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“Over the past 50 years, ACA has contributed to bridging diversity, equity, inclusion and that's by ensuring that women of color are elevated in this space.”
– Shalonda Spencer
Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation
June 2, 2022
The United States and the Americas

Biden Budget Cuts Threat Reduction Efforts


July/August 2021
By Shannon Bugos

A key Pentagon program aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as the coronavirus, is once again facing the budget axe, this time under President Joe Biden.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), shown here attending a House Armed Services Committee hearing in 2020, has questioned President Joe Biden's cuts in a key Pentagon program aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges. (Photo by Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)The Trump administration proposed a similar cut to the program last year, a move that was roundly criticized by members of Congress from both parties and ultimately reversed in final appropriations legislation. (See ACT, April 2020.)

Lawmakers have already begun to express similar misgivings about the Biden administration’s submission, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives in the United States and abroad.

“Rather than cut funding, we need to double down, learn from the global pandemic, and support programs that work to increase our capacity to anticipate and respond when another dangerous pathogen arises,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee that oversees this program, told CQ Roll Call on June 8.

The Pentagon is seeking $240 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program in fiscal year 2022, a significant 33 percent decrease from the fiscal year 2021 appropriation of $360 million. (See ACT, January/February 2021.) Congress provided about $120 million more for the program in 2021 than the Trump administration requested.

Of the $240 million, $124 million would be for the Biological Threat Reduction program, a 45 percent decrease from the amount appropriated for 2021. The Trump administration last year sought to slash this program by 38 percent from the fiscal year 2020 appropriation, but Congress rejected the proposal and instead appropriated $225 million.

The Pentagon’s 2022 budget documentation attributed the proposed decrease to the plus-up approved last year by Congress for the program, as well as reprioritization within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The CTR program, commonly known by the authors of the 1991 law that established it, Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), has facilitated the deactivation of thousands of former Soviet nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, the securing of countless biological pathogens, and the destruction of thousands of tons of chemical weapons agents.

The 2022 budget request for the program includes $13 million to secure and eliminate chemical weapons and $59 million to prevent WMD proliferation. To secure and dismantle nuclear weapons, it seeks $18 million, half of the 2021 appropriation.

The Biden administration is requesting $1.9 billion for nuclear nonproliferation programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department that is responsible for maintaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure. That is a decrease of $14 million from the 2021 appropriation and an increase of $178 million from the Trump administration’s projection in last year’s budget request.

The administration requested $343 million for the Material Management and Minimization program, a 14 percent decrease from the 2021 appropriation. The program supports the removal of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium used in civilian nuclear programs around the world. It also converts research reactors and medical isotope production facilities from using HEU, a fissile material that can be used for nuclear weapons, to using low-enriched uranium.

The requested $185 million for the Nonproliferation and Arms Control program, however, would be a 25 percent increase from the previous fiscal year’s appropriation. The increase largely would accelerate “the development of the nonproliferation enrichment testing and training platform for use by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” according to the budget documents.

At the State Department, the administration requested about $320 million for nonproliferation activities, including $95 million for the voluntary U.S. contribution to the IAEA, $86 million for efforts aimed at preventing biological and chemical weapons attacks, and $31 million for the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, which oversees the global network used to detect nuclear test explosions.

 

A key Pentagon program aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges is facing the budget axe under President Biden.

Trump-Era Missile Defense Spending Continues


July/August 2021
By Kingston Reif

The Biden administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget request would continue the Trump administration’s plans for missile defense, including a controversial proposal to supplement U.S. homeland missile defenses by modifying existing systems to defend against longer-range threats.

The Missile Defense Agency has plans for an elaborate layered homeland missile defense system but questions abound. (Illustration by the Missile Defense Agency)The administration is asking for $20.4 billion for missile defense programs in 2022. Of that amount, $8.9 billion would be for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), $7.7 billion would be for non-MDA-related missile defense efforts such as early-warning sensors and the Patriot system, and $3.8 billion would be for nontraditional missile defense and left-of-launch activities such as conventional hypersonic weapons.

The MDA request of $8.9 billion would be a decrease of 18 percent from the fiscal year 2021 level of $10.5 billion appropriated by Congress, but is similar to the roughly $9 billion the Trump administration was planning to request. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

The MDA is asking for a total of $225 million for the layered homeland missile defense approach to adapt the Aegis missile defense system and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, designed to defeat short- and intermediate-range missiles, to intercept limited intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threats.

Of that amount, $99 million would be for the Aegis system to “support a phased delivery of operational capability” to supplement the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system based in Alaska and California. The request also contains $65 million to “demonstrate THAAD capabilities for regional and homeland applications.”

The additional funds for layered homeland defense would support modeling and simulation and coordination of command-and-control activities.

The MDA requested $274 million for layered homeland missile defense in 2021. But Congress poured cold water on the proposal and provided $49 million only for limited concept studies, a decrease of $225 million from the budget request. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

The skepticism from Congress came on the heels of a successful first intercept test of the Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile against an ICBM target on Nov. 17. (See ACT, December 2020.)

