting on June 2.

“With [Russia’s] illegal invasion of Ukraine and their continued, horrific 17th century activities, it’s very hard to figure out how we can sit and think that our diplomacy will be taken seriously on that side,” Stewart explained. “If there was some way to indicate good faith on their side, if there was some way to indicate that the dialogue would be more meaningful than just another meeting in Geneva, we could consider something.”

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on June 16 described the future of Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control as “important not only for the peoples of our two countries, but also for the whole world, for global security.” This topic, he added, is not one that can be avoided. But Peskov acknowledged on June 30 after Putin's remark that "there are no tangible plans" now to resume the dialogue.

Russia officially launched a full-blown war in Ukraine on Feb. 24. Within two days, the U.S. State Department announced a suspension of the strategic stability dialogue, which Biden and Putin had revived in 2021 and which last took place in January. (See ACT, March 2022; July/August 2021.)

In previous rounds of the dialogue, Washington and Moscow had begun to exchange proposals on future arms control arrangements to follow New START. They also established working groups in an attempt to make headway between official meetings. (See ACT, September and November 2021.)

“Our progress must continue beyond the New START extension,” Biden emphasized in June.

Jenkins, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said on May 26 that the United States remains committed to “eventually getting back to the table to continue the dialogue on laying the groundwork for future arms control and to the pursuit of follow-on measures” to New START.

She also reiterated the administration’s overall agenda for future arms control, to include sustaining limits on systems covered by New START, addressing new kinds of Russian nuclear weapons in the development or deployment stages, and limiting the Russian arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons.

For its part, Moscow has continued to call for the creation of “a new security equation” that addresses all nuclear and non-nuclear, offensive and defensive weapons that affect strategic stability. That would include U.S. missile defense systems, which Washington has long resisted putting up for negotiation, as well as missile systems formerly banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Russia incorporated this agenda into its December proposals on security guarantees to the United States and NATO.

Given the various likely divisive topics on the table and the makeup of the U.S. Senate, Washington and Moscow have conceded that what may follow New START might not be a traditional arms control treaty, but rather another type of arms control arrangement or arrangements.

Putin’s decision to raise the alert level of Russian nuclear forces in the opening days of the war and his multiple threats since then to use nuclear weapons should any country interfere in Ukraine has further highlighted the need for a revived dialogue to ensure limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals.

Despite Putin’s hostile behavior and rhetoric, the Biden administration has repeatedly made assurances that there is not an imminent threat of Russian use of nuclear weapons.

“We currently see no indication that Russia has intent to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” Biden wrote in a May 31 op-ed for The New York Times. “Let me be clear: Any use of nuclear weapons in this conflict on any scale would be completely unacceptable to us as well as the rest of the world and would entail severe consequences.”

The Pentagon also repeated its assessment on May 26 that it sees no indication that “we would need to change our strategic deterrent posture.”

Since March, U.S. national security officials have conducted a series of tabletop exercises to evaluate how the president should respond if Putin uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine or around the Black Sea. (See ACT, April 2022.) An administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Times on June 1 that the group is focusing primarily on non-nuclear responses, such as sanctions and conventional strikes.

The three ranking members on the House foreign affairs, intelligence, and armed services committees—Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Mike Turner (R-Ohio), and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), respectively—sent Biden a letter on June 17, asking for further details on how the United States might respond to the Russian use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

“We urge you to clarify U.S. policy concerning the use of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia in Europe and to clearly communicate such policy to the Russian government,” they wrote. “If Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the U.S. must act. This must be clear to Russia to deter their use of nuclear weapons in this unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, Russia in June proceeded with military nuclear exercises after simulated nuclear exercises the previous month. The latest drills were held in Ivanovo province, northeast of Moscow, with an estimated 1,000 troops and 100 vehicles, according to the Russian Defense Ministry on June 1.

The June exercises were aimed at practicing setting up missile systems in the field, carrying out “intensive maneuvering actions on combat patrol routes,” and organizing combat security. The drills featured the nuclear-capable Yars intercontinental ballistic missile.

