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B61 LEP: Increasing NATO Nuclear Capability and Precision Low-Yield Strikes

The US military is planning to replace the tail section of the B61 nuclear bomb with a new guided tail kit to increase the accuracy of the weapon. This will increase the targeting capability of the weapon and allow lower-yield strikes against targets that previously required higher-yield weapons.                                                            Image: FAS Illustration

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By Hans M. Kristensen

A modified U.S. nuclear bomb currently under design will have improved military capabilities compared with older weapons and increase the targeting capability of NATO’s nuclear arsenal.

The B61-12, the product of a planned 30-year life extension and consolidation of four existing versions of the B61 into one, will be equipped with a new guidance system to increase its accuracy.

As a result, if funded by Congress, the U.S. non-strategic nuclear bombs currently deployed in five European countries will return to Europe as a life-extended version in 2018 with a significantly enhanced capability to knock out military targets.

Add to that the stealthy capability of the new F-35 aircraft being built to deliver the new weapon, and NATO is up for a significant nuclear upgrade.

The upgrade would also improve the capability of U.S. strategic bombers to destroy targets with lower yield and less radioactive fallout, a scenario that resembles the controversial PLYWD precision low-yield nuclear weapon proposal from the 1990s.

Finally, the B61-12 will mark the end of designated non-strategic nuclear warheads in the U.S. nuclear stockpile, essentially making concern over “disparity” with Russian non-strategic weapons a non-issue.

The Obama administration and Congress should reject plans to increase the accuracy of nuclear weapons and instead focus on maintaining the reliability of existing weapons while reducing their role and numbers.

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Defense Science Board: Air Force Nuclear Management Needs Improvements

The Defense Science Board recommends reducing the number of inspections of nuclear bomber and missile units.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The Pentagon’s “independent” Defense Science Board Permanent Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Surety has completed a review of the Air Force’s efforts to improve the safety and proficiency of its nuclear bomber and missile units. The report comes three and a half years after the notorious incident at Minot Air Base where six nuclear cruise missiles were mistakenly loaded onto a B-52H bomber and flown across the United States.

The report, Independent Assessment of the Air Force Nuclear Enterprise, finds progress has been made but also identifies some serious issues that still need to be fixed. Some of them are surprising.

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10 NATO Countries Want More Transparency for Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons

Ten NATO countries recommend increasing transparency of non-strategic nuclear weapons, including numbers and locations at military facilities such as Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Neither NATO nor Russia currently disclose such information.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Four NATO countries supported by six others have proposed a series of steps that NATO and Russia should take to increase transparency of U.S. and Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons.

The steps are included in a so-called “non-paper” that Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland jointly submitted at the NATO Foreign Affairs Minister meeting in Berlin on 14 April.

Six other NATO allies – Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Luxemburg and Slovenia – also supported the paper. Continue Reading →

Report: What NATO Countries Think About Tactical Nukes

Most NATO countries support withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe, only three oppose, according to interviews with NATO officials.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Two researchers from the Dutch peace group IKV Pax Christi have published a unique study that for the first time provides the public with an overview of what individual NATO governments think about non-strategic nuclear weapons and the U.S. deployment of nuclear bombs in Europe.

Their findings are as surprising as they are new: 14, or half of all NATO member states, actively support the end of the deployment in Europe; 10 more say they will not block a consensus decision to that end; and only three members say they oppose ending the deployment.

Anyone familiar with the debate will know that while there are many claims about what NATO governments think about the need for U.S. weapons in Europe, the documentation has been scarce – to say the least. Warnings against changing status quo are frequent and just yesterday a senior NATO official told me that, “no one in NATO supports withdrawal.”

The report, in contrast, finds – based on “interviews with every national delegation to NATO as well as NATO Headquarters Staff” – that there is overwhelming support in NATO for withdrawal.

The most surprising finding is probably that most of the Baltic States support withdrawal, only Lithuania does not.

Even Turkey, a country often said to be insisting on continued deployment, says it would not oppose a withdrawal.

The only real issue seems to be how a withdrawal would take place. The three opposing countries – one of which is France – block a potential consensus decision, a condition for 10 countries to support withdrawal.

The Obama administration needs to take a much more proactive role in leading NATO toward a decision to end the U.S. deployment in Europe. This can be done without ending extended deterrence and without weakening the U.S. commitment to NATO’s defense.

Background: IKV Pax Christi study | Nuclear Notebook: U.S. Nuclear Weapons In Europe, 2011

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

The Nuclear Weapons Modernization Budget

The FY2012 budget request includes considerable nuclear weapon modernization

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Obama administration has published its budget request for Fiscal Year 2012, which includes its plans for maintaining and modernizing its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Due to the extensive debate about the New START treaty last year a great deal of the nuclear plans were already known. And the budget request demonstrates that the administration follows through on its promise to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal and production facilities.

