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Making the Cut: Reducing the SSBN Force

SSBNX

The Navy plans to buy 12 SSBNs, more than it needs or can afford.

By Hans M. Kristensen

A new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report – Options For Reducing the Deficit: 2014-2023 – proposes reducing the Navy’s fleet of Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines from the 14 boats today to 8 in 2020. That would save $11 billion in 2015-2023, and another $30 billion during the 2030s from buying four fewer Ohio replacement submarines.

The Navy has already drawn its line in the sand, insisting that the current force level of 14 SSBNs is needed until 2026 and that the next-generation SSBN class must include 12 boats.

But the Navy can’t afford that, nor can the United States, and the Obama administration’s new nuclear weapons employment guidance – issued with STRATCOM’s blessing – indicates that the United States could, in fact, reduce the SSBN fleet to eight boats. Here is how.  Continue Reading →

New Nuclear Notebook: Chinese Nuclear Force Modernization

Jianshuipad

Launch pads for DF-21 mobile medium-range ballistic missile launchers have been added to a Second Artillery base in southern China.
Click image for large version with annotations.
Image: Digital Globe 2012 via Apple Maps.

By Hans M. Kristensen

China continues to upgrade bases for mobile nuclear medium-range ballistic missiles. The image above shows one of several new launch pads for DF-21 missile launchers constructed at a base near Jianshui in southern China.

A new satellite image* on Apple Maps shows the latest part of a two-decade long slow replacement of old liquid-fuel moveable DF-3A intermediate-range ballistic missiles with new road-mobile solid-fuel DF-21 medium-range ballistic missiles.

Similar developments can be seen near Qingyang in the Anhui province in eastern China and in the Qinghai and Xinjiang provinces in central China.

This and other developments are part of our latest Nuclear Notebook on Chinese nuclear forces, recently published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.   Continue Reading →

Capabilities of B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Increase Further

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A B61-12 radar test drop conducted earlier this year.

By Hans M. Kristensen

With every official statement about the B61 nuclear bomb life-extension program, the capabilities of the new version (B61-12) appear to be increasing.

Previously, officials from the DOD, STRATCOM, and NNSA said the program is a consolidation of the B61-3, B61-4, B61-7, and B61-10 gravity bombs that would provide no additional military capabilities beyond those weapons.

This pledge echoed the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which states: “Life Extension Programs (LEPs)…will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.”

Yet the addition of a guided tail kit will increase the accuracy of the B61-12 compared with the other weapons and provide new warfighting capabilities. The tail kit is necessary, officials say, for the 50-kilotons B61-12 (with a reused B61-4 warhead) to be able to hold at risk the same targets as the 360-kilotons B61-7 warhead. But in Europe, where the B61-7 has never been deployed, the guided tail kit will be a significant boost of the military capabilities – an improvement that doesn’t fit the promise of reducing the role of nuclear weapons.

More recently we also learned that the guided tail kit will provide the B61-12 with a “modest standoff capability,” something the current B61 versions don’t have.

And during yesterday’s hearing in the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, defense officials said the B61-12 would also replace the B61-11, a single-yield 400-kiloton nuclear earth-penetrating bomb introduced in 1997, and the B83-1, a strategic bomb with variable yields up to 1,200 kilotons.  Continue Reading →

India’s Missile Modernization Beyond Minimum Deterrence

agni52013

An Agni V missile is test launched from Wheeler’s Island on September 15, 2013.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Every time India test-launches a new ballistic missile, officials from the defense industry go giddy about the next missile, which they say will be bigger, more accurate, fly longer, and carry more nuclear warheads.

Until now, all Indian ballistic missile types have carried only one warhead each, an important feature that has helped constrain India’s so-called minimum deterrence posture.

But the newest missile, the 5000+ kilometer-range Agni V, had not even completed its second test launch last month, before senior officials from India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) declared that the next Agni variant will be equipped to carry multiple warheads.

While the single-warhead Agni V is a major defense weapon, the multiple-warhead Agni VI will be a “force multiplier,” declared the former head of DRDO.

Moreover, the DRDO chief said that all future missiles will be deployed in large canisters on a road- or rail-mobile launchers to get “drastically” shorter response time with an ability to launch in “just a few minutes.“

It still remains to be seen if these are just the dreams of excited weapons designers or if the Indian government has actually authorized design, development, and deployment of longer-range missiles with multiple warheads and quick-launch capability.

If so, it is bad news for South Asia. The combination of multiple warheads, increased accuracy, and drastically reduced launch time would indicate that India is gradually designing its way of out its so-called minimum deterrence doctrine towards a more capable nuclear posture.

This would almost certainly trigger counter-steps in Pakistan and China, developments that would decrease Indian security. And if China were to deploy multiple warheads on its missiles, it could even impede future reductions of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces.   Continue Reading →

New START Data Shows Russia Reducing, US Increasing Nuclear Forces

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By Hans M. Kristensen

While arms control opponents in Congress have been busy criticizing the Obama administration’s proposal to reduce nuclear forces further, the latest data from the New START Treaty shows that Russia has reduced its deployed strategic nuclear forces while the United States has increased its force over the past six months.

Yes, you read that right. Over the past six months, the U.S. deployed strategic nuclear forces counted under the New START Treaty have increased by 34 warheads and 17 launchers.

