nuclear-news

The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

Nuclear Notebook: United States nuclear weapons, 2023

The United States is modernizing its nuclear bomber force by upgrading nuclear command-and-control capabilities on existing bombers, developing improved nuclear weapons (the B61-12 and the new AGM-181 Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO), and designing a new heavy bomber (the B-21 Raider).

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists By Hans M. KristensenMatt Korda, January 16, 2023

t the beginning of 2023, the US Department of Defense maintained an estimated stockpile of approximately 3,708 nuclear warheads for delivery by ballistic missiles and aircraft. Most of the warheads in the stockpile are not deployed but rather stored for potential upload onto missiles and aircraft as necessary. We estimate that approximately 1,770 warheads are currently deployed, of which roughly 1,370 strategic warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles and another 300 at strategic bomber bases in the United States. An additional 100 tactical bombs are deployed at air bases in Europe. The remaining warheads — approximately 1,938 — are in storage as a so-called hedge against technical or geopolitical surprises. Several hundred of those warheads are scheduled to be retired before 2030. (See Table 1. on original)

In addition to the warheads in the Department of Defense stockpile, approximately 1,536 retired — but still intact — warheads are stored under the custody of the Department of Energy and are awaiting dismantlement, giving a total US inventory of an estimated 5,244 warheads. Between 2010 and 2018, the US government publicly disclosed the size of the nuclear weapons stockpile; however, in 2019 and 2020, the Trump administration rejected requests from the Federation of American Scientists to declassify the latest stockpile numbers (Aftergood 2019; Kristensen 2019a, 2020d). In 2021, the Biden administration restored the United States’ previous transparency levels by declassifying both numbers for the entire history of the US nuclear arsenal until September 2020 — including the missing years of the Trump administration.

 This effort revealed that the United States’ nuclear stockpile consisted of 3,750 warheads in September 2020 — only 72 warheads fewer than the last number made available in September 2017 before the Trump administration reduced the US government’s transparency efforts (US State Department 2021a). We estimate that the stockpile will continue to decline over the next decade-and-a-half as modernization programs consolidate the remaining warheads.

The Biden administration’s declassification also revealed that the pace of warhead dismantlement has slowed significantly in recent years. While the United States dismantled on average more than 1,000 warheads per year during the 1990s, in 2020 it dismantled only 184 warheads (US State Department 2021a). …………………

In the past, the Obama and Biden administrations often declassified the warhead stockpile and dismantlement numbers around the time of major arms control conferences. That did not happen in 2022, however, and the Biden administration has so far not acted on requests from the Federation of American Scientists to disclose the numbers for 2021 or 2022. A decision to no longer declassify these numbers would not only contradict the Biden administration’s own practice from 2020, but also represent a return to Trump-era levels of nuclear opacity. Such increased nuclear secrecy undermines US calls for Russia and China to increase transparency of their nuclear forces.

The US nuclear weapons are thought to be stored at an estimated 24 geographical locations in 11 US states and five European countries (Kristensen and Korda 2019, 124). The location with the most nuclear weapons by far is the large Kirtland Underground Munitions and Maintenance Storage Complex (KUMMSC) south of Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Most of the weapons in this location are retired weapons awaiting dismantlement at the Pantex Plant in Texas. The state with the second-largest inventory is Washington, which is home to the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific and the ballistic missile submarines at Naval Submarine Base Kitsap. The submarines operating from this base carry more deployed nuclear weapons than any other base in the United States.

Implementing the New START treaty

The United States appears to be in compliance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) limits. ………………………………

If New START expired without a follow-on treaty in place, both the United States and Russia could upload several hundred extra warheads onto their launchers. This means that the treaty has proven useful thus far in keeping a lid on both countries’ deployed strategic forces. Additionally, both countries would lose a critical node of transparency into each other’s nuclear forces. As of December 8, 2022, the United States and Russia had completed a combined 328 on-site inspections and exchanged 25,017 notifications (US State Department 2022b)……………………………….

The Nuclear Posture Review and nuclear modernization…………

Just like previous NPRs, the Biden administration’s NPR rejected policies of nuclear “no-first-use” or “sole purpose,” instead preferring to leave the option open for nuclear weapons to be used under “extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners” (US Department of Defense 2022b, 9)…………………….

The most significant change between the Biden and Trump NPRs was the walking back of two Trump-era commitments — specifically, canceling the new sea-launched cruise missile and retiring the B83-1 gravity bomb……………………………………….

The complete nuclear modernization (and maintenance) program will continue well beyond 2039 and, based on the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate, will cost $1.2 trillion over the next three decades. Notably, although the estimate accounts for inflation (Congressional Budget Office 2017), other estimates forecast that the total cost will be closer to $1.7 trillion (Arms Control Association 2017). Whatever the actual price tag will be, it is likely to increase over time, resulting in increased competition with conventional modernization programs planned for the same period. …………

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Department of Defense have also proposed developing several other new nuclear warheads, including the W93 navy warhead. The NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) of December 2020 doubled the number of new nuclear warhead projects for the next 20 years compared to its 2019 plan (National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) 2020b).

Nuclear planning and nuclear exercises

In addition to the Nuclear Posture Review, the nuclear arsenal and the role it plays is shaped by plans and exercises that create the strike plans and practice how to carry them out…………….

OPLAN 8010–12 consists of “a family of plans” directed against four identified adversaries: Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. Known as “Strategic Deterrence and Force Employment,” OPLAN 8010–12 first entered into effect in July 2012 in response to Operations Order Global Citadel signed by the defense secretary. ……………………

OPLAN 8010–12 is a whole-of-government plan that includes the full spectrum of national power to affect potential adversaries. ……………………………..

This year’s Global Thunder exercise was delayed but will probably happen in early-2023.