But a report published in April by the Government Accountability Office said the test “was not an operational test…and it was executed under highly favorable conditions.” The report raised other concerns about the feasibility of the layered homeland missile defense approach.

Vice Adm. Jon Hill, the director of the MDA, suggested to reporters on May 28 that the layered homeland defense approach may no longer be as high of a priority for the agency.

“[T]here are some very serious policy implications” regarding the approach, he said, “and so we want to make sure that we get the policy angles right.”

“We want to make sure that it's still a need” for the U.S. Northern Command, Hill said, given planned upgrades funded in the budget to improve the capacity of the existing GMD system, which has been plagued by development problems, testing failures, and reliability issues.

The GMD system would receive $745 million in research and development funding in the budget request.

The request also includes $926 million for development of the new Next Generation Interceptor (NGI). An independent Defense Department cost estimate published in April put the estimated cost of the interceptor at $18 billion over its lifetime. (See ACT, June 2021.)

The department plans to supplement the existing 44 ground-based interceptors with 20 of the new interceptors beginning not later than 2028 to bring the fleet total to 64. The budget request would continue to fund a service life extension program for the existing interceptors to keep them viable until the NGI is fielded.

The MDA is seeking $248 million to develop the capability to defend against new hypersonic missile threats.

The Biden administration is planning a review of U.S. missile defense policy and programs. Leonor Tomero, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 9 that the Pentagon would start the review “in the next few weeks.”

Asked whether it would be a “standalone” review or integrated with a larger review of deterrence issues, Tomero said, “[T]hat decision has not been made yet.”

Biden administration budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 would continue Trump-era missile defense plans.

Biden to Speed Development of Hypersonic Weapons


July/August 2021
By Shannon Bugos

The Biden administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget request would accelerate plans that began under the Trump administration to develop and field conventional hypersonic weapons to compete with Russia and China.

A B-52 carried the Air Force's Advanced Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW IMV), a hypersonic system, for its first captive carry flight over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in 2019. (Photo by U.S. Air Force)The Pentagon requested $3.8 billion for projects related to research and development of hypersonic weapons in the budget submission published on May 28, including two new hypersonic cruise missile programs for the Air Force and Navy.

The request also includes funding for initial procurement of the Air Force’s Advanced Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) system, the continued development of the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program, the addition of the CPS to Zumwalt-class destroyers, and the procurement of additional batteries of the Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) system.

“This budget supports our efforts to…accelerate investments in cutting-edge capabilities that will define the future fight, such as hypersonics and long-range fires,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 10.

Michael White, principal director for hypersonic weapons in the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said on June 2 that “we’ve really been very fortunate in having a new administration continue the momentum and step up and champion what we’re trying to do with delivering this war-fighting capability.” He emphasized the importance of this acceleration given that “our adversaries,” namely Russia and China, “have fielded capability today that we don’t have.”

The Air Force requested $238 million for continued R&D on the ARRW system, an air-launched hypersonic glide vehicle, a $40 million increase over the Trump administration’s projected request in last year’s budget documents. The request is nearly $150 million less than Congress’ fiscal year 2021 appropriation for R&D, the Air Force stated in its budget documents, “due to near program completion and transition to early operational capability” in 2022.

The service requested an additional $161 million for the system’s production and rapid fielding. The Air Force most recently conducted the first booster flight test of the system in April, but it failed. (See ACT, May 2021.)

The Air Force also asked for $200 million for the new Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile program to design, develop, and test “a prototype that will demonstrate the viability of a multi-mission weapon concept to be fielded as a long-range prompt strike capability.” The request was included as part of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which Congress created last year to boost deterrence against China in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Navy asked for $1.4 billion for the CPS program, an increase of about $600 million from last year’s appropriated amount and $70 million above the Trump administration’s projection. The Navy attributed the increase in part to the need to add the weapons system, which uses the common hypersonic glide body, to Zumwalt-class destroyers starting in fiscal year 2025.

The Navy is also seeking $57 million for its new Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare Increment II weapon, a high-speed, long-range, air-launched weapons system aimed at addressing “advanced threats from engagement distances allowing the Navy to operate in, and control, contested battle space in littoral waters and [anti-access and area denial] environments.”

The Army requested $412 million for the LRHW system, which also uses the common hypersonic glide body, for costs that include funding for additional LRHW batteries. That was a decrease of $114 million from the Trump administration’s projection, which the Biden administration attributed in part to reallocating funding to sdevelop ground-launched missile capabilities.

It is not clear what if any effects the proposed budget cut would have on the LRHW program.

The Army requested $286 million to develop a conventional, ground-launched, midrange missile capability. The service announced in November its selection of the Navy’s Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) and Tomahawk cruise missile to serve as the basis for the new capability. (See ACT, January/February 2021.) This effort “will leverage existing SM-6 and Tomahawk missiles for ground launch, to provide a responsive, highly accurate, deep strike capability designed to destroy high value, high payoff targets,” according to the Army’s budget documents.

Both the SM-6 and Tomahawk missiles would have been prohibited under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, from which the United States withdrew in August 2019. (See ACT, September 2020.)

