Nuclear Posture

What Weasel is reading: The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review
Why?  Because nuclear weapons are important!

What Weasel is drinking: usually a bottle of Negra Modelo or a glass of a nice Tempranillo or Malbec.

The report is available on this page in several languages, and as an executive summary.

US nuclear weapons today include ballistic systems in silos (ICBM with W78 or W87) and submarines (SLBM with W76 or W88), as well as air-delivered systems, both bombs (B61, B83) and missiles (ALCM with W80).  We used to have more varieties.

Pages XII-XIII “We will immediately begin efforts to restore this capability by initiating a capability study leading to an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) for the rapid development of a modern SLCM.”
Submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCM) are coming back!  Son of TLAM/N!

The old nuclear Tomahawk SLCMs were retired some time around 2010 to 2013. Conventional-warhead Tomahawk missiles remain in the inventory. The nuclear TLAMs were in storage since 1992, not on submarines. I will throw an opinion out there without support: Navy wanted nuclear Tomahawk gone, and helped to kill it. The desire in the White House to reassure allies means that Navy will now be required to develop a new SLCM.  I hope they don’t slow-roll it.

Page 9 “Russia possesses significant advantages in its nuclear weapons production capacity and in non-strategic nuclear forces over the U.S. and allies. It is also building a large, diverse, and modern set of non-strategic systems that are dual-capable (may be armed with nuclear or conventional weapons). These theater- and tactical-range systems are not accountable under the New START Treaty and Russia’s non-strategic nuclear weapons modernization is increasing the total number of such weapons in its arsenal, while significantly improving its delivery capabilities”

Russia’s economy is weak and not getting stronger.  That nation’s international power comes largely from its nuclear arsenal.  The US needs to take the Russian arsenal seriously.  Russia is not an enemy today, but is often an adversary.  The best situation we can imagine today is Russia and the US cooperating against common enemies such as radical Islamic groups.  Tension and the threat of nuclear war will always be there, and a new Cold War is possible.

Page 10 “In July 2014, the United States declared Russia to be in violation of the INF Treaty for the development of the SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missile system.”

Russia?  Cheating on a treaty?  Say it ain’t so!  Russia cheats.  That’s why we have verification measures.  We tried to get them back to compliance, but in 2019 we had to withdraw from the treaty.  Consequences were overdue.

Page 11 “China continues to increase the number, capabilities, and protection of its nuclear forces.”
China is a growing threat in many ways.

Page 12 “North Korea has accelerated its provocative pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities, and expressed explicit threats to use nuclear weapons against the United States and its allies in the region.”
North Korea is the most openly, bombastically rogue of the rogue states.

Page 12 “…North Korea poses a “horizontal” proliferation threat as a potential source of nuclear weapons or nuclear materials for other proliferators.”
As if North Korea wasn’t bad enough by itself, North Korea’s efforts to spread nuclear technology to others will be a headache for the US for some time.

Page 13 “… Iran retains the technological capability and much of the capacity necessary to develop a nuclear weapon within one year of a decision to do so. Iran’s development of increasingly long-range ballistic missile capabilities, and its aggressive strategy and activities to destabilize neighboring governments, raises questions about its long-term commitment to foregoing nuclear weapons capability.”
Realistically, ”…raises questions…” is a diplomatic statement. More bluntly, Iran has no commitment to foregoing nuclear weapons capability. It never has.

Page 35 “NATO followed the U.S. post-Cold War trend in deemphasizing the role of nuclear weapons in NATO’s deterrence and defense posture, but the Alliance never lost sight of the fundamental purpose NATO’s nuclear capabilities play in preserving peace, preventing coercion, and deterring aggression.”
This is another diplomatic statement. The foreign ministries of some Western European countries absolutely wanted to get rid of nuclear sharing in the early 2000s. US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld indicated that he was getting a different message from the ministries of defense in those same countries, so it may be that they ‘lost sight’ purely for domestic political purposes and didn’t really mean it. Still, several countries officially and publicly ‘lost sight’.  Another opinion I present with no supporting facts: Air Force wanted to remove US weapons in Europe, to end not just nuclear sharing, but all nukes on fighters (other than Russian or French fighters).  Maybe USAF ‘lost sight’ too.

Pages 39-40 “… sustaining a reserve nuclear stockpile of non-deployed weapons able to support U.S. nuclear strategies amid unexpected change. This requires maintaining the U.S. capacity to upload hedge weapons onto existing delivery platforms to augment the deployed force as necessary …”
We will keep extra warheads in the stockpile in case we need them later. Today, the New START Treaty limits the number of deployed strategic weapons. The treaty will expire in February of 2021 unless the US and Russia agree on a five-year extension. We have 450 ICBM silos but only 400 have missiles in them to meet treaty limits. Each missile can carry up to three warheads, but all carry a single warhead today, again for treaty limits. After the treaty, the US could return to 450 missiles in silos and load some of them with two or three warheads, where that makes sense in support of nuclear plans. We can do that because we have a hedge in ICBMs and warheads.  What other hedges do we have?

Page 45 “The SSBN force can upload additional warheads if necessary, contributing to the U.S. hedge capacity.”
There is a hedge in SLBM warheads.

Page 47 “The longer flight times and ability to recall bombers in flight contribute to their flexibility.”
The term ‘recall’ is used here and has been for years, but the term ‘retarget’ is not.  Of course, a bomber could have new targets communicated to it while in flight.  That’s not a point that the authors wish to make here, though.