It is the first time since the treaty entered into effect in February 2011 that the United States has been increasing its deployed forces during a six-month counting period.

We will have to wait a few months for the full aggregate data set to be declassified to see the details of what has happened. But it probably reflects fluctuations mainly in the number of missiles onboard ballistic missile submarines at the time of the count.   Continue Reading →

B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Triggers Debate in the Netherlands

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In a few years, US Air Force C-17 aircraft will begin airlifting new B61-12 nuclear bombs into six air bases in five NATO countries, including Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands (seen above).

By Hans M. Kristensen

The issue of the improved military capabilities of the new B61-12 nuclear bomb entered the Dutch debate today with a news story on KRO Brandpunt (video here) describing NATO’s approval in 2010 of the military characteristics of the weapon.

Dutch approval to introduce the enhanced bomb later this decade is controversial because the Dutch parliament wants the government to work for a withdrawal of nuclear weapons from the Netherlands and Europe. The Dutch government apparently supports a withdrawal.  Continue Reading →

Dispute Over US Nuke in the Netherlands: Who Pays For An Accident?

Air transport of nuclear weapons

Who pays for a crash of a nuclear weapons airlift from Volkel Air Base?

By Hans M. Kristensen

Only a few years before U.S. nuclear bombs deployed at Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands are scheduled to be airlifted back to the United States and replaced with an improved bomb with greater accuracy, the U.S. and Dutch governments are in a dispute over how to deal with the environmental consequences of a potential accident.

The Dutch government wants environmental remediation to be discussed in the Netherlands United States Operational Group (NUSOG), a special bilateral group established in 2003 to discuss matters relating to the U.S. deployment of nuclear weapons in the Netherlands.

But the United States has refused, arguing that NUSOG is the wrong forum to discuss the issue and that environmental remediation is covered by the standard Status of Forces Agreement from 1951.

The disagreement at one point got so heated that a Dutch officials threatened that his government might have to consider reviewing US Air Force nuclear overflight rights of the Netherlands if the United States continue to block the issue from being discussed within the NUSOG.

The dispute was uncovered by the Brandpunt Reporter of the TV station KRO (see video and also this report), who discovered  three secret documents previously released by WikiLeaks (document 1, document 2, and document 3).

The documents not only describe the Dutch government’s attempts to discuss – and U.S. efforts to block – the issue within NUSOG, but also confirm what is officially secret but everyone knows: that the United States stores nuclear weapons at Volkel Air Base.  Continue Reading →

MSNBC On Nuclear Weapons Reduction Efforts

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By Hans M. Kristensen

MSNBC used FAS data on the world nuke arsenals in an interview with Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione about how deteriorating US-Russian relations might affect efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals.

The updated weapons estimates on the FAS web site are here.

Detailed profiles of each nuclear weapon state are published as Nuclear Notebooks in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Support our work to produce high-quality estimates of world nuclear forces: Donate here.

 

SSBNX Under Pressure: Submarine Chief Says Navy Can’t Reduce

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The head of the SSBN fleet, Rear Admiral Richard Breckenridge, says the size of the fleet is really about geography.

By Hans M. Kristensen

In a blog and video on the U.S. Navy web site Navy Live, the head of the U.S. submarine force Rear Admiral Richard Breckenridge claims that the United States cannot reduce its fleet of nuclear ballistic missile submarines further.

This is the third time in three months that Breckenridge has seen a need to go online to defend the size of the SSBN fleet. The first time was in May in reaction to my article about declining SSBN patrols. The second time was in June when he argued that the design chosen for the next-generation SSBN was the only option.

Now Breckenridge argues that the number of operational SSBNs cannot be reduced further if the U.S. Navy is to be able to conduct continuous deployments in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Three public interventions in as many months shows that the plan to spend $70 billion-plus to build a new class of 12 SSBNs is under pressure, and Breckenridge acknowledges that much: “The heat inside the Pentagon right now is probably just as bad” as the summer heat outside and “with sequestration and the fiscal crisis and the budgetary impacts on the DOD topline, there’s a lot of folks looking at how low we can go with the SSBN force.”

But the 12 planned next-generation SSBNs “is the floor,” Breckenridge claims.  Continue Reading →

Air Force Intelligence Report Provides Snapshot of Nuclear Missiles

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Click to download full report

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) has published its long-awaited update to the Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat report, one of the few remaining public (yet sanitized) U.S. intelligence assessment of the world nuclear (and other) forces.

Previous years’ reports have been reviewed and made available by FAS (here, here, and here), and the new update contains several important developments – and some surprises.

Most important to the immediate debate about further U.S.-Russian reductions of nuclear forces, the new report provides an almost direct rebuttal of recent allegations that Russia is violating the INF Treaty by developing an Intermediate-range ballistic missile: “Neither Russia nor the United States produce or retain any MRBM or IRBM systems because they are banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty, which entered into force in 1988.”

Another new development is a significant number of new conventional short-range ballistic missiles being deployed or developed by China.

Finally, several of the nuclear weapons systems listed in a recent U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command briefing are not included in the NASIC report at all. This casts doubt on the credibility of the AFGSC briefing and creates confusion about what the U.S. Intelligence Community has actually concluded.  Continue Reading →