How this modernization effort will color the administration’s public nuclear legacy remains to be seen.

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Publication: US Nuclear Weapons in Europe

The US Air Force deploys 150-200 B61 nuclear bombs in Europe.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Following  NATO’s strategic concept and expectations that the next round of US-Russian nuclear arms control negotiations will deal with tactical nuclear weapons in some shape or form, Stan Norris and I have published our latest estimate on U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Although the strategic concept states that “any” further reductions “must take into account the disparity with the greater Russian stockpiles of short-range nuclear weapons,” NATO has in fact been willing to make significant unilateral reductions in this decade regardless of disparity. Likewise, the United States has scrapped most of its tactical nuclear weapons because they are no longer important. It is important that the disparity argument does not become an excuse to prevent further reductions.

Our estimate of Russian tactical nuclear weapons is here with more details here.

Later this spring we will publish a more comprehensive report on U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons.

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

Tac Nuke Numbers Confirmed?

PDUSPD Jim Miller appears to confirm FAS/NRDC estimates for NATO and Russia tactical nuclear weapons.

By Hans M. Kristensen

A Wikileaks document briefly posted by The Guardian Monday appears to give an official number for the U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe: 180.

The number appears in a leaked cable written by U.S. NATO Ambassador Ivo Dalder in September 2009, describing an earlier Nuclear Posture Review briefing U.S. Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Jim Miller gave to NATO in July 2009.

Miller’s number is smack in the middle of the estimate Stan Norris and I have developed. I recently published a snapshot here (previous NATO posts are here), and a more detailed overview will appear in the January Nuclear Notebook in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Miller also stated that Russia had 3,000-5,000 plus tactical nuclear weapons. That also fits our estimate of approximately 5,300 weapons, previously published here and here.

Whether Miller was providing certified U.S. intelligence numbers or simply referenced good-enough nonofficial public estimates is less clear. But his use of a specific number (180) for Europe rather than a range suggests that it might an official number. Continue Reading →

NATO Strategic Concept: One Step Forward and a Half Step Back

NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen presents the alliance’s new Strategic Concept

By Hans M. Kristensen

The new Strategic Concept adopted today by NATO represents one step forward and a half step backward for the alliance’s nuclear weapons policy.

The forward-leaning part of the nuclear policy pledges to actively try to create the conditions for further reducing the number of and reliance on nuclear weapons, recommits to the ultimate goal of nuclear disarmament, and reaffirms that circumstances in which the alliance could contemplate using its nuclear weapons are “extremely remote.”

But the strategy fails to present any steps that reduce the number of or reliance on nuclear weapons. As such, the new Strategic Concept – Active Engagement, Modern Defence – falls short of the Obama administration’s recent Nuclear Posture Review.

Even so, there are important changes in the document that hint of things to come. Continue Reading →

New START Delay: Gambling With National and International Security

A few Senators are preventing US inspectors from verifying the status of Russian nuclear weapons.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The ability of a few Senators to delay ratification of the New START treaty is gambling with national and international security.

At home the delay is depriving the U.S. intelligence community important information about the status and operations of Russian strategic nuclear forces. And abroad the delay is creating doubts about the U.S. resolve to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons, doubts that could undermine efforts to limit proliferation.

New START may not be the most groundbreaking treaty ever, but it is a vital first step in moving U.S.-Russian relations forward and paving the way for additional nuclear reductions and nonproliferation efforts. Essentially all current and former officials and experts recommend verification of New START, and after more than 20 hearings and nearly 1,000 detailed questions answered it is time for the Senate to ratify the treaty. Continue Reading →

Rasmussen: Lay Short-Range Nuclear Weapons Thinking to Rest

By Hans M. Kristensen

The next steps in European security should include additional reductions in the number short-range nuclear weapons in Europe, according to a video statement issued by NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

“We also have to make progress sooner or later in our efforts to reduce the number of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe. NATO has cut the number of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe by over 90 percent. But there are still thousands of short-range nuclear weapons left over from the Cold War and most of them are in Russia. NATO is not threatening Russia and Russia is not threatening NATO. Time has come to lay this Cold War thinking to rest and focus on the common threats we face from outside: terrorism, extremism, narcotics, proliferation of missiles, weapons of mass destruction, side by side, and piracy. We can make progress of all three tracks – missile defense, conventional forces, and nuclear weapons – and create a secure Europe. It is time to stop spending our time and resources watching each other and look outward at how to reinforce our common security hope.”

That vision appears similar to the “new regional deterrence architecture” that several recent Obama administration reviews concluded would permit a reduction of the role of nuclear weapons. With that in mind, and Rasmussen’s conclusion that “Russia is not threatening NATO” and that the “time has come to lay this Cold War thinking to rest,” it should be relatively straightforward for him to recommend a withdrawal of the remaining U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe.

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