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US Nuclear Posture Review

MarkOttawa

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US DoD materials on the review are here--note SLBMs and (maybe) SLCMs:
https://www.defense.gov/News/Special-Reports/0218_npr/

Story at Defense News (further links at original):

The US could be getting 2 new nuclear capabilities. Here are the details.

The Nuclear Posture Review, formally unveiled Friday, recommends adding a low-yield warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles, as well as the addition of a nuclear-capable submarine-launched cruise missile to America’s arsenal.

The question now becomes when these capabilities will come online ― and how much they will cost at a time when the Pentagon is restrained by congressionally mandated budget caps.

Before the addition of these new capabilities, the U.S. was preparing to spend $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize the nuclear arsenal, including the delivery systems, warhead, and command and control network. And the now-retired head of the National Nuclear Security Administration told Defense News weeks ago that his agency is “at capacity” with the work it has already been assigned to do.

Robert Soofer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, said the question of logistics and funding was “squarely in our thinking” when looking at the new capabilities. But Greg Weaver, deputy director for strategic stability on the Joint Staff J5, said the reality is that details for acquiring the new systems still need to be worked out...

Here’s what we know about the two new systems:

Low-yield warhead for sub-launched ballistic missile

The NPR calls for a “near-term” solution, in which the National Nuclear Security Administration would modify a small number of existing submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warheads to turn them into low-yield weapons. The agency is already in the process of doing a life-extension on the W76 warheads for those weapons, something Soofer noted should help keep the cost and schedule down.

“All this would require us to reserve the last X number, tens of warheads, and instead of doing a full [life extension], do the primary only. It doesn’t require additional capacity,” Soofer said of developing the capability. On the Navy side, the service would “just take that warhead and make sure they can qualify” and SLBM on a sub.

By “low-yield,” Soofer said he means smaller than the weapon detonated at Hiroshima [emphasis added, yield 15 KT https://www.atomicheritage.org/history/little-boy-and-fat-man ], which instantly vaporized an estimated 60,000-80,000 people.

While noting it was a rough guess on cost, Soofer said he thought the Defense Department’s portion of the cost would perhaps be $50 million over five years. The question then becomes one of how many low-yield warheads would be desired, and Soofer stressed that the number they are envisioning is quite low [emphasis added].

"This is, again, a very limited, niche capability,” he said. “This is not a major war-fighting capability. If we’re talking about firing tens of these, you’re in a different realm. The idea is to have one or two or just a few to address” the potential threat from Russia.

But the idea of mixing strategic and tactical nuclear warheads on one ballistic missile submarine creates the potential for a “discrimination problem,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who focuses on nuclear proliferation.

“Very simply, how is an adversary supposed to know if the [ballistic] missile headed its way has a single low-yield nuclear weapon or a full complement of eight 475-kiloton strategic nuclear warheads? These things are not color-coded,” he said. “They would have no way of being able to detect or discriminate what was on even a single SLBM launch, let alone several.”

“Even if we were using just a single low-yield warhead on a single SLBM, the adversary literally cannot know that and has to assume we have escalated to the strategic level,” Narang added. “Especially if that adversary worries about the survivability of its own forces, its only rational move is to launch everything it has.”

Submarine-launched, nuclear-capable cruise missile

The NPR calls for a new sea-launched cruise missile, something the Navy had in its inventory until just a few years ago [still have lots of SLCMs, just non-nuke now]. The review orders an analysis of alternatives to look at the options, though Soofter noted this weapon will be “more labor- and cost-intensive” than the ballistic missile warhead.

The NPR calls for the design to leverage existing capabilities to keep cost and schedule down. Soofer jumped on that idea, noting the Air Force is in the process of designing its new nuclear cruise missile, the Long Range Standoff Weapon, or LRSO, and speculating that provides a base with which to work...

This is, again, a very limited, niche capability,” he said. “This is not a major war-fighting capability. If we’re talking about firing tens of these, you’re in a different realm. The idea is to have one or two or just a few to address” the potential threat from Russia.

But the idea of mixing strategic and tactical nuclear warheads on one ballistic missile submarine creates the potential for a “discrimination problem,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who focuses on nuclear proliferation.

“Very simply, how is an adversary supposed to know if the [ballistic] missile headed its way has a single low-yield nuclear weapon or a full complement of eight 475-kiloton strategic nuclear warheads? These things are not color-coded,” he said. “They would have no way of being able to detect or discriminate what was on even a single SLBM launch, let alone several.”

“Even if we were using just a single low-yield warhead on a single SLBM, the adversary literally cannot know that and has to assume we have escalated to the strategic level,” Narang added. “Especially if that adversary worries about the survivability of its own forces, its only rational move is to launch everything it has.”

Submarine-launched, nuclear-capable cruise missile

The NPR calls for a new sea-launched cruise missile, something the Navy had in its inventory until just a few years ago. The review orders an analysis of alternatives to look at the options, though Soofter noted this weapon will be “more labor- and cost-intensive” than the ballistic missile warhead...

Part of the analysis will look at whether the weapons could be placed on surface ships, submarines or both, Soofer added, before noting: “This thing is seven to 10 years out.”

