Updates on Nuclear Deterrence Modernization

Discussion in 'U.S. Strategic Affairs' started by Pathfinder, Feb 12, 2016.

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  1. Pathfinder

    Pathfinder Lieutenant Colonel

    Dec 17, 2015
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    DoD Officials Discuss Regional Deterrence, Nuke Modernization
    By Cheryl Pellerin

    WASHINGTON, February 11, 2016 — The administration's nuclear sustainment and modernization plan is what is needed for effective deterrence, and the plan is affordable if the Defense Department prioritizes it, senior defense officials told Congress yesterday.

    Testifying before the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces were Robert M. Scher, assistant defense secretary for strategy, plans and capabilities, and Arthur Hopkins, acting principal deputy assistant defense secretary for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs.

    Effective deterrence, Scher said, requires that U.S. nuclear capabilities and posture allow the nation to implement U.S. defense strategy, preserve the strategy's credibility and reinforce overall strategic stability.

    “Our approach is to maintain a deterrent that is inherently robust and stable rather than one that is simply reactive to every action of a potential adversary,” the assistant secretary said.

    Full Nuclear Triad

    The best way to do this is to sustain a full nuclear triad -- strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles -- and dual-role aircraft with a range of nuclear explosive yields and delivery modes, he added.

    Dual-capable aircraft, or DCA, are allied and U.S. fighter aircraft that can perform both conventional and theater nuclear missions.

    “The triad and DCA provide the credibility, flexibility and survivability to meet and adapt to the challenges of a dynamic 21st century security environment,” Scher added, “without the need to mirror every potential adversary system-for-system or yield-for-yield.”

    Regional Deterrence

    The U.S. strategy for deterring a large-scale nuclear attack is well established, he added, but deterring nuclear use in regional conflicts may be a more immediate challenge for the nation.

    “We must be able to deter not only large-scale nuclear attacks -- the predominant focus during the Cold War -- but also limited nuclear attack and deliberate nuclear escalation by an adversary that might arise out of a conventional regional conflict,” Scher said.

    In his remarks Hopkins, also acting staff director for the Nuclear Weapons Council, said the council has developed a strategic plan for integrating all three components of the nuclear enterprise -- warheads, platforms and infrastructure.

    “Portions of the plan are well underway, including production of the W761 refurbished warhead and the design engineering for the W88 warhead modernization,” he said. These are for the Navy's submarine-launched ballistic missiles and the B61 Mod 12 bomb life-extension program for strategic missions and extended deterrence, Hopkins told the panel.

    Modernizing Warheads

    In fiscal year 2017, the National Nuclear Security Administration will continue to deliver W761 warheads for the Navy's Trident D5 missiles and will complete production in FY 2019, he said, and the W88 warhead alteration effort, also for the D5 missile, is on schedule to deliver the first production unit in December 2019.

    The B61 bomb life-extension program is also on schedule to deliver a first production unit in March of 2020,” Hopkins said.

    Scher said the B61, the remaining gravity bomb for the nuclear forces, remains strategically important.

    “We want to make sure that we have a full range of options, range of yields and delivery systems, and as a result that's a critical piece of the air leg of the triad,” he said.

    Hopkins added, “One of the most significant advantages of the B-61 modernization, which is going to produce the B61-12, is that it'll take the place of four different variants of the existing B61. So there's a certain degree of efficiency and … safety associated with reducing the numbers and types of weapons in the inventory.”

    Funding Delivery Systems

    Modernizing nuclear delivery platforms is essential to nuclear deterrence, Hopkins said, noting that in fiscal 2017 the department will continue funding for several delivery systems.

    One is the Ohio-class submarine replacement and its Trident II D5 life-extended missile, he said. Another is sustainment of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile and its follow-on capability, the ground-based strategic deterrent.

    Others are upgrades to the B-2 and the B-52H heavy bombers, the development of a long-range strike bomber, and the development of a long-range stand-up cruise missile to replace the aging air-launched cruise missile, Hopkins said.

    Requirement to Modernize

    Scher said the modernization schedule is closely tied to the estimated lifetime of existing systems.

    “After several years of delaying the modernization … ,” he said, “we have reached a point where virtually every leg of the triad is nearing the end of its anticipated service life, and we've extended as many as we possibly can as long as we can.”

    Scher told the panel, “What we're seeing now is a requirement for the department to modernize the delivery systems and to extend the lives of the various nuclear weapon components.”

    (Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)

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