The Biden administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget would accelerate Trump era plans to develop and field conventional hypersonic weapons to compete with Russia and China.

U.S. Plutonium Pit Costs Rise

June 2021
By Kingston Reif

The Energy Department’s cost to build the infrastructure to produce new plutonium cores for U.S. nuclear warheads could be as high as $18 billion, according to a department estimate and yet-to-be-released internal estimates detailed to Arms Control Today by a congressional source. 

A technician at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico manipulates plutonium as part of the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program in 2005. Current plans call for expanding the production of plutonium pits at both Los Alamos and at the Savannah RIver Site in South Carolina. (Photo: U.S. Energy Department)The updated price tag is nearly two and half times larger than earlier projections and is likely to raise fresh doubts about the affordability of the department’s aggressive plans to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure. 

The updated estimates are not reflected in the budget plan for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) that the Trump administration bequeathed to the Biden administration. That means future NNSA weapons program budget requests will require significant increases beyond current plans just to accommodate the growth in the projected cost of pit production. 

“The data shows that the last Administration sold a plan that is not executable and has left it to the Biden Administration to sort out,” the congressional source told Arms Control Today.

The Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review proposed to increase the rate of production of plutonium pits for nuclear warheads to at least 80 per year at two sites. Congress subsequently mandated production to that level in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. (See ACT, June 2018.)

Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico is slated to produce at least 30 pits per year by 2026 while the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina is pegged to produce at least 50 pits annually by 2030. 

The Energy Department’s semiautonomous NNSA announced on April 28 the approval of the Critical Decision 1 (CD-1) milestone for the Los Alamos Plutonium Pit Production Project.

“CD-1 approval marks the completion of the project definition phase and the conceptual design,” an NNSA press release stated. The CD-1 cost estimate for the Los Alamos pit facility is $2.7-3.9 billion, with an overall project completion date range of 2027-2028, it said.

That is an increase from a preliminary estimate of $1.5-3.0 billion completed in 2015 for the 30-pit capability. The NNSA press release did not specify how the agency plans to achieve the production of at least 30 pits per year at Los Alamos. 

According to the congressional source, the projected CD-1 cost to complete the pit production facility at Savannah River, which was presented to the Energy Department for a decision and has yet to be released, is $8-14 billion. In 2018, the agency had estimated that the facility would cost $1.8-4.6 billion to complete. 

The Biden administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget request published May 28 said: “The scope, cost and schedule estimates developed for the CD-1 approval package include an estimated high end of the cost range at $11.1B [billion].” It is not clear how the agency settled on this figure.

The updated cost estimate also raises questions about whether the Savannah River site can realistically produce at least 50 pits annually by 2030. Jill Hruby, President Biden’s nominee to be administrator of the NNSA told the Senate Armed Services Committee at her May 27 confirmation hearing that the 50-pit goal “is likely to, now, be somewhere between 2030 and 2035.” The budget request said that achieving that goal by 2030 “is not likely.”

The agency will set the official cost and schedule baseline for the Los Alamos and Savannah River facilities when their design is at least 90 percent complete. The Los Alamos facility is slated to reach this point in 2023. The agency has not suggested a target for the Savannah River facility. 

The Pentagon and the NNSA have offered several justifications for seeking a production capability of at least 80 pits per year by 2030. One is the need to build enough new W87-1 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) warheads to arm the Air Force’s new ICBM, known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent system. The new missile system is slated to be fielded between 2028 and 2036. 

Other justifications include enhancing the safety and security of nuclear warheads and hedging against uncertainty about the aging plutonium in the pits. The new production targets would allow the NNSA to replace all the estimated 3,800 operational warheads in the U.S. stockpile by the end of the century. 

But skeptics have raised concerns about the executability of and the need for the ambitious production plan. 

An independent March 2019 study by the Institute for Defense Analyses concluded that there is “no historical precedent” for the agency’s plan to go from the current annual production level of zero to 80 pits by 2030. “No available option can be expected to provide 80 pits per year by 2030,” the report said.

In addition, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted in a report published last September that the NNSA “has been unable to plan for and complete major construction projects on time” and, over the past two decades, Los Alamos “has twice had to suspend laboratory-wide operations after the discovery of significant safety issues.”

“The latest cost estimates suggest [the] NNSA has done little to improve its management of major programs,” Sharon Weiner, a former program examiner with the National Security Division of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a May 19 email. 

“Given that [the] NNSA is unlikely to meet pit production goals with either facility, now is the time to reconsider pit production plans rather than commit to two budget fiascos,” she wrote.

It remains to be seen whether the Biden administration will stick to the plan to produce 80 pits per year at two sites despite the growing price tag. 

Asked at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on May 12 if she supports the NNSA’s current approach, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm replied, “I do.” 

The rising cost of the plutonium mission comes on the heels of large spending increases on nuclear weapons programs at the NNSA over the past four years. (See ACT, March 2021.)

The ambition of the agency’s modernization program is unlike anything seen since the Cold War. Allison Bawden, a director at the GAO, told Congress in March 2020 that the federal spending watchdog is “concerned about the long-term affordability of the plans.”