A Russian military official said on June 1 that the Zircon, a sea-launched hypersonic cruise missile, has completed the testing phase of development and will be deployed by the end of 2022. In May, Russia said it had launched a Zircon missile from a frigate in the Barents Sea to a target about 625 miles away in the White Sea.

As U.S.-Russian tensions over Ukraine grow, neither shows signs of resuming bilateral contact that could avoid escalation.

Little-Used U.S. Powers Employed to Aid Ukraine


June 2022
By Jeff Abramson

President Joe Biden is taking advantage of rarely used legal authorities to expedite massive new U.S. weapons deliveries and other assistance to Ukraine while continuing to delay issuance of a new policy that broadly defines the purpose of arms transfers.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) would not allow a $40 billion spending package to speed through the Senate via unanimous consent. He wanted  a special inspector general appointed to monitor the funds. The Senate voted to approve the spending on May 19 without Paul's changes and President Joe Biden signed it into law on May 21. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)In terms of aiding Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, the most symbolic move so far was Congress’ decision to pass legislation modeled after the World War II-era Lend-Lease Act, which enabled the Roosevelt administration to quickly provide arms to U.S. allies and turn the tide of that conflict.

The Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022 passed the Senate by a unanimous voice vote on April 6 and the House by an overwhelming 417–10 vote on April 28. In a speech touting the legislation that day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stressed the importance of “waiving time-consuming requirements on the president’s authority to send critical defensive resources to Ukraine.”

Biden waited until May 9 to sign the bill into law, providing a symbolic counter to Russia’s Victory Day celebrations. “Every day, the Ukrainians pay with their lives,” Biden said at the signing ceremony. “[T]he cost of the fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is even more costly.”

Although lend-lease authorities already exist, they are rarely used. The new law removes a number of hurdles encumbering Ukraine or other eastern European countries affected by the Russian war, including a prohibition on loans or leases lasting more than five years. Exactly how the president might use the new authority is not clear.

Meanwhile, on April 24, U.S. officials declared that an emergency existed in order to provide $165 million in ammunition to Ukraine under the Foreign Military Sale program. This was Biden’s first use of a rarely invoked authority under the Arms Export Control Act that allows the executive branch to bypass mandated congressional review periods before it can conclude arms sales.

Unlike in 2019 when both chambers of Congress passed resolutions to try to block President Donald Trump from using such an authority for emergency arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Biden did not face any significant opposition to his emergency declaration. Trump had to veto the resolutions, which Congress was unable to override in late July 2019. (See ACT, September 2019.)

The same day the House approved the lend-lease legislation, the Biden administration asked Congress for an additional $33 billion for Ukraine and European security through September, stating that $3.5 billion in existing authority to draw down U.S. stocks was nearly exhausted. (See ACT, May 2022.) The April 28 request included $5 billion in additional drawdown authority, $6 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, and $4 billion for the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing program.

On May 10, the House added to the request by passing an even larger $40 billion emergency package in a 368-57 vote. In a press release, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who sponsored the bill, said, “Given the magnitude of the terror campaign being waged against the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian democracy, we are morally obligated to ensure Ukraine has the security and economic aid they need.” The Senate passed the legislation 86–11 on May 19, and Biden signed it into law on May 21.

The law places very few hurdles on the administration’s use of the funds, an issue that prompted Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to block an effort to move the bill forward by unanimous consent on May 12. He proposed including language requiring the appointment of a special inspector general to monitor the funds. That could have forced the legislation back to the House despite presidential calls for quick action.

The law requires the Defense Department’s inspector general to provide a report on the funds within 120 days, a report on end-use monitoring efforts within 45 days, and an unclassified report every 30 days detailing defense articles and services provided to Ukraine.

At the same time as it is speeding weapons to Ukraine, the Biden administration continues to delay actions that would clarify its view on the role of U.S. arms transfers more broadly. Specifically, the administration has not used the moment to finally release its new conventional arms transfer policy despite telling congressional offices as least as long ago as July 2021 that a presidential policy that would do more to promote human rights was coming.

