FAS Roundup: February 18, 2013

De-alerting nuclear weapons, Army use of drones, North Korea’s test and much more.

From the Blogs

  • Army Use of Drones in U.S. is Constrained, Not Prohibited: There are significant barriers to the Army’s use of unmanned aerial systems within the United States, according to a new Army manual, but they are not prohibitive or categorical. The question arises in the context of Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA), referring to military assistance to government agencies in disaster response and other domestic emergencies.
  • Options for Reducing Nuclear Weapons Requirements: The Obama administration has decided that it can meet national and international security requirements with 1,000-1,100 deployed strategic nuclear warheads – 450-550 warheads less than planned under the New START Treaty. Hans Kristensen writes that this lower force level has the potential to save billions of dollars, but how much depends on how the administration decides to implement it. Additionally, Kristensen examines the possibilities of what the new  the new U.S. arsenal will look like with these cuts.

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Meteors Against Nukes

The meteor impacted near large Russian nuclear weapons facilities..

By Hans M. Kristensen

When the news media reported that a meteor had exploded over Chelyabinsk in Russia, the location name sounded familiar: the region is home to some of Russia’s most important nuclear weapons production and storage facilities.

Impact sites still have to be found but one reportedly was Chebarkul Lake, some 72 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of the city of Chelyabinsk. Another piece impacted near the town of Zlatoust some 80 kilometers (49 miles) to the northwest.

Approximately 88 kilometers (55 miles) northeast of Chebarkul Lake is Chelyabinsk-65 (Mayak), a plutonium production and fissile material storage complex. Another 40 miles to the north is Chelyabinsk-70 (Snezhinsk), a nuclear warhead design and storage complex.

Right in the meteor’s path, approximately 115 kilometers (72 miles) southwest of Chebarkul Lake, is Zlatoust-36, one of the two main warhead assembly and disassembly facilities in Russia. Adjacent to the facility is a national-level nuclear weapons storage site.

The odds of a meteor hitting one of these nuclear weapons production or storage site are probably infinitely small, but on a cosmic scale it got pretty close. Just how much damage a direct hit of a sizable chunk of the meteor could have caused is unknown, but the 17-meter (55 feet) meteor reportedly released energy equivalent to nearly 500 kilotons of TNT. That’s roughly the explosive yield of one of the W88 warheads carried on Trident II missiles onboard U.S. ballistic missile submarines.

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

New Report: Reducing Alert Rates of Nuclear Weapons

click on image to download report

.By Hans M. Kristensen

The United States and Russia have some 1,800 nuclear warheads on alert on ballistic missiles that are ready to launch in a few minutes, according to a new study published by UNIDIR. The number of U.S. and Russian alert warheads is greater than the total nuclear weapons inventories of all other nuclear weapons states combined.

The report Reducing Alert Rates of Nuclear Weapons is co-authored by Matthew McKinzie from the Natural Resources of Defense Council and yours truly.

France and Britain also keep some of their nuclear force on alert, although at lower readiness levels than the United States and Russia. No other nuclear weapon state has nuclear weapons on alert.

The report concludes that the warning made by opponents of de-alerting, that it could trigger a re-alerting race in a crisis that count undermine stability, is a “straw man” argument that overplays risks, downplays benefits, and ignores that current alert postures already include plans to increase readiness and alert rates in a crisis.

According to the report, “while there are risks with alerted and de-alerted postures, a re-alerting race that takes three months under a de-alerted posture is much preferable to a re-alerting race that takes only three hours under the current highly alerted posture. A de-alerted nuclear posture would allow the national leaders to think carefully about their decisions, rather than being forced by time constraints to choose from a list of pre-designated responses with catastrophic consequences.”

During his election campaign, Barack Obama promised to work with Russia to take nuclear weapons off “hair-trigger” alert, but the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) instead decided to keep the existing alert posture. The post-NPR review that has now been completed but has yet to be announced hopefully will include a reduction of the alert level, not least because the Intelligence Community has concluded that a Russian surprise first strike is unlikely to occur.

The UNIDIR report finds that the United States and Russia previously have reduce the alert levels of their nuclear forces and recommends that they continue this process by removing the remaining nuclear weapons from alert through a phased approach to ensure stability and develop consultation and verification measures.

Full report: Reducing Alert Rates of Nuclear Weapons (FAS mirror)

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Swiss Government. General nuclear forces research is supported by the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.

Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons Discussed in Warsaw

The conference was held in this elaborate room at the Intercontinental Warsaw hotel.

By Hans M. Kristensen

In early February, I participated in a conference in Warsaw on non-strategic nuclear weapons. The conference was organized by the Polish Institute of International Affairs, the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland, with the participation of the U.S. State Department.

The conference had very high-level government representation from the United States and NATO, and included non-governmental experts from the academic and think-tank communities in Russia and NATO countries. The Russian government unfortunately did not send participants.

The United States and NATO want to broaden the arms control agenda to non-strategic nuclear weapons, which have so far largely eluded limitations and verification. The objective of the conference was to try to identify options for how NATO and Russia might begin to discuss confidence-building measures and eventually limitations on non-strategic nuclear weapons.

The conference commissioned eight working papers to form the basis for the discussions. My paper, which focused on identifying common definitions for categories of non-strategic nuclear weapons, recommended starting with air-delivered weapons as the only compatible category for negotiations on U.S-Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Background: Working papers and lists of participants are available on the PISM web site. For background on non-strategic nuclear weapons, see this FAS report.

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

February 11, 2013

Letter to Congress on B61 Bomb, DoD Special Access Programs and much more.

From the Blogs

  • Spotlight on DoD Special Access Programs: The procedures for establishing, managing and overseeing special access programs (SAPs) in the Department of Defense are spelled out in an updated DoD Instruction that was issued on February 6. A special access program is a classified program that employs security measures above and beyond those that would normally be used to protect ordinary (or “collateral”) classified information. DoD SAPs have been a focus of controversy in the past, because their intensive secrecy seemed to foster mismanagement.
  • Judge Walton Named Presiding Judge of FISA Court: Steven Aftergood writes that Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts has appointed Judge Reggie B. Walton of the D.C. District Court to serve as Presiding Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, effective February 22, 2013. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court reviews and authorizes applications for electronic surveillance and physical search under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

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