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Sound reasons for USA not to replace Land-Based Nuclear Missiles,

No Need to Replace U.S. Land-Based Nuclear Missiles, National Interest, James E. Doyle, 21 Mar 17, As former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry has argued there are sound strategic reasons to phase out America’s fleet of 400 silo-based Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).  Primary among these is the fact that these missiles are vulnerable to attack because our potential nuclear adversaries such as Russia know their precise locations.

Because of their vulnerability, ICBMs are the weapon system most likely to spark an inadvertent nuclear war.  If U.S. commanders believed mistakenly (as has happened repeatedly in the past) that our ICBMs were under attack, they will face immense pressure to launch them at the perceived attacker before they are destroyed in their silos. Once they are launched if the warning of attack was false, it is too late.  Our ICBMs cannot be recalled and will destroy their targets, prompting certain nuclear retaliation on U.S. cities.

 Now recent revelations regarding the rapidly inflating cost of replacing the ICBMs and dramatic improvements in the capabilities of the other two legs of the U.S. nuclear triad make crystal clear that phasing out the ICBMs is the right choice for American security.

Pushing forward with deployment of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) as the Minuteman III replacement is called will deplete resources needed for other vital defense programs from cyber defenses to naval shipbuilding to conventional forces readiness and other nuclear modernization programs including new strategic submarines and aircraft.  Estimated cost for the 15-20 year GBSD program have increased by more than 60% from $61 billion in 2016 to over $100 billion in early 2017. No clear plans have emerged that can support this cost without forcing dramatic cuts elsewhere within the defense budget.

Fortunately, there is no need to make the painful national security trade-offs that deploying the GBSD would require.  The U.S. can safely retire the Minuteman III ICBMs as they reach the end of their service lives in the 2030s without replacing them.  This is because recent modernization programs are dramatically increasing the accuracy, and thus the effectiveness of U.S. submarine and aircraft-launched nuclear weapons. …….

A decision to cancel replacement of the Minuteman III force would have other benefits as well.  It is the most efficient way to reach the 1,000-1,000 deployed warhead level that the Department of Defense asserted was sufficient for deterrence in 2013 and it would achieve additional cost savings because ICBM warheads could be retired instead of modernized.

Finally, it would create opportunities for reaching new arms control agreements with Russia and China and demonstrate to the world that the United States was serious about meeting its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and taking a leadership role toward an eventual world without nuclear weapons.

James E. Doyle is an independent Nuclear Security Specialist. From 1997-2014 he was on the technical staff of the Nonproliferation Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory.


March 24, 2017 - Posted by | USA, weapons and war

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