During an event hosted by the Forum on the Arms Trade on April 14, Mira K. Resnick, deputy assistant secretary of state for regional security, reiterated that the revised arms transfer policy had the “goal of revitalizing U.S. leadership on democracy and human rights.” But she did not indicate when the document would be finalized.

Civil society advocates have expressed frustration with the delay of the policy release, which they have attributed to administration preoccupation first with the collapse of the Afghan government in 2021 and now the war in Ukraine. To many of those advocates, the policy inherited from the Trump administration places too much emphasis on the commercial value of arms transfers. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

The current policy did not come up publicly during recent Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) preparatory meetings in late April. At the annual ATT conference of states-parties last August, U.S. representatives indicated that the policy would be “finalized shortly and released” and would be used to review “the proper relationship of the United States” to the treaty. (See ACT, October 2021.)

Despite expectations that this administration would do so, it has not taken action to honor the 2013 U.S. signature to the treaty, which Trump rejected in 2019. (See ACT, May 2019.) The vast majority of the countries providing weapons to Ukraine are treaty members. Today, there are 111 states-parties to the treaty, including all NATO countries aside from Turkey and the United States.

 

Invoking rare legal authorities will enable President Joe Biden to expedite deliveries of arms to defend against Russia.

U.S. Defense Officials Balk at Biden’s Nuclear Budget


June 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Top U.S. defense officials disagreed publicly with some Biden administration decisions to strip funding for nuclear capabilities from its $813 billion fiscal year 2023 request for national defense, while Republicans in Congress attacked the budget proposal as dangerously insufficient to keep pace with China, Russia, and inflation.

General Mark Milley (L), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shown testifying to Congress with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (C) in May, has told lawmakers he disagrees with a Biden administration decision to cut funding for the new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile from the fiscal year 2023 budget. Austin supported the decision.  (Defense Department photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Wheeler)“This budget funds modernization of all three legs of the nuclear triad to ensure that we continue to maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said following the release of the detailed budget documents on March 28. Of the topline amount proposed for national defense, $773 billion is earmarked for the Pentagon.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) criticized the request for making “cuts to key capabilities” in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, meaning that “we will lose ground against China’s and Russia’s rapidly expanding arsenals.” He wrote a letter signed by 40 Republicans on March 23 demanding that the Biden administration focus investment on nuclear modernization and boost the budget by 5 percent over inflation.

The White House eliminated funding in 2023 for the new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM), which the Trump administration proposed in its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). According to news reports, the Biden administration’s version of the NPR reflects this decision. (See ACT, April 2022.) The White House sent a classified version of its NPR to Congress on the same day as it released its budget, but an unclassified version has not been made public.

“The marginal capability that [the nuclear SLCM] provides is far outweighed by the cost,” Austin told Congress on April 4. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro agreed with the administration’s decision. “I believe that we should zero out the SLCM line,” he said on May 12, adding that “the president has all the tools in his tool kit necessary to deter and deal with the threat.”

But three other leading U.S. defense officials—Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command Adm. Charles Richard, and Commander of U.S. European Command Gen. Tod Wolters—testified to Congress that the Pentagon should continue developing the weapon.

“My position on [the nuclear SLCM] has not changed,” Milley told the House Armed Services Committee on April 5. “My general view is that this president or any president deserves to have multiple options to deal with national security situations.”

Richard, who wrote a letter to lawmakers on April 4 supporting the nuclear SLCM, said in an April 4 hearing that, “[w]ithout this capability, adversaries may perceive an advantage at lower levels of conflict that may encourage limited nuclear use.” Wolters concurred with Richard’s assessment.

In fiscal year 2022, Congress approved $15.2 million for the Navy’s new cruise missile and its associated nuclear warhead. (See ACT, January/February 2022.)

Another nuclear capability likely on the chopping block is the megaton-class B83-1 gravity bomb. According to press reports, the Biden NPR is expected to make the case for cancelling plans to extend the life of the bomb, which was initially slated to be retired around 2025 before the Trump administration moved to keep it in the arsenal.