The cost to build the infrastructure to produce plutonium cores for U.S. nuclear warheads could be as much as $18 billion, more than twice earlier projections.

Biden Open to Talks With North Korea

June 2021
By Sang-Min Kim

U.S. President Joe Biden has promised to engage North Korea diplomatically on pragmatic steps to end the nuclear threat and reinforced that commitment by appointing veteran U.S. diplomat Sung Kim to lead the effort.

Career diplomat Sung Kim, currently the ambassador to Indonesia, will also serve as the U.S. special envoy to North Korea, President Biden announced on Friday, May 28. (Photo: Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)Hosting South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House on May 21, Biden told a news conference that the United States and South Korea “share a willingness to engage diplomatically with [North Korea] to take pragmatic steps that will reduce tensions as we move toward our ultimate goal of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

Moon emphasized that pursuing North Korea’s denuclearization is the “most urgent common task” for the United States and South Korea to undertake. But in a hint of past difficulties in advancing that goal, Biden stressed that “we’re under no illusions how difficult this is.” 

North Korea’s arsenal of nuclear weapons and its stockpile of nuclear fuel has risen steadily at least since the Bush administration and roughly doubled in the past four years. It is estimated to have around 45 nuclear weapons, according to former Los Alamos weapons laboratory director Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea seven times between 2004 and 2010.

Kim, the new U.S. special envoy for North Korea, has been ambassador to Indonesia. Previously, he was ambassador to South Korea and also served as Obama’s special envoy to the six-party talks with North Korea. Moon praised the appointment as reflecting “the commitment of the U.S. for exploring diplomacy and its readiness for dialogue with North Korea.”

The summit took place several weeks after the Biden administration completed a review of North Korea policy. Few details have been made public.

Moon said the United States coordinated closely with his government and the resulting policy is “a very calibrated, practical, gradual, step-by-step manner, and very flexible” with the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as the ultimate objective.

The policy builds on the 2018 Singapore joint statement, which was issued after a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and calls for the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the establishment of a stable peace there.

Given that past administrations were unable to achieve denuclearization in a single, comprehensive deal, the policy moves away from a grand bargain, which North Korea rejected at the 2019 Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, and from the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” approach that refused serious diplomatic engagement until North Korea changed its nuclear provocations and behavior.

After reportedly rejecting earlier Biden administration efforts to engage, Pyongyang has “well received” the U.S. offer to explain the outcome of the policy review, according to Yonhap News Agency. 

Kurt Campbell, the White House policy coordinator for the Indo-Pacific region, stated in a Yonhap News Agency interview on May 18 that UN sanctions on North Korea will remain and continue to be enforced. China and Russia have been pushing for sanctions relief for North Korea.

The Washington Post reported on April 30 that one U.S. official stated that the United States is prepared to offer relief for specific actions.

Zhang Jun, China’s UN ambassador, said on May 3 that he hopes the United States gives more importance to diplomacy and dialogue than pressure in its new North Korea policy.

Beijing supports a dual-track approach of pursuing denuclearization and the establishment of a peace mechanism on the Korean peninsula.

The United States conducted the policy review in close consultation with allies Japan and South Korea, but has also been in touch with other states in the region, such as Russia, about it.

The president pledged a new diplomatic efforts to try to end the North Korean nuclear threat and named diplomat Sung Kim to lead the effort.

Projected Cost of U.S. Nuclear Arsenal Rises

June 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States will spend a total of $634 billion over the next 10 years to sustain and modernize its nuclear arsenal, according to the latest projection by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The estimate is 28 percent higher than the previous 10-year projection released in 2019 and could exacerbate concerns about the necessity and the sustainability of the current nuclear modernization effort amid what experts predict will likely be a flat defense budget in the coming years.

The CBO report, published May 24, includes the projected costs to sustain and modernize U.S. delivery vehicles, warheads, and their associated infrastructure across a range of programs that are managed by the Defense Department and the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The report estimates that the $634 billion in planned spending in fiscal years 2021–2030 will consume 6.0–8.5 percent of projected total spending on national defense during those years.

The 2019 CBO report had forecast total U.S. spending on nuclear forces at $494 billion through 2028 and estimated that the annual cost during those years would be 5–7 percent of the national defense budget. (See ACT, March 2019.) 

Of the $140 billion increase in spending identified in the 2021 report, the CBO attributed 36 percent, or about $50 billion, to an increase in spending on nuclear weapons during the eight years, from 2021 to 2028, that overlap in both estimates.

Another 50 percent or so of the increase results from inflation and from the fact that the 2021 report begins and ends two years later than the previous projection, the CBO calculated. The other 15 percent reflects the estimated cost of growth beyond projected amounts. 

The percentage increase of the nuclear weapons budget administered by the Energy Department is “substantially higher” than that for the Defense Department, the report said, with Energy Department costs “projected to total $229 billion, or 36 percent more than CBO estimated in 2019, whereas [Defense Department] costs are projected to total $406 billion, or 25 percent more than CBO estimated in 2019.” 