Page 48 “If necessary, the United States has the ability to deploy DCA and nuclear weapons to other regions, such as Northeast Asia.”
There have been statements by Koreans and Japanese regarding NATO-like nuclear sharing with Korea and Japan.  But do we have the weapons and aircraft necessary for this?  Is there a hedge in bombs and dual-capable fighter aircraft?

Page 49 “The COLUMBIA-class program will deliver a minimum of 12 SSBNs to replace the current OHIO fleet”
from other sources: Columbia class will have 12 subs, 16 missile tubes each; replacing 14 tridents with 24 tubes each

from Navy Fact File on Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines – SSBN
“However, under provisions of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, each submarine has had four of its missile tubes permanently deactivated and now carry a maximum of 20 missiles.”
“On average, the submarines spend 77 days at sea followed by 35 days in-port for maintenance. Each SSBN has two crews, Blue and Gold, which alternate manning the submarines and taking them on patrol.”
Looks like roughly two thirds of SSBNs are at sea at any time. With 14 boats, that means 8 or 9, so probably 8 given that some boats might be at shipyards.  That makes 160 missile tubes at sea due to treaty, or 198 when treaty limits go away.

Follow the logic here: For a treaty that is expiring soon, we limited our submarines from 24 tubes down to 20.  The treaty will likely go away in 2021, allowing 24 tubes per sub.  Our replacement submarines will further reduce tubes to 16 per sub, on fewer subs.  We are getting rid of any missile hedge that may remain in the SLBM force, by design, and then reducing further.  We do that even though we have a warhead hedge.  Is that wise?  Looking just at SLBMs, why would Russia care if we never have another treaty?  The US Navy is going backwards in terms of missiles, treaty or no treaty.

Page 49 “… modernize 450 ICBM launch facilities to support fielding 400 ICBMs …”
To give us the capability to field 450 when the New START Treaty terminates.  I like that hedge.

Page 50 “next-generation bomber, the B-21 Raider”
The designation ‘B-21’ is an example of the Air Force being silly. The next bomber should be called the B-3, because that’s the next unused number in the system started in 1962 (bombers up through XB-70 were pre-1962; SR-71 was numbered as a bomber, long story). Air Force wrote the DoD rule book on aircraft designations [DoD Directive 4120.15; executive agent is USAF]. Why can’t they follow the rules they wrote?  Congressional research service says B-21A will have “A large and flexible payload bay capable of carrying a full range of current and future armament.”
Just one bay?  I hope the bomber force isn’t going the way of the SLBM force.  I don’t know how many B-21 bombers the Air Force plans to buy, but I hope it’s a lot, since some of them will replace non-nuclear B-1B bombers and may stay in a non-nuclear role.

Page 50 “The B-21 will be able to deliver both gravity bombs and the LRSO, the latter supporting the long-term effectiveness of the bomber leg.”
The Long Range Strike Options program (LRSO) will replace the AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile that is overdue for retirement.

Page 53 “a nuclear ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the 1987 INF Treaty”
So we left that treaty.  Now we have the legal right to re-introduce something like the Gryphon Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) and/or the PERSHING II ballistic missile.  Russia wouldn’t like that.  Of course that’s the whole point.

Page 54 “enhance the flexibility and range of its tailored deterrence options”
We have flexibility in strategic weapons: ICBM, SLBM, cruise missiles, bombs.  On the non-strategic side, we just have bombs on fighters.  Do we need more flexibility in the non-strategic realm?

Page 54 “maintain, and enhance as necessary, the capability to forward deploy nuclear bombers and DCA around the world”
We have been reducing the number of bombs available, as well as the number of aircraft that are ready to use them. Is this a realistic option?

Page 54 “upgrading DCA with the nuclear-capable F-35 aircraft”
We and some allies are upgrading. If some NATO allies fail to upgrade, what happens to their portion of the DCA mission?

Page 54 “modify a small number of existing SLBM warheads to provide a low-yield option, and in the longer term, pursue a modern nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM)”
One down, one to go. The low-yield SLBM warhead is ready to be fielded.  The SLCM will take a lot longer.  I expect the SLCM will not be a variant of LRSO.

Page 57 “Because space is no longer an uncontested domain, U.S. NC3 space systems need to be more survivable, defendable, and provide resilient capabilities.”
Sounds like we could use a sort of ‘space force‘ to defend our many expensive orbiting assets.

Page 64 “Develop an NNSA roadmap that sizes production capacity to modernization and hedging requirements.”
We’re not there yet. There is a gap in production capacity that went nearly unmentioned in the bulleted list. Ideally some attention will be devoted to work-arounds before today’s production schedules become unworkable.

Page 71 “To further strengthen the NPT regime, the United States will support initiatives to improve capabilities to detect, deter, and attribute proliferation and use;”
If we can detect and attribute, we can punish.  That aids deterrence.

Page 74 “Nevertheless, Moscow must understand that the United States will not forever endure Russia’s continuing non-compliance.”
Russia would not return to compliance, so we pulled out of the treaty. US should now consider developing a modernized version of Pershing II or GLCM.  Or both.

Comments are open. Please do not discuss locations of weapons, numbers of weapons, yields, or any other classified info in your comments. If you do, I will not approve the comment.


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