Budget documents for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) do not clarify funding for the gravity bomb. Experts believe that although there appears to be some sustainment funding for the B83-1 to ensure its safety and reliability over the next year, there are no funds for a full life extension program. In fiscal year 2022, Congress appropriated $98.5 million for the bomb’s sustainment and alteration.

Overall, the Biden administration proposed to spend $50.9 billion on nuclear weapons in 2023, with $34.4 billion for the Pentagon, which leads in building nuclear delivery systems, and $16.5 billion for the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department, that builds and maintains nuclear warheads. These accounts consume 6.5 percent of the total national defense budget and reflect an 18 percent increase from the previous fiscal year’s spending.

The Pentagon described its request as necessary to implement the 2022 National Defense Strategy, which, according to the unclassified factsheet released on March 28, identifies China as the department’s “pacing challenge” and Russia as an “acute” threat. The factsheet outlines the Pentagon’s aim to implement integrated deterrence, which officials describe as being supported by the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“Nuclear weapons continue to provide foundational strategic deterrent effects that no other element of U.S. military power can replace,” Vice Adm. Ron Boxall, director for force structure, resources, and assessment on the Joint Staff, told Congress in March. “A safe, secure, effective, and credible nuclear deterrent is the ultimate backstop to protect the American homeland and our allies.”

Richard also said that “the absolute minimum that we need to do is to recapitalize the triad, the nuclear command and control, and the nuclear weapons complex” to counter China and Russia. “What we have today is the absolute minimum, and we are going to have to ask ourselves what additional capability, capacity, and posture do we need…based on where the threat is going,” he said.

The National Defense Strategy encompasses the NPR and the Missile Defense Review, which are all Defense Department documents. The White House is in charge of producing the National Security Strategy, which guides the Pentagon documents. It has not been released.

In general, the Biden administration’s budget proposal continues plans started during the Obama administration to replace components of all three legs of the nuclear triad, while halting a few programs added by the Trump administration.

The Navy requested $6.2 billion for construction and continued research and development on a fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, a $1.1 billion increase from the 2022 appropriation. This amount “will provide the third and final year of incremental full funding” for the first submarine, to be delivered in 2028, and enable advanced procurement of future submarines of this class, according to the budget documents.

Meanwhile, the Air Force proposed $5 billion for the B-21 Raider strategic bomber, up $2 billion from the previous appropriation. The service announced in September that five out of an estimated 100 planned bombers were in production and expected to achieve operational status in the mid-2020s.

The Air Force requested $981 million for the long-range standoff weapon system to replace the existing air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), a 64 percent increase over the 2022 appropriation of $599 million. The total includes the first request for procurement funding at $31 million.

Another Air Force program, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, renamed the Sentinel in April, was budgeted at $3.6 billion, a $1 billion increase from the last appropriation.

The service plans to buy more than 650 new Sentinel missiles to begin replacing the fleet of 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in fiscal year 2029, with testing starting in 2024. The Pentagon solicited a study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on potential alternatives for the land-based leg of the nuclear triad. The study was to be completed by the end of January 2022, but has not been made public.

Although the Army does not have nuclear weapons in its arsenal, after the 2019 U.S. withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the service announced its pursuit of a conventional, ground-launched, midrange missile capability that would have likely been prohibited under the accord. The budget documents renamed this capability the Strategic Mid-Range Fires program, for which the Army requested $404 million, $118 million more than the 2022 appropriation. The weapon will be based off the Navy’s Standard Missile-6 and Tomahawk cruise missile.

The NNSA budget request includes $241 million for another controversial program proposed by the Trump administration and continued by the Biden administration: the new high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead (W93). The request is a giant increase from the $72 million appropriation in 2022. The Pentagon is also seeking $97.1 million for the warhead’s associated aeroshell, up from $62 million the previous year.

In addition, the administration asked for continued funding for the B61-12 gravity bomb, the W87-1 ICBM warhead, and the W80-4 ALCM warhead upgrade at $672 million, $680 million, and $1.1 billion, respectively. The budget documents revealed planning for a future strategic warhead, with proposed spending starting in fiscal year 2027 at $70 million.

The NNSA budget includes $2.3 billion for plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Savannah River Site. The Trump NPR in 2018 and Congress in 2019 called for the NNSA to produce at least 80 pits a year by 2030, even though experts questioned the feasibility of this goal due to cost and past performance.

For the first time, the NNSA has acknowledged that this goal cannot be met. “No additional amount of money will get 80 pits per year in 2030,” NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby told Congress on May 4, adding that the agency will nevertheless still work to make more pits and reach this goal “post-2030.”

In another first, the Pentagon did not seek funds for a layered homeland missile defense system, after two consecutive years of requesting funding that Congress judged was not needed. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) had plans to adapt the Aegis missile defense and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems, both designed to defeat short- and intermediate-range missiles, to intercept limited ICBM threats, which is the aim of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system based in Alaska and California.

The budget documents noted the elimination of the layered homeland defense program from the MDA request and, in the case of Aegis, specified that there are no plans to request funding in the coming years.

Reporters asked MDA Director Adm. Jon Hill about the future of layered homeland defense during a March 28 briefing, but he skirted the question, suggesting the answer will be featured in the Missile Defense Review, which has yet to be released in an unclassified format.

The MDA requested continued R&D, procurement, and maintenance for current missile defense systems separate from the layered homeland defense effort. This includes $1.6 billion for the Aegis system and the procurement of 47 Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IB missiles and 10 SM-3 Block IIA missiles.

The overall proposal for the GMD system came in at $2.8 billion. This includes $68.9 million to improve the reliability and performance of the existing Ground Based Interceptors (GBIs) and $1.8 billion for the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI). The MDA plans to begin supplementing the existing 44 GBI missiles with 20 NGI missiles no later than 2028 to bring the fleet total to 64. The NGI request is a 107 percent higher than the 2022 appropriation of $884 million.

The MDA requested $422 million for the THAAD system, including $260 million for R&D and $75 million for three interceptors.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon also budgeted $342 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which is aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as the coronavirus. This is a slight decrease from the previous year’s appropriation, but in the last two fiscal years, Congress significantly boosted the program above the requested amount, leaving open the possibility lawmakers may do so again.

Some top U.S. defense officials oppose cutting funds for the new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile.

U.S. Rushes Hypersonic Development


June 2022
By Shannon Bugos

The Pentagon plans to continue marching ahead with the rapid development and deployment of hypersonic weapons capabilities across its services, despite some setbacks in testing and questions about how effective they may be in warfare, according to the Biden administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2023.

Russia became the first nation to use new hypersonic weapons in warfare with strikes featuring Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missiles against two locations in Ukraine in March. (Photo credit: www.kremlin.ru)“The future security environment requires us to innovate across all domains and drives us to optimize our investments” in areas including hypersonic weapons, Adm. Chris Grady, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress on March 28. Michael McCord, the Pentagon comptroller, also testified that, in particular, “hypersonics are central to Pacific strategy.”

Russia became the first nation to use new hypersonic weapons in warfare with strikes featuring Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missiles against two locations in Ukraine in March. (See ACT, April 2022.) A Ukrainian military official said that Russian bombers also struck a “tourist infrastructure target” in Odesa in southwestern Ukraine with three Kinzhal missiles on May 9, but the Pentagon has not confirmed this account.

Overall, a senior U.S. defense official said on May 10, “We would assess at this time…76 days in or whatever it is, probably between 10 and 12” Russian hypersonic weapons have been used against Ukrainian targets.

Russia fielded the Kinzhal system in 2018, according to expert assessments, and the Avangard hypersonic boost-glide vehicle in 2019. The United States has at least five hypersonic weapons programs in the works across the Air Force, Army, and Navy, plus four programs underway at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Although the United States is pursuing a conventional-only capability, China, which may have deployed its first hypersonic weapon in 2020, and Russia appear to be seeking nuclear or dual-capable hypersonic capabilities.

Given this, members of Congress and defense officials have claimed that Washington has fallen behind Moscow and Beijing and therefore endorsed efforts to accelerate U.S. hypersonic weapons development so as to deploy this capability as soon as possible and catch up with and eventually surpass China and Russia.

“We’re behind our adversaries” in hypersonics, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said on April 5.

But after Russia used hypersonic weapons in Ukraine, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, downplayed the initial influence of this capability on the battlefield.

“The Russians have used several hypersonic missiles,” Milley told Congress on May 11. “Other than the speed of the weapon, in terms of its effect on a given target, we are not seeing really significant or game-changing effects to date with the delivery of the small number of hypersonics that the Russians have used.”

Hypersonic weapons are defined as traveling at speeds at least five times the speed of sound with greater maneuverability over unique altitudes.

The Air Force has requested $162 million for the research and development of the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) system, one of the first U.S. hypersonic weapons scheduled to enter the field, in fiscal year 2023, which is a $157 million decrease from the 2022 appropriation. In the original budget documents, $47 million of the total ARRW system request was slated for procuring one ARRW system, but the service later decided against any procurement funding due to three test failures in 2021.

“As much as we are encouraged to have failures, we have to have success before we can move forward to production,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 3.

The ARRW system completed its first successful booster flight test on May 14, during which the booster “ignited and burned for expected duration” after separating from a B-52H bomber off the coast of California, according to an Air Force statement. The Air Force will conduct additional booster flight tests of the system in fiscal year 2022 and four all-up-round tests in fiscal year 2023, before transitioning to an early operational capability also in 2023. “Initial fielding and operational use…will be on the B-52 aircraft and have a 15-year shelf life,” the Air Force said.

The service also requested a second year of funding for a hypersonic weapons program called the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile of $317 million, a 67 percent increase from the 2022 appropriation. Vice Adm. Ron Boxall, director for force structure, resources, and assessment on the Joint Staff, told Congress on March 28 that the missile is slated to be fielded on F-15 fighter jets in 2027.

The Navy has two hypersonic weapons programs underway. The service requested $1.2 billion for the Conventional Prompt Strike system, a 9 percent decrease from the 2022 appropriation. This system features the common hypersonic glide body that is shared with the Army’s program and will be added to Zumwalt-class destroyers starting in 2025 and to Virginia-class submarines in 2028. The Navy also asked for $92 million for the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare system and plans to field it in 2028.

Meanwhile, the Army is working on the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon program, for which it requested $1.1 billion, including $807 million in research and engineering and $250 million for procurement. The system is slated to enter the field in fiscal year 2023.

DARPA is seeking $253 million for its multiple hypersonic weapons R&D programs, a $59 million increase from the 2022 appropriation. These programs include Glide Breaker, Tactical Boost Glide, and MoHAWC, for which it requested $18 million, $30 million, and $60 million, respectively.

The Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) system, a hypersonic air-launched cruise missile, has been completed after flight tests in 2021. MoHAWC is the successor program, with Raytheon and Lockheed Martin as the prime contractors. Each company recently successfully tested its respective version of the HAWC system. (See ACT, May 2022.) Lessons learned from developing the earlier weapon will be incorporated into the MoHAWC cruiser design, according to the budget documents.

The tactical boost glide program will aim to conduct its third flight test in the upcoming fiscal year.

Glide Breaker, a design for a hypersonic defense interceptor, is budgeted for a 161 percent increase over its previous appropriation as the program enters a new phase that includes wind tunnel and flight testing.

Meanwhile, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) requested $226 million for hypersonic missile defense activities, a 22 percent decrease from the previous year. This effort includes $149 million for a system to defeat a hypersonic missile in its glide phase, which involves the development of an interceptor and updates to the Aegis system to incorporate it. The MDA awarded contracts to three companies in 2021 to develop an interceptor prototype. (See ACT, January/February 2022.)