Congress appropriated $15.4 billion for NNSA nuclear weapons activities in fiscal year 2021, a nearly 25 percent increase above the previous year’s appropriation. (See ACT, March 2021.) Modernization costs for nuclear command, control, communications, and early-warning systems increased by $17 billion, to $94 billion, over 10 years in the latest CBO report.

Within the triad of nuclear delivery systems, projected spending on the U.S. fleet of ballistic missile submarines increased significantly, with the CBO putting the total price tag at $145 billion over 10 years, which is a $38 billion increase from the previous CBO estimate. The CBO attributed some of the increase to higher operating costs for the current fleet and plans to operate some of the submarines longer than initially planned. 

The cost of U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles is projected to grow to $82 billion over 10 years, $21 billion more than the 2019 projection. The CBO said that was due primarily to the difference in time periods covered by the reports. 

In addition, the CBO report estimates that the United States will spend $53 billion over the next 10 years on strategic bombers. The CBO notes that the estimate only covers a quarter of the costs of the B-52 bomber and the new B-21 bomber because the rest of the costs are assigned to the bombers’ conventional, not nuclear, mission. If the full cost of B-52 and B-21 bombers were included, the total cost of nuclear forces would be $711 billion, including cost growth. 

CBO projections are based on the plans reflected in the fiscal year 2021 budget requests that the Defense and Energy departments under the Trump administration submitted in February 2020, “provided those plans did not change or experience any cost growth or schedule delays.” The CBO also assumed that the Pentagon would move forward with directives listed in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, such as the fielding of a new sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM), although this program is believed to be under review by the Biden administration. (See ACT, April 2021.) 

The CBO report said that the estimate of the costs of the SLCM and its warhead of about $10 billion from 2021 to 2030 “is highly uncertain; in fact, it is still not clear whether the program will be pursued at all and, if so, what the design and development schedule will be.”

The United States will spend $634 billion over the next 10 years to sustain and modernize its nuclear arsenal, up 28 percent over the last estimate, the Congressional Budget Office says.

New ICBM Interceptor to Cost $18 Billion

June 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

A new U.S. interceptor intended to counter limited intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) strikes from North Korea or Iran could cost nearly $18 billion over its lifetime, according to the Defense Department’s independent cost assessment office. The new estimate comes amid continued questions about the future of the U.S. homeland missile defense mission and is at least 36 percent more than the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) had suggested. 

The price tag for the Next Generation Interceptor, intended to knock down North Korean missiles in space as part of U.S. homeland defense system, is projected to cost at least 36 percent more than earlier projections. It will replace the cancelled Redesigned Kill Vehicle (shown) program. (Photo: Raytheon)The Pentagon said in April that the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office estimates the cost of the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) at $17.7 billion. That figure represents $13.1 billion for up-front costs, including the purchase of 10 developmental interceptors; $2.3 billion for 21 operational interceptors; and $2.3 billion for operations and support costs over the life of the interceptors. 

The average cost to develop and purchase the 31 interceptors amounts to $498 million per interceptor, according to the CAPE office. The cost to purchase the 21 operational interceptors is $111 million per interceptor. 

The Pentagon in March awarded two research and development contracts for the interceptor to Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. (See ACT, April 2021.) The CAPE estimate “reflects the system development acquisition plan to carry two NGI contractor teams through Critical Design Review…at which point the [MDA] will down-select to a single vendor to proceed with the remaining development, testing, and production efforts,” Pentagon spokesperson Christopher Sherwood told Inside Defense in an April 27 statement. 

The NGI emerged after the Pentagon in 2019 cancelled the program to design an upgraded kill vehicle, the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV), for the already existing interceptors that are part of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. (See ACT, October 2019.) The MDA planned to deploy the RKV beginning in 2021 atop 20 new interceptors in Alaska to augment the existing fleet of 44 interceptors there and in California. The RKV was also intended to replace the aging kill vehicles atop the current fleet.

The agency spent a total of $1.2 billion on RKV development at the time the program was cancelled, according to a 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. 

The Defense Department hopes to begin fielding the NGI in fiscal year 2028 in silos at Fort Greely, Alaska. The department is not currently planning to replace the existing 44 interceptors, which have been plagued by development problems and testing failures, with the NGI but rather to supplement them with 20 of the new interceptors to bring the fleet total to 64 interceptors. 

Independent assessments put the cost to purchase the newest versions of the existing ground-based interceptors at $90–100 million per missile. The CAPE estimate of the NGI cost is higher than the MDA estimate of $11.3 billion for the program, the GAO said in an April 28 report.

The high price tag to acquire the NGI has raised concerns from some members of Congress. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), citing the shortcomings of the existing 44 interceptors and current plans to field just 21 NGIs, said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 12 that “[i]t’s not at all clear to me that spending billions of dollars on additional interceptors is the right call.” 

The Pentagon is planning to extend the life of the existing ground-based interceptors pending the deployment of the NGI in 2028. MDA Director Adm. Jon Hill said on May 12 that the life extension effort will increase the reliability of the interceptors “to kind of bridge that gap between when we’ll actually deploy the first NGI.”

