Posts from November, 2012

New Detailed Data For US Nuclear Forces Counted Under New START Treaty

Air Force personnel perform New START Treaty inspection training on a Minuteman III ICBM payload section at Minot AFB in 2011. Nearly two years into the treaty, there have been few reductions of U.S. deployed strategic nuclear forces.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. State Department today released the full (unclassified) and detailed aggregate data categories for U.S. strategic nuclear forces as counted under the New START treaty. This is the forth batch of data published since the treaty entered into force in February 2011.

Although the new data shows a reduction compared with previous releases, a closer reading of the documents indicates that changes are due to adjustments of delivery vehicles in overhaul at any given time and elimination on so-called phantom platforms, that is aircraft that carry equipment that make them accountable under the treaty even though they are no longer assigned a nuclear mission. Actual reduction of deployed nuclear delivery vehicles has yet to occur.

The joint U.S.-Russian aggregate data and the full U.S. categories of data are released at different times and not all information is made readily available on the Internet. Therefore, a full compilation of the September data is made available here. Continue Reading →

B61-12: Contract Signed for Improving Precision of Nuclear Bomb

The first contract was signed yesterday for the development of the guided tail kit that will increase the accuracy of the B61 nuclear bomb. This conceptual drawing illustrates the principle of adding a guided tail kit assembly to the gravity bomb.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. Air Force’s new precision-guided nuclear bomb B61-12 moved one step closer to reality yesterday with the Pentagon issuing a $178.6 million contract to Boeing. The contract covers Phase 1 (Engineering and Manufacturing Development) to be completed in October 2015. The contract also includes options for a Phase 2 and production.

In a statement on the contract, Boeing said that the tail kit program “further expands Boeing’s Direct Attack weapons portfolio” and that the precision-guided B61-12 would “effectively upgrade a vital deterrent capability.”

The expensive B61-12 project will use the 50-kiloton warhead from the B61-4 gravity bomb but add the tail kit to increase the accuracy and boost the target kill capability to one similar to the 360-kiloton strategic B61-7 bomb.

Because the B61-4 warhead also has selective lower-yield options, the tail kit will also allow war planners to select lower yields to strike targets that today require higher yields, thereby reducing radioactive fallout of an attack. The Air Force tried in 1994 to get a precision-guided low-yield nuclear bomb (PLYWD), but Congress rejected it because of concern that it would lead to more useable nuclear weapons. Now the Air Force get’s a precision-guided nuclear bomb anyway.

The U.S. Air Force plans to deploy some of the B61-12s in Europe late in the decade for delivery by F-15E, F-16, F-35 and Tornado aircraft to replace the B61-4s currently deployed in Europe. The improved accuracy will increase the capability of NATO’s nuclear posture, which will be further enhanced by delivery of the B61-12 on the stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Increasing the capability of NATO’s nuclear posture contradicts the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) adopted in May 2012, which concluded that “the Alliance’s nuclear force posture currently meets the criteria for an effective deterrence and defense posture.” Moreover, improving NATO’s nuclear capabilities undercuts efforts to persuade Russia to decrease its non-strategic nuclear forces.

Instead of improving nuclear capabilities and wasting scarce resources, the Obama administration must re-take the initiative to reduce the role of nuclear weapons and work with NATO to withdraw the nuclear weapons from Europe.

See also: Modernizing NATO’s Nuclear Forces: Implications for the Alliance’s Defense Posture and Arms Control
And: Previous blogs about NATO and nuclear weapons

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Nuclear Modernization Talk at BASIC Panel

Linton Brooks and I discussed nuclear modernization at a November 13 panel organized by BASIC.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

BASIC invited me to discuss nuclear weapons modernization with Linton Brooks at a Strategic Dialogue panel held at the Capitol Hill Club on November 13, 2012. We’re still waiting for the official transcript, but BASIC has a rough recording and my prepared remarks are available here. [Update: all material, including transcript with questions/answers, is available from BASIC].

In my talk, I argued that the Obama administration’s nuclear arms control profile is at risk of being overshadowed by extensive nuclear weapons modernization plans, and that the approach must be adjusted to ensure that efforts to reduce the numbers and role of nuclear weapons and put and end to Cold War thinking are clearly visible as being the priority of U.S. nuclear policy.

The administration has nearly completed a strategic review of nuclear targeting and alert requirements to identify additional reductions of nuclear forces. Release of the findings was delayed by the election, but the administration now needs to use the review to reinvigorate the nuclear arms reduction agenda that has slowed with the slow implementation of the modest New START Treaty and the disappointing “nuclear status quo” decision of the NATO Chicago Summit.

Germany and B61 Nuclear Bomb Modernization

During a recent visit to Germany I did an interview with the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk magazine FAKT on the status of the B61 nuclear bomb modernization.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Last week, I was in Berlin to testify before the Disarmament Subcommittee of the German Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on the future of the U.S. B61 nuclear bombs in Europe (see my prepared remarks and fact sheet).

One of the B61 bombs currently deployed in Europe is scheduled for an upgrade to extend its life and add new military capabilities and use-control features. The work has hardly begun but the project is already behind schedule and the cost has increased by more than 150 percent in two years, from $4 billion to $10.4 billion. The subcommittee wanted to know if the program is in trouble. I said I believe it certainly is.

The German television magazine FAKT did an interview (article; video) with me and it came as somewhat of a surprise to them that the B61 life-extension will not install a fire-resistant pit to improve the safety of the weapon. They also tried to get German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the program. The policy of the German government coalition is to try to have nuclear weapons removed from Germany and Westerwelle has publicly promoted this position clearly in the past. This time he did not want to talk, however, as journalists and camera-teams chased him down the hallway. He may have gotten shell-shocked by the pushback from the old nuclear guard in NATO.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle did not want to talk with MDR FAKT about withdrawal of US nuclear weapons.

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Although NATO recently determined that the current nuclear posture in Europe meets the Alliance’s deterrence and defense needs, NATO has decided – with German backing – to introduce a new precision-guided nuclear bomb in Europe with increased military capabilities at the end of the this decade for delivery by a new stealthy aircraft.

During my briefing to the foreign affairs committee I urged Germany to continue to push for a withdrawal. Otherwise it will have to explain to the German public why it has decided instead to support deployment of precision-guided nuclear bombs on stealth-delivered aircraft in Europe. The two positions will be hard to square.

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.