The agency requested $89 million for the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) program, which is intended to be a new constellation of satellites for tracking hypersonic missiles in flight and guiding the proposed interceptor to its target. The request is down 67 percent from the 2022 appropriation because the satellite development is complete.

In 2023, “[w]e will launch two prototype hypersonic and ballistic tracking space sensors for on-orbit experimentations in conjunction with the U.S. Space Force and the Space Development Agency (SDA),” Dee Dee Martinez, MDA comptroller, said on March 28.

The SDA is similarly developing satellites for tracking hypersonic missiles as part of its “tracking layer” effort, for which the agency requested $500 million for fiscal year 2023 after Congress appropriated $550 million the previous year, despite no such ask from the agency. (See ACT, April 2022.)

The goal eventually is to integrate HBTSS and SDA satellites and place them within the Space Force’s overarching missile tracking architecture, MDA Director Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill explained in March, and the information gleaned during the upcoming fiscal year will help to determine the fate of the HBTSS program.

“We should have data coming down in the summer ’23 or so, and we’ll be able to help the Space Force make decisions,” Hill said.

The Space Force also requested $400 million to begin a “new resilient” missile warning and tracking system that will help “address emerging challenges such as hypersonic missiles and anti-satellite weapons.”

The Pentagon is hastening the pace of development despite some questions about warfighting effectiveness.

Emphasis Intensifies on Unmanned Systems


June 2022
By Michael Klare

Running throughout the Defense Department budget request for fiscal year 2023 is the widespread expectation that unmanned weapons systems, such as drone ships, planes, and ground vehicles, will play an increasing role in future U.S. military planning. There is no single heading for such systems in the overall budget, but each military service incorporates unmanned weapons systems of one sort or another in its individual request.

An MQ-25 Stingray drone, which is to be deployed on carriers and perform refueling and surveillance functions, was tested in December 2021 while underway aboard USS George H.W. Bush. (Boeing Photo/ Tim Reinhart)The proposed budget, released April 15, also includes substantial funding for research on artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, automated command and control, and other technologies related to the development of unmanned systems.

Unmanned weapons, the budget documents indicate, will replace or supplement manned systems in a growing array of combat tasks. The Air Force, for example, speaks of its Next Generation Air Dominance program, which is to incorporate advanced drone aircraft serving alongside next-generation fighter planes. This program, it says, will provide “survivable, persistent, and lethal options through a mix of manned, unmanned, and optionally-manned aircraft.”

The Pentagon’s request for research, development, testing, and evaluation includes $1.7 billion for this program, but how that money will be spent is not explained. The Air Force request also includes $187 million for enhancements to the MQ-9 Reaper combat drone and $111 million for work on the MQ-4C Triton high-altitude surveillance drone.

As with the Air Force, the Navy projects a widening role for unmanned systems in its future combat formations. “Unmanned platforms play a vital role in our future fleet,” it affirmed in the defense budget overview. “Successfully integrating unmanned platforms—under, on, and above the sea—gives our commanders better options to fight and win in contested spaces.”

To supplement conventional, human-crewed warships in future naval contests, the Navy is developing prototypes for a medium and a large unmanned surface vessel. Each is to serve as a model for a “reconfigurable, multi-mission vessel designed…for unmanned missions [to] augment the Navy’s manned surface force,” the Pentagon’s request states. The Navy is seeking $339 million for continued development of these vessels in 2023, with an additional $61 million for unmanned undersea vessels.

In addition, the Navy requested $1.2 billion for the MQ-25 Stingray drone, which is to be deployed on carriers and perform aerial refueling and surveillance functions. The request also incorporates $748 million to procure an initial batch of four MQ-25s, $758 million for three MQ-4Cs, and $190 million for five MQ-9s.

Like its sister services, the Army emphasized the integration of unmanned systems into its future combat formations, requesting $116 million for a tactical unmanned ground vehicle and millions more for research on related technologies.

The Pentagon request also seeks increased investment in advanced computing and information technologies, particularly those, such as AI, that can be incorporated into automated command-and-control systems. To support research on the underlying technologies, the request includes $1.1 billion for “core AI.” It also provides substantial funds for automated command-and-control systems that will incorporate these technologies, including the Air Force’s advanced battlefield management system, which is budgeted at $231 million in 2023.