Meanwhile, the April GAO report highlighted roadblocks to the Pentagon’s plans as of the end of the Trump administration for a new layered homeland missile defense approach that would augment the GMD system with the Aegis system, specifically the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptor, and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which is designed to defeat short- and intermediate-range missiles.

The GAO found that the GMD system’s fire control and engagement planning currently “does not take into account any other interceptor systems” and that managing engagement among multiple interceptor systems requires a “more cohesive integration with overall battle planning” than exists at this time. The agency also found that the existing ground-based interceptor has “hardware constraints that limit communication opportunities with ground systems while in flight.”

The GAO said “more development work is needed for the [Aegis] SM-3 Block IIA to support a layered homeland defense capability” and that this effort “could introduce considerable cost, schedule, and performance uncertainty to a program that has just entered initial production.”

The Pentagon in November 2020 conducted a successful first intercept test of the Aegis SM-3 Block IIA against an ICBM target. (See ACT, December 2020.) “This was not an operational test, however, and it was executed under highly favorable conditions,” the GAO noted.  

Furthermore, the GAO said that “there are a number of significant upgrades and steps to address obsolescence that would be needed to enhance THAAD’s performance and make it capable of performing” as part of the layered homeland defense.

The MDA requested $274 million in fiscal year 2021 to adapt the Aegis missile defense system and the THAAD system, to provide an additional layer of defense against limited ICBMs threats. But Congress poured cold water on the proposal and provided $49 million only for limited concept studies, a decrease of $225 million from the budget request. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

 

Amid continued questions about the future of the U.S. homeland defense mission, the cost of a new interceptor to counter North Korean and Iranian missiles could cost 36 percent more than expected.

U.S. Military Debates Ground-Launched Missiles


May 2021
By Kingston Reif

As the Defense Department continues to develop conventional missiles formerly banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, an internal debate within the department about the rationale for the missiles and uncertainty about where they might be based has spilled out into the open.

Air Force Gen. Timothy M. Ray, chief of the Air Force Global Strike Command, is among those questioning the wisdom of plans to develop a suite of conventional ground-launched missiles once banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. He is shown speaking to students at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. last November. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)“I genuinely struggle with the credibility” of the Army’s plan to develop the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon, Air Force Gen. Timothy M. Ray, chief of the Global Strike Command, said April 1 on an Air Force Association podcast. “I just think it’s a stupid idea to go invest that kind of money to re-create something that [the Air Force] has mastered,” he said.

The Army is developing a suite of ground-launched missiles with a range exceeding the 500-kilometer limit prohibited by the INF Treaty, including the Precision Strike Missile, a midrange missile capability, and the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon. (See ACT, October 2020.) The Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon is slated to have a range of several thousand kilometers, according to Army officials. The projected total cost of the weapon is unknown. Congress provided $861 million for the program in fiscal year 2021.

Several Pentagon officials have made a strong push for the development of longer-range ground-launched missiles to complement the long-range air and sea capabilities already provided by the Air Force and Navy. “A wider base of long-range precision fires…is critically important to stabilize what is becoming a more unstable environment in the western Pacific,” Adm. Philip Davidson, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 9. The Army and Marine Corps are enthusiastic “to embrace some of the capabilities that the Navy and Air Force have already developed,” Davidson added.

But Ray’s criticism of the Army’s plans suggests the Pentagon is not unified on the best way forward for the long-range strike mission. “Why would we entertain a brutally expensive idea, when we don’t, as a department, have the money?” he asked in reference to the projected cost of the Army’s long-range missile efforts.

Ray also raised questions about the ability of the Army to find basing options for the weapons. The Army, he said, is trying to “skate right past that brutal reality to check that some of those countries are never going to let you put…stuff like that in their theater…. Just go ask your allies.”

Whether the Pentagon could base the missiles in Europe and East Asia is unclear. Despite their concerns about Russia and China, U.S. allies have not appeared eager to host the missiles. Stacie Pettyjohn, the director of the defense program at the Center for American Security, raised concerns about rushing to develop a military capability without knowing where it might be based. “Building a missile [without] base access is risky [because] its location dictates range requirements,” she said in a March 30 tweet. “Unlike aircraft a missile’s range cannot be extended by in-flight refueling.”

Some Army officials have acknowledged the diplomatic challenge associated with basing. “It may be that none of our allies and partners in the Pacific want long-range fires” on their soil, Col. Jason Charland, a senior Army strategist at the Pentagon, told Breaking Defense on March 26. Meanwhile, Davidson noted that there needs to be “policy interaction” with allies in order to field the missiles on their territory.

Regarding the potential deployment of ground-launched missiles in Europe, Gen. Tod Wolters, the head of the U.S. European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 13 that NATO allies are “becoming more comfortable” with that prospect. But he did not provide further information about the status of formal discussions between the United States and NATO on basing.

It remains to be seen how much emphasis the Biden administration will place on continuing to develop longer-range ground-launched missiles. An initial version of the administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget request published on April 9 stated that the intention is to invest “in the development and testing of hypersonic strike capabilities while enhancing existing long-range strike capabilities to bolster deterrence and improve survivability and response timelines.”