These exercises coincide with steadily increasing US bomber operations in Europe since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and again in 2022…………………………………………….

the mission of the Bomber Task Force is to move a fully combat-ready bomber force into the European theater. “It’s no longer just to go partner with our NATO allies or to go over and have a visible presence of American air power,” according to the commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing. “That’s part of it, but we are also there to drop weapons if called to do so” (Wrightsman 2019). These changes are evident in the types of increasingly provocative bombers operations over Europe, in some cases very close to the Russian border (Kristensen 2022a)……………………………..

The close integration of nuclear and conventional bombers into the same task force can have significant implications for crisis stability, misunderstandings, and the risk of nuclear escalation because it could result in misperceptions about what is being signaled and result in overreactions…………………………………

Land-based ballistic missiles

The US Air Force operates a force of 400 silo-based Minuteman III ICBMs split across three wings: the 90th Missile Wing at F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming; the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota; and the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana………………………………

The Minuteman III missiles completed a multibillion-dollar, decade-long modernization program in 2015 to extend their service life until 2030. Although the United States did not officially deploy a new ICBM, the upgraded Minuteman III missiles “are basically new missiles except for the shell,” according to Air Force personnel (Pampe 2012)………………………………………………………………….

To produce the new W87-1 warhead in time to meet the Sentinel’s planned deployment schedule, the NNSA has set an extremely ambitious production rate of at least 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030. 

In October 2019, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $138 million contract to integrate the Mk21 reentry vehicle into the Sentinel, beating out rivals Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Orbital ATK (which Northrop Grumman now owns and has been renamed to Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems) (Lockheed Martin 2019

………………………………………………….. In May 2021, the US Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost of acquiring and maintaining the Sentinel would total approximately $82 billion over the 2021–2030 period — approximately $20 billion more than the Congressional Budget Office had previously estimated for the 2019–2028 period (Congressional Budget Office 2021, 2019)……………………………………

Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines

The US Navy operates a fleet of 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), of which eight operate in the Pacific from their base near Bangor, Washington, and six operate in the Atlantic from their base at Kings Bay,…………………………………………………….

Design of the next generation of ballistic missile submarines, known as the Columbia-class, is well under way……………………………………

Strategic bombers

The US Air Force currently operates a fleet of 20 B-2A bombers (all of which are nuclear-capable) and 87 B-52H bombers (46 of which are nuclear-capable)……………………

Each B-2 can carry up to 16 nuclear bombs (the B61-7, B61-11, and B83-1 gravity bombs), and each B-52 H can carry up to 20 air-launched cruise missiles (the AGM-86B)……………………..

The United States is modernizing its nuclear bomber force by upgrading nuclear command-and-control capabilities on existing bombers, developing improved nuclear weapons (the B61-12 and the new AGM-181 Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO), and designing a new heavy bomber (the B-21 Raider).

Upgrades to the nuclear command-and-control systems that the bombers use to plan and conduct nuclear strikes include the Global Aircrew Strategic Network Terminal. This is a new, high-altitude, electromagnetic pulse-hardened network of fixed and mobile nuclear command-and-control terminals………………

Another command-and-control upgrade involves a program known as Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals, which replaces existing terminals designed to communicate with the MILSTAR military satellite constellation operated by the US Space Force. …………………………………………….

The missile itself is expected to be entirely new, with significantly improved military capabilities compared with the air-launched cruise missile, including longer range, greater accuracy, and enhanced stealth (Young 2016). This violates the 2010 White House pledge (White House 2010) that the “United States will not … pursue … new capabilities for nuclear weapons,” though the 2018 NPR and 2022 NPR eliminated such constraints……………………..

Upgrades to the nuclear command-and-control systems that the bombers use to plan and conduct nuclear strikes include the Global Aircrew Strategic Network Terminal. This is a new, high-altitude, electromagnetic pulse-hardened network of fixed and mobile nuclear command-and-control terminals. ………..

Another command-and-control upgrade involves a program known as Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals, which replaces existing terminals designed to communicate with the MILSTAR military satellite constellation operated by the US Space Force. ……………….

The heavy bombers are also being upgraded with improved nuclear weapons. This effort includes development of the first guided, standoff nuclear gravity bomb, known as the B61-12, which is ultimately intended to replace all existing gravity bombs……………………………… The Air Force is also developing a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile known as the AGM-181 Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO).

……………………………………………………… The conversion of the non-nuclear B-1 host bases to receive the nuclear B-21 bomber will increase the overall number of bomber bases with nuclear weapons storage facilities from two bases today (Minot AFB and Whiteman AFB) to five bases by the 2030s (Barksdale AFB will also regain nuclear storage capability) (Kristensen 2020c).

Nonstrategic nuclear weapons

The United States has only one type of nonstrategic nuclear weapon in its stockpile: the B61 gravity bomb……………………

The Belgian, Dutch, German, and Italian air forces are currently assigned an active nuclear strike role with US nuclear weapons……………………………….

NATO is working on a broad modernization of the nuclear posture in Europe that involves upgrading bombs, aircraft, and the weapons storage system (Kristensen 2022c)……………………………

NATO is life-extending the weapons storage security system, which involves upgrading command and control, as well as security, at the six active bases (Aviano, Büchel, Ghedi, Kleine Brogel, Incirlik, and Volkel) and one training base (Ramstein). ………………………  it appears that an air base in the United Kingdom — believed to be RAF Lakenheath — has been quietly added to the list of bases receiving nuclear weapon storage site upgrades (US Department of Defense 2022e). …………………………….. more https://thebulletin.org/premium/2023-01/nuclear-notebook-united-states-nuclear-weapons-2023/

January 16, 2023 - Posted by | Reference, USA, weapons and war

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: