B61-12: NNSA’s Gold-Plated Nuclear Bomb Project

Escalating cost estimates for the B61 Life- Extension Program threaten to make the new B61-12 bomb the most expensive ever.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The disclosure during yesterday’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing that the cost of the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP) is significantly greater that even the most recent cost overruns calls into question the ability of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to manage the program and should call into question the B61 LEP itself.

If these cost overruns were in the private sector, heads would roll and the program would probably be canceled.  Continue reading

NATO’s Nuclear Groundhog Day?

At the Chicago Summit NATO will once again reaffirm nuclear status quo in Europe

By Hans M. Kristensen

Does NATO have a hard time waking up from its nuclear past? It would seem so.

Similar to the movie Groundhog Day where a reporter played by Bill Murray wakes up to relive the same day over and over again, the NATO alliance is about to reaffirm – once again – nuclear status quo in Europe.

The reaffirmation will come on 20-21 May when 28 countries participating in the NATO Summit in Chicago are expected to approve a study that concludes that the alliance’s existing nuclear force posture “currently meets the criteria for an effective deterrence and defense posture.” [Update May 20, 2011: Turns out I was right. Here is the official document.]

In other words, NATO will not order a reduction of its nuclear arsenal but reaffirm a deployment of nearly 200 U.S. non-strategic nuclear bombs in Europe that were left behind by arms reductions two decades ago. Continue reading

B61 Nuclear Bomb Costs Escalating

The expected cost of the B61 Life-Extension Program has increased by 50 percent to $6 billion

By Hans M. Kristensen

The expected cost of the B61 Life-Extension Program (LEP) has increased by 50 percent to $6 billion dollars, according to U.S. government sources.

Only one year ago, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) estimated in its Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program report to Congress that the cost of the program would be approximately $4 billion.

The escalating cost of the program – and concern that NNSA does not have an effective plan for managing it – has caused Congress to cap spending on the B61 LEP by 60 percent in 2012 and 100 percent in 2013. The Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office is currently evaluating NNSA’s cost estimate and is expected to release its assessment in July. After that, NNSA is expected to release a validated cost, schedule and scope estimate for the B61 LEP, a precondition for Congress releasing the program funds for Phase 6.3 of the program.

Continue reading

Panel Discussion at Brookings on NATO Nukes

brookingslogoBy Hans M. Kristensen

Steve Pifer was kind enough to invite me to participate in a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution about NATO’s nuclear future and the issue of non-strategic nuclear weapons in the Alliance’s current Defense and Deterrence Posture Review (DDPR).

Steve presented his excellent paper NATO, Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control, Frank Miller, who has been involved in these issue before I could tie my shoe laces, took the “keep US nukes in Europe,” while I argued for the withdrawal of the weapons. Angela Stent moderated the panel.

I’m not yet clear if they’re planning to post a transcript or video, so in the meantime here are my prepared remarks: NATO’s Posture Review and Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons.

For my writings on this blog about NATO nuclear policy issues, go here.

See also recent letter to NATO Secretary General Ander Fogh Rasmussen coordinated by ACA and and BASIC and signed by two dozen nuclear experts and former senior government officials.

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

B61 LEP: Increasing NATO Nuclear Capability and Precision Low-Yield Strikes

The US military is planning to replace the tail section of the B61 nuclear bomb with a new guided tail kit to increase the accuracy of the weapon. This will increase the targeting capability of the weapon and allow lower-yield strikes against targets that previously required higher-yield weapons.                                                            Image: FAS Illustration

By Hans M. Kristensen

A modified U.S. nuclear bomb currently under design will have improved military capabilities compared with older weapons and increase the targeting capability of NATO’s nuclear arsenal.

The B61-12, the product of a planned 30-year life extension and consolidation of four existing versions of the B61 into one, will be equipped with a new guidance system to increase its accuracy.

As a result, if funded by Congress, the U.S. non-strategic nuclear bombs currently deployed in five European countries will return to Europe as a life-extended version in 2018 with a significantly enhanced capability to knock out military targets.

Add to that the stealthy capability of the new F-35 aircraft being built to deliver the new weapon, and NATO is up for a significant nuclear upgrade.

The upgrade would also improve the capability of U.S. strategic bombers to destroy targets with lower yield and less radioactive fallout, a scenario that resembles the controversial PLYWD precision low-yield nuclear weapon proposal from the 1990s.

Finally, the B61-12 will mark the end of designated non-strategic nuclear warheads in the U.S. nuclear stockpile, essentially making concern over “disparity” with Russian non-strategic weapons a non-issue.

The Obama administration and Congress should reject plans to increase the accuracy of nuclear weapons and instead focus on maintaining the reliability of existing weapons while reducing their role and numbers.

Continue reading

Defense Science Board: Air Force Nuclear Management Needs Improvements

The Defense Science Board recommends reducing the number of inspections of nuclear bomber and missile units.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Pentagon’s “independent” Defense Science Board Permanent Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Surety has completed a review of the Air Force’s efforts to improve the safety and proficiency of its nuclear bomber and missile units. The report comes three and a half years after the notorious incident at Minot Air Base where six nuclear cruise missiles were mistakenly loaded onto a B-52H bomber and flown across the United States.

The report, Independent Assessment of the Air Force Nuclear Enterprise, finds progress has been made but also identifies some serious issues that still need to be fixed. Some of them are surprising.

Continue reading

10 NATO Countries Want More Transparency for Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons

Ten NATO countries recommend increasing transparency of non-strategic nuclear weapons, including numbers and locations at military facilities such as Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Neither NATO nor Russia currently disclose such information.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Four NATO countries supported by six others have proposed a series of steps that NATO and Russia should take to increase transparency of U.S. and Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons.

The steps are included in a so-called “non-paper” that Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland jointly submitted at the NATO Foreign Affairs Minister meeting in Berlin on 14 April.

Six other NATO allies – Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Luxemburg and Slovenia – also supported the paper. Continue reading

Report: What NATO Countries Think About Tactical Nukes

Most NATO countries support withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe, only three oppose, according to interviews with NATO officials.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Two researchers from the Dutch peace group IKV Pax Christi have published a unique study that for the first time provides the public with an overview of what individual NATO governments think about non-strategic nuclear weapons and the U.S. deployment of nuclear bombs in Europe.

Their findings are as surprising as they are new: 14, or half of all NATO member states, actively support the end of the deployment in Europe; 10 more say they will not block a consensus decision to that end; and only three members say they oppose ending the deployment.

Anyone familiar with the debate will know that while there are many claims about what NATO governments think about the need for U.S. weapons in Europe, the documentation has been scarce – to say the least. Warnings against changing status quo are frequent and just yesterday a senior NATO official told me that, “no one in NATO supports withdrawal.”

The report, in contrast, finds – based on “interviews with every national delegation to NATO as well as NATO Headquarters Staff” – that there is overwhelming support in NATO for withdrawal.

The most surprising finding is probably that most of the Baltic States support withdrawal, only Lithuania does not.

Even Turkey, a country often said to be insisting on continued deployment, says it would not oppose a withdrawal.

The only real issue seems to be how a withdrawal would take place. The three opposing countries – one of which is France – block a potential consensus decision, a condition for 10 countries to support withdrawal.

The Obama administration needs to take a much more proactive role in leading NATO toward a decision to end the U.S. deployment in Europe. This can be done without ending extended deterrence and without weakening the U.S. commitment to NATO’s defense.

Background: IKV Pax Christi study | Nuclear Notebook: U.S. Nuclear Weapons In Europe, 2011

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

The Nuclear Weapons Modernization Budget

The FY2012 budget request includes considerable nuclear weapon modernization

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Obama administration has published its budget request for Fiscal Year 2012, which includes its plans for maintaining and modernizing its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Due to the extensive debate about the New START treaty last year a great deal of the nuclear plans were already known. And the budget request demonstrates that the administration follows through on its promise to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal and production facilities.

How this modernization effort will color the administration’s public nuclear legacy remains to be seen.

Continue reading

Publication: US Nuclear Weapons in Europe

The US Air Force deploys 150-200 B61 nuclear bombs in Europe.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Following  NATO’s strategic concept and expectations that the next round of US-Russian nuclear arms control negotiations will deal with tactical nuclear weapons in some shape or form, Stan Norris and I have published our latest estimate on U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Although the strategic concept states that “any” further reductions “must take into account the disparity with the greater Russian stockpiles of short-range nuclear weapons,” NATO has in fact been willing to make significant unilateral reductions in this decade regardless of disparity. Likewise, the United States has scrapped most of its tactical nuclear weapons because they are no longer important. It is important that the disparity argument does not become an excuse to prevent further reductions.

Our estimate of Russian tactical nuclear weapons is here with more details here.

Later this spring we will publish a more comprehensive report on U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons.

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