Meanwhile, Russia continues to denounce U.S. efforts to develop ground-launched missiles and warned of the potential fallout should the United States move ahead with deployment of the weapons. “We want to point out again that the deployment of American land-based intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, regardless of what they carry, in various parts of the world, including in the Asia-Pacific Region, would have an immensely destabilizing effect in terms of international and regional security,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on March 12.

Zakharova also reiterated Moscow’s proposal for a moratorium on the deployment of missiles previously banned under the INF Treaty and some associated mutual verification measures. The Trump administration had dismissed that proposal.

A general is asking: Can the United States afford these new weapons and will allies agree to let them be based overseas?

U.S. Hypersonic Glide Vehicle Fails Test


May 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

A long-anticipated, first booster flight test of the Air Force’s air-launched hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, known as the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), failed on April 5.

U.S. Air Force crews secure the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) under the wing of a B-52H bomber at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in 2020. The first booster flight test of the ARRW, an air-launched hypersonic glide vehicle, failed when it took place in April. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)The test vehicle was meant to launch from a B-52 bomber, but “the test missile was not able to complete its launch sequence,” and the bomber returned to Edwards Air Force Base in California, according to an Air Force statement.

The test followed seven captive-carry flight tests, in which the aircraft carries the vehicle but does not release it, during 2019 and 2020. The April test, which was delayed from a scheduled December 2020 date, was intended to assess booster performance and simulate the separation of the booster from the boost-glide vehicle.

“The ARRW program has been pushing boundaries since its inception and taking calculated risks to move this important capability forward,” said Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the program executive officer for weapons and director of the armament directorate at the Air Force Materiel Command, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. “While not launching was disappointing, the recent test provided invaluable information to learn from and continue ahead. This is why we test.”

The Air Force plans to achieve an initial operating capability for the program in fiscal year 2022. Congress appropriated $387 million for it for fiscal year 2021.

The program is one of several prototype hypersonic boost-glide vehicle development programs underway at the Pentagon. The Army and the Navy have teamed up on the development of a common hypersonic glide-body vehicle, which conducted a successful flight-test experiment in March 2020. (See ACT, April 2020.) The Army plans to use the vehicle on mobile ground platforms in its Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon program, while the Navy aims to pair it with a submarine-launched booster system for its Conventional Prompt Strike program.

Congress in fiscal year 2021 appropriated $861 million for the Long-Range Hypersonic Program and $768 million for the Conventional Prompt Strike program.

Hypersonic weapons travel at least five times the speed of sound. Hypersonic boost-glide vehicles are distinguished from traditional ballistic missiles by their ability to maneuver and fly at lower altitudes.

The ARRW test followed the release of a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on March 22 that called for the Pentagon to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the 78 or more U.S. government organizations involved in hypersonic weapons development.

The GAO identified 70 efforts to develop hypersonic weapons and related technologies across the Defense Department in collaboration with the Energy Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at a projected price tag of about $15 billion from fiscal years 2015 through 2024. “Without clear leadership roles, responsibilities, and authorities,” says the GAO report, the Defense Department “is at risk of impeding its progress toward delivering hypersonic weapon capabilities and opening up the potential for conflict and wasted resources as decisions over larger investments are made in the future.”

The report added that defense officials describe “their development approach as acknowledging and accepting technology risk early in the program in order to achieve an operational hypersonic capability sooner, in line with [Defense Department] modernization priorities and in accordance with senior leaders’ guidance.”

Pentagon officials have given varying rationales for rushing forward with development. One involves keeping pace with China and Russia as they build similar weapons. Others include augmenting U.S. conventional war-fighting capabilities to defeat the air and missile defenses of advancing adversaries and to destroy time-sensitive targets.

Some experts have warned that new hypersonic weapons could increase the risk of rapid escalation in a conflict or crisis. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

The GAO report also highlighted sharp cost increases in two hypersonic weapons programs in particular, the ARRW and Conventional Prompt Strike programs, and the “ambitious” and “difficult to achieve” flight-test schedules for U.S. hypersonic weapons programs.

“Current plans call for as many as 40 flight tests over the next 5 years,” says the report, and the Defense Department relies on one long-range flight-test corridor that cannot handle such a busy schedule.

“If programs are unable to conduct as many flight tests as they planned, they will be forced to either proceed to an operational capability with fewer tests (and thus less knowledge), or to accept the delay, with schedule and cost consequences,” according to the report.

The test vehicle was unable to complete its launch from a B-52 bomber, a setback as the Air Force hastens to make the weapon operational in fiscal year 2022.

 

Navy Presses Ahead With Unmanned Vessels


May 2021
By Michael T. Klare

Despite suffering a severe setback in last year’s budget allocations, the Navy is pressing ahead with plans to increase its reliance on unmanned ships, planes, and submarines.

Despite congressional skepticism and budget cutbacks, the Navy is moving forward with plans to build more ships like the Sea Hunter, an entirely new class of unmanned sea surface vehicles. (Photo: U.S. Navy)When concluding work on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and military appropriations bill for fiscal year 2021, Congress voted to scrub $370 million from the $464 million requested by the Pentagon for the procurement of unmanned surface vessels and demanded more testing before approving any additional funds for the program.