 

The Pentagon expects that unmanned drones, ships, planes, and ground vehicles will play an increasing role in U.S. military planning.

U.S. Seeks to Speed Chemical Weapons Destruction


June 2022
By Leanne Quinn

The Defense Department program responsible for eliminating the last vestiges of the U.S. chemical weapons arsenal hit a milestone in April when it completed destruction of the government’s stockpile of deadly VX agent at a facility in Kentucky. The program is now seeking regulatory approval for a new plan to speed destruction activities at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Colorado.

Operators move rockets containing VX nerve agent from a pallet to a transfer cart to begin the destruction process at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Kentucky. The rockets were among the last with VX in the U.S. stockpile to be destroyed. The U.S. Defense Department is now trying to speed up the destruction of chemical weapons at a site in Pueblo, Colorado.  (Photo courtesy of Bechtel)Under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the United States is obligated to destroy its chemical weapons by September 2023. That goal was advanced when the Defense Department’s Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program destroyed the last M55 rocket containing the nerve agent VX at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Richmond, Ky. on April 19. The program’s proposed plan to accelerate destruction operations at the Colorado facility seeks to counteract slow munitions processing rates that could make it difficult to meet the CWC deadline for destroying all U.S. chemical weapons.

Originally, more than 523 tons of mustard and nerve agent were stored in rockets and projectiles at the Blue Grass plant. The milestone in April marked the complete destruction of the U.S. VX arsenal, and the completion of four out of five destruction campaigns at the Kentucky facility. The final campaign will undertake the destruction of the remaining 277 tons of GB nerve agent in M55 rockets.

The Colorado site employs multiple technical processes to destroy the chemical munitions and agents stored at nearby Pueblo Army Depot. Since operations began in September 2016, the site has destroyed 2,255 tons of the 2,600 tons of various chemical munitions originally stored at the depot.

At an April 27 public meeting of the Colorado Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission, Walton Levi, project manager at the Pueblo site, announced the possibility of speeding up the destruction by processing some of the 4.2-inch mortar rounds in the main plant in addition to three static detonation chambers.

“We can run [4.2-inch mortar rounds] in the main plant. That gives us some greater certainty that we will meet the treaty deadline,” Levi said. But he said the plan still needs to be formally approved and permitted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

According to the Pentagon’s program office, the Colorado stockpile initially consisted of three chemical munitions types: 155mm and 105mm projectiles and 4.2-inch mortar rounds, all containing mustard agent. The pilot plant has used neutralization followed by biotreatment to destroy the majority of its 155mm and 105mm projectiles. A limited number of problematic munitions have been destroyed in detonation chambers. The destruction of the 155mm weapons was completed in September 2020, and program officials estimate that the destruction campaign for the 105mm projectiles will finish in July.

The majority of the 4.2-inch mortar rounds originally were slated to be eliminated by three static detonation chambers, which use thermal heating to detonate or deflagrate munitions, mustard agents, and explosive components. The trial burn testing finished on May 13, and, according to John Jackson, deputy plant manager for the static destruction chambers, the site will “continue to process [4.2-inch mortar rounds] at 50 percent rates on one [static destruction chamber] unit at a time.” Nearly 2,000 mortar rounds have been destroyed, but thousands more remain.

At the current pace, the static detonation chambers at the Colorado plant could delay the destruction of the remaining portion of the U.S. declared chemical weapons stockpile past the September 2023 deadline. Downtime, maintenance, or a 5-day week operating schedule could extend the time needed to finish the destruction activities, but processing some munitions in the main plant could help alleviate the issue.

Levi said that the plant team is “leaning forward as a program and a project to be ready when and if that [permit] decision is made.” The team is working on a “plug-in and operate” design to process the 4.2 inch mortar rounds in the main plant so that they can hit the ground running by late summer.

 

A Pentagon program eliminated the last U.S. VX agent weapons but still must destroy others.

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