Notably, Weaver broached the idea that the SLCM could be used as a carrot to Russia to move back underneath the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Were Russia to agree to return to verifiable arms control measures to address that imbalance in nonstrategic nuclear forces, the U.S. might agree to limit or forgo to acquire a nuclear SLCM,” he said. “This is a response to Russian expansion of their capability and the nature of their strategy and doctrine. The United States is not arms racing. We are responding to Russian initiative [emphasis added].”
https://www.defensenews.com/space/2018/02/02/the-us-could-be-getting-2-new-nuclear-capabilities-here-are-the-details/

Mark
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MarkOttawa

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Critique of NPR by prominent arms control advocate:

Nuclear Nuts: Trump’s New Policy Hypes The Threat and Brings Us Closer to War
By Joe Cirincione Read bio

Trump’s plan orders an expensive rebuild of America’s Cold War-era arsenal, adds new weapons and new missions, and breaks with decades of bipartisan strategy.

Ever since Richard Nixon, American presidents have cut the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, with Republicans leading the way. After modest reductions by President’s Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter, the duo of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush cut the number of weapons by a combined 50 percent; Bill Clinton by just over 20 percent and George W. Bush cut another 50 percent. Barack Obama contributed a comparatively modest 24 percent reduction. But all these presidents sought to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy.

In part, this represented a climb down from the massive overkill capability developed during the Cold War. We went nuclear nuts at the beginning of the nuclear age, climbing from a few hundred nuclear weapons in 1949 to over 30,000 by the mid-1960’s. Down to about 5,000 today, the United States still has the largest, most flexible, capable nuclear force in the world. No U.S. commander would trade our force for that of another nation. Far in excess of any conceivable military need, the Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded in 2012 that we could cut the force by one-third and still fulfill all required military missions.

...The military’s combatant commands and service components of Army, Navy,  Air Force, and Marines., now “will plan, train, and exercise to integrate U.S. nuclear and non-nuclear forces.” This blurs, then erases, the sharp firebreak previous presidents have kept between conventional weapons most troops use, and nuclear weapons, which few will ever see. 

To write his new plan, Trump imported a team of nuclear hawks. “Hawks” may be an understatement. One of the principal authors, Keith Payne, wrote in his 1980 article, “Victory is Possible,” that America should be willing to sacrifice 20 million citizens in a nuclear war. That, he said, was “a level compatible with national survival and recovery.”

Others on the team pushed weapons and policies that triggered a small revolt from the Pentagon brass, according to a report in The American Conservative. As one general put it, by pushing to deploy so-called “low-yield” warheads, “Payne and his team were providing Donald Trump with ‘a kind of gateway drug for nuclear war.’”

Their concerns are well founded...

It may take years to see the deployment of the new nuclear weapons proposed — and budget realities may kill much of the buildup. But U.S. nuclear policy changed on Friday. Trump now has a doctrine that would allow him to legally order nuclear strikes in more contingencies, against more targets, for more reasons. The U.S. nuclear stockpile already has over one thousand “low-yield” nuclear weapons, primarily the B-16 air-dropped bomb and the air-launched cruise missile, with yields ranging from 0.3 kilotons to 170 kilotons. He could order their use in Korea, Iran, or anywhere he felt threatened.

And if you believe this plan, we are very threatened...
http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/02/trumps-new-nuclear-policy-hypes-threat-and-bring-war-nearer/145703/

Then see this post of mine on Daniel Ellsberg's new, very scary book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (and Old Sweat's response):
https://milnet.ca/forums/threads/32288/post-1517936.html#msg1517936

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MarkOttawa

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At The Economist, note scenarios for Russian low(er)-yield nuke use:

Nuclear posture review
New threat, new weapons
America seeks to expand its arsenal of low-yield nuclear weapons

RESPONDING to Russia’s re-emergence as an adversary, the Pentagon’s first “nuclear posture review” since 2010, published on February 2nd, seeks to expand America’s nuclear options, but not the overall size of its arsenal.

The review largely confirms the wide-ranging modernisation programme that Barack Obama approved in exchange for Senate ratification of the New START strategic arms-control treaty with Russia. That programme, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, will cost $1.2 trillion over 30 years. It has its critics; the requirement for a new, stealthy air-launched cruise missile has been questioned, for instance.

But anyone who believes that America still needs a triad of reliable nuclear weapons—fired from land, sea and air—concedes that America’s ageing bombers, ballistic-missile submarines and ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles must be replaced. There is also a strong case for improving the resilience of outdated nuclear command-and-control systems that are becoming highly vulnerable to cyber-hacking and new space weapons.

Where the new review parts company with its predecessor is in calling for the development of new, less powerful nuclear warheads (known as “low-yield) to put on submarine-launched ballistic missiles and, in the longer term, a new submarine-launched nuclear cruise missile. The logic behind this move harks back to the cold war, when a strategy known as “flexible response” was conceived by the Kennedy administration.

The idea was that America should be able to respond in kind at any point on an escalation ladder that began with a conventional attack and ended with all-out nuclear war. Somewhere in the middle were tactical or battlefield nukes: relatively low-yield (around the explosive capacity of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki), shorter-range missiles, artillery shells or gravity bombs that might be used against superior Soviet conventional forces if they were over-running NATO defences.

To an extent, the boot is now on the other foot. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia’s conventional capabilities atrophied quickly. At the same time, America and its allies had shown in the first Gulf war, in 1991, what new precision deep-strike conventional weapons could do. While the West got rid of most of its tactical nuclear weapons, regarding them as no longer militarily necessary and potentially destabilising, Russia went in the opposite direction, seeing them as a way to offset the weakness of its conventional forces.

Although Russia has very substantially improved its conventional capabilities over the past decade, it has not weaned itself from “non-strategic” nuclear weapons. Rather, it has held on to about 2,000 such systems and modernised some of them (by contrast, America keeps just a few hundred low-yield gravity bombs in Europe).
After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Vladimir Putin went out of his way to suggest that there were circumstances in which Russia might use such weapons. Russia says it would only resort to nuclear weapons if the homeland faced an existential threat. But that does not square with a doctrine it has developed known as “escalate to de-escalate”. This postulates that Russia would threaten the use of tactical nuclear weapons to bring to an end a military confrontation with the West it feared eventually losing [emphasis added].

Mr Putin appears to believe that under his leadership, Russia has a greater tolerance for risk than its NATO adversary. Such threats would thus be credible and effective. The nightmare scenario for NATO is that Russia might use its newly-powerful conventional forces to make a lightning grab for territory in the Baltic region and then threaten to use low-yield nuclear weapons to dissuade any attempt to reverse its gains. If the only nuclear response America could make would be to launch an attack on Russia itself, thus risking nuclear Armageddon, it would be forced to back down [emphasis added, different scenario--Russkies winning, want to keep gains].

Critics of America’s new nuclear policy argue that introducing more usable nuclear weapons will lower the threshold to using them, with potentially catastrophic consequences. Supporters argue that the opposite is the case. For nuclear deterrence to work, the possibility of a nuclear response must be credible. Paradoxically, introducing supposedly more usable nuclear weapons to the range of options thus makes nuclear war less rather than more likely.

Debates of this kind can never be resolved. But it would be wrong to associate the case the nuclear posture review soberly makes with Donald Trump’s bluster about wanting ever more powerful nuclear forces and the size of his nuclear button. The commander-in-chief’s impulsive personality and the scope for miscalculation over North Korea’s missile programme is far more worrying than a considered attempt to plug a gap in America’s nuclear arsenal.
https://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21736366-america-seeks-expand-its-arsenal-low-yield-nuclear-weapons-new-threat-new-weapons

Post from 2016, note links at end:

Syria: Russia Threatening Nuclear “De-Escalation”? NATO?
https://cgai3ds.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/mark-collins-syria-russia-threatening-nuclear-de-escalation-nato/

[Edit 1700] On the other hand, also from  2016:

No, Russia Isn't Trying to Make Nuclear War Easier
http://nationalinterest.org/feature/no-russia-isnt-trying-make-nuclear-war-easier-16310

Go figure in this nuclear world

Mark
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MarkOttawa

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Now the US Navy has deployed low-yield W76-2 nuclear weapons on Trident SLBMs--end of a post:

Countering Russia's "Escalate to De-Escalate" Nuclear Doctrine: Low-Yield SLBMs Not an Answer
...
One supposes the Russians can figure that the US could well be deterred from continuing a conventional conflict by use of some low-yield nukes that do not cause catastrophic casualties and damage, while the Americans conclude just the opposite–that nuclear escalation in response to such use is very likely and not a risk worth running. The joys of thinking about the unthinkable (see pp. 14-20 PDF here, Herman Kahn is considered the model for Dr. Strangelove), thinking that largely disappeared with the end of the Cold War. And now back with rather a vengeance but how many people with responsibilities now have a good grasp on the issues?
https://mark3ds.wordpress.com/2020/02/19/countering-russias-escalate-to-de-escalate-nuclear-doctrine-low-yield-slbms-not-an-answer/

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tomahawk6

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Having a nuclear arsenal means they might be used. If so use a sledge hammer or something less destructive ? If I am the President it would be nice to have a modern less destructive option.
 

MarkOttawa

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Conclusion of a relevant post, note "Comments":

China, or, Why the US Needs to Continue in the New START Nuclear Weapons Treaty With Russia
...
For China to seriously consider joining New Start, it would have to level the playing field with the US and Russia. Unless these countries are willing to surrender thousands of nuclear weapons (which is unlikely), that would entail China arming up, not down [emphasis added]. That scenario benefits no one…

The US needs to give up on the notion that it should contain China at every turn. The bottom line is that the world is a safer place with New Start than without it. Trump should accept Russia’s offer and extend the treaty immediately. It would require no more effort than the stroke of a pen.

Although the notion of restricting China’s nuclear arsenal might seem lucrative to the American president, it makes little sense. Trump is running the very real risk of losing a phenomenal deal in the pursuit of a pipe dream...
https://mark3ds.wordpress.com/2020/02/22/china-or-why-the-us-needs-to-continue-in-the-new-start-nuclear-weapons-treaty-with-russia/

Mark
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