Nevertheless, the Navy has proceeded with two initiatives intended to speed the development and deployment of unmanned systems. In March, it published a blueprint for future work in this area, titled “Unmanned Campaign Framework.” In April, it conducted its first major combat exercise incorporating such systems alongside more traditional manned vessels.

In addition to operational and other issues, there are language problems with the program. By using the term “unmanned” to refer to ships and planes devoid of humans, the Navy is perpetuating a stereotype of weapons platforms “manned” entirely by male sailors and fliers. The practice has generated criticism from analysts who argue for the use of a more gender-neutral term, such as “uncrewed” or “uninhabited” vehicles. At the same time, unmanned suggests a lack of human control over lethal systems, which is a problem in its own right because there is limited or non-existent human control and many experts and ethicists are deeply concerned about empowering machines to make life-and-death decisions.

For Pentagon officials, the deployment of ever-growing numbers of uncrewed ships and planes is considered imperative if the Navy is to confront two well-armed adversaries, China and Russia, simultaneously. Under the national defense strategy issued February 2018, the Navy, like all the armed services, is expected to accord its highest priority to preparations for all-out, high-intensity combat with those two countries. This is an especially daunting obligation for the Navy because it is expected to bear the brunt of any conflict with China, given the paucity of land features in the Pacific Ocean from which to conduct air and ground operations against Chinese forces. Further complicating the Navy’s task, China has been modernizing and expanding its own navy and has deployed hundreds of medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles for possible attacks on U.S. warships and their Pacific support bases.

If money were not a problem, the Pentagon would prefer to address these challenges by building additional crewed warships, such as carriers, cruisers, and destroyers. But big ships of this sort with large human crews are extremely costly. With defense spending expected to remain flat in the future and the Army and Air Force also seeking funds for additional weaponry, the procurement of so many crewed ships is simply not in the cards, hence, the Navy’s rush to develop less costly uncrewed vessels that can be procured in relatively large numbers. As suggested in October 2020 by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the acquisition of numerous uncrewed warships “will add significant offensive and defensive capabilities to the fleet at an affordable cost in terms of both sailors and dollars.”

To jump-start this effort, the Pentagon requested $580 million in its fiscal year 2021 budget submission for unmanned vessels, including $239 million for two prototype Large Unmanned Surface Vessels, $215 million for development work on Medium Unmanned Surface Vessels, and $116 million for development of Extra-Large Unmanned Underwater Vehicles. The request also envisioned total spending of $4.2 billion on these programs over fiscal years 2021–2025, allowing for the procurement of three prototype and seven deployable large unmanned vessels, one prototype medium-sized unmanned vessel, and six deployable extra-large unmanned vessels. (See ACT, November 2020.)

But Congress put a hold on this plan, denying funds for acquisition of the medium-sized and large unmanned vessels until the Navy could demonstrate that all their component systems had been tested and shown to work as intended. Some members of Congress are deeply skeptical this goal can be met in the near term. Moreover, reflecting concern about the lack of human officers to oversee the operations of unmanned ships when engaged in combat, the 2021 NDAA mandates that no lethal weapons system be installed on such a vessel until the defense secretary can certify that the system “will comply with applicable laws, including the law of armed combat.”

Seeking to reassure Congress on these points and secure fresh funding for its unmanned ship program, the Navy is now aiming to proceed in a more deliberative fashion, as evident in its “Unmanned Campaign Framework” report. Described as a “comprehensive strategy for realizing a future where unmanned systems serve as an integral part of the Navy’s warfighting team,” the document is intended to persuade skeptical lawmakers that the Navy will proceed in a step-by-step fashion to develop, test, and evaluate the components of fully autonomous naval vessels before rushing them into active duty. The governing concept, the report asserts, is to perfect the underlying “capabilities”—sensors, processors, guidance systems, and so forth—before rushing into the production of physical platforms. At the same time, proper consideration will be accorded to ethical and legal concerns. “As these unmanned systems become increasingly sophisticated,” it states, “an enduring central tenet of their use will be the continued exercise of appropriate levels of human judgment.” Despite the reassuring words, how this will be accomplished is not explained.

Meanwhile, to demonstrate the validity of its unmanned combat strategy, the Navy conducted its first combat exercise involving unmanned ships and planes, termed Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem 21, in late April. During the exercise, a Zumwalt-class stealth destroyer, the USS Michael Monsoor, exercised oversight of two experimental medium-sized unmanned surface vessels, Sea Hunter and Sea Hawk, as well as the MQ-8B Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), the MQ-9 Sea Guardian UAV, and “swarms” of small drones. According to Adm. Robert Gaucher of the Pacific Fleet, the exercise was designed to simulate a “Pacific warfighting scenario” and included “maneuvering in contested space across all domains, targeting and fires, and intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance.”

Some Pentagon officials say deploying rising numbers of uncrewed ships and planes is vital to confronting two well-armed adversaries—Russia and China—at the same time.

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