Nuclear Safety and the Saga About the Missing Bent Spear

Advanced Cruise Missile loading on B-52H bomber at Minot Air Force Base

By Hans M. Kristensen

The recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Air Force nuclear weapons safety was a welcome but long-overdue event. Internal reports about deteriorating nuclear weapon safety and surety in the Air Force have been accumulating since the early 1990s, but six nuclear weapons had to “disappear” for a day from Minot Air Force Base last August to get the Pentagon and Congress to finally pay attention. Had it not been for reporter Michael Hoffman at Military Times, the incident likely would have been filed away in secret cabinets as well.

Two internal investigations have identified numerous deficiencies in the handling and management of nuclear weapons within the military and have recommended substantial changes. Some of the obvious recommendations – such as not storing nuclear and conventional weapons in the same bunker and that personnel must follow the rules – have now been implemented. Others will require more effort.

Yet the investigations have revealed an inherent problem in post-Cold War nuclear planning: self-management and lack of independent oversight. Indeed, the investigations themselves appear to have been hampered by the same shortcomings. The result is an inherent conflict between scrutinizing and promoting the nuclear mission and a reluctance to change things too much.

As a consequence, the reviews recommend revitalizing the nuclear mission and returning the bombers to a heightened nuclear alert posture to improve safety, while missing the most obvious and effective fix: removing nuclear weapons from bomber bases and ending the operational nuclear bomber mission.

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Chinese Submarine Patrols Rebound in 2007, but Remain Limited

By Hans M. Kristensen

China’s entire fleet of approximately 55 general-purpose submarines conducted a total of six patrols during 2007, slightly better than the two patrols conducted in 2006 and zero in 2005.

The 2007 performance matches China’s all-time high of six patrols conducted in 2000, the only two years since 1981 that Chinese submarines conducted more than five patrols in a single year.

The new information, obtained by Federation of American Scientists from the U.S. Navy under the Freedom of Information Act, also shows that none of China’s ballistic missile submarines have ever conducted a deterrent patrol. Continue reading

White House Announces (Secret) Nuclear Weapons Cuts

The W62 is the only nuclear warhead that has been publicly identified for elimination under the Bush administration’s secret nuclear stockpile reduction plan.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The While House announced earlier today that the President had “approved a significant reduction in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile to take effect by the end of 2007.” The decision reaffirmed an earlier decision from June 2004 to cut the stockpile “nearly 50 percent,” but moved the timeline up five years from 2012 to 2007.

Not included in the White House statement, but added by other government officials, is an additional decision to cut the remaining stockpile by another 15% percent, although not until 2012.

The announcement of these important initiatives unfortunately was hampered by Cold War secrecy which meant that government officials were not allowed to reveal how many nuclear weapons will be cut or what the size of the stockpile is. As a result, news media accounts were full of errors, and one can only imagine the misperceptions this misplaced secrecy creates in other nuclear weapon states.
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White House Guidance Led to New Nuclear Strike Plans Against Proliferators, Document Shows


The U.S. nuclear war plan that entered into effect in March 2003 included new executable strike options against regional states seeking weapons of mass destruction.
(click on image to download PDF-version)

By Hans M. Kristensen

The 2001 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and White House guidance issued in response to the terrorist attacks against the United States in September 2001 led to the creation of new nuclear strike options against regional states seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction, according to a military planning document obtained by the Federation of American Scientists.

Rumors about such options have existed for years, but the document is the first authoritative evidence that fear of weapons of mass destruction attacks from outside Russia and China caused the Bush administration to broaden U.S. nuclear targeting policy by ordering the military to prepare a series of new options for nuclear strikes against regional proliferators.

Responding to nuclear weapons planning guidance issued by the White House shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, U.S. Strategic Command created a series of scenario driven nuclear strike options against regional states. Illustrations in the document identify the states as North Korea and Libya as well as SCUD-equipped countries that appear to include Iran, Iraq (at the time), and Syria – the very countries mentioned in the NPR. The new strike options were incorporated into the strategic nuclear war plan that entered into effect on March 1, 2003.

The creation of the new strike options contradict statements by government officials who have insisted that the NPR did not change U.S. nuclear policy but decreased the role of nuclear weapons.
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A Response to Congresswoman Tauscher’s Article in Nonproliferation Review

A recent article, “Achieving Nuclear Balance”, in Nonproliferation Review, by Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, Chairwoman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, includes a sobering summary of the dangerous nuclear policies of the Bush administration, including its desire for new nuclear weapons and an expansion of the roles of nuclear weapons. Congresswoman Tauscher has been an important voice of reason in the nuclear debate and one of the primary forces behind efforts to force a fundamental review of the missions of nuclear weapons, to ask what nuclear weapons are for.

Nevertheless, her arguments in support of exploring the Reliable Replacement Warhead are mistaken and based on deeply rooted but ultimately unsupported assumptions. Her essay highlights the critical importance of carefully defining terms and avoiding being fooled by our own euphemisms.
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A Closer Look at China’s New SSBNs


China’s new Jin-class SSBNs at Huludao shipyard.
(click on image for higher-resolution picture)

By Hans M. Kristensen

The two new Jin-class SSBNs I discovered on Google Earth earlier this month have now been photographed in port by an anonymous photographer. The photograph, which has appeared on several Chinese web sites (here and here) and sent to me by David, clearly shows the features of what I estimated to be the Jin-class submarine.
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Reliable Replacement Warhead Is a Symptom, Not the Solution

Last week, the Jasons, a group of distinguished scientists who advise the Department of Defense, released the unclassified summary of their review of the Reliable Replacement Warhead, or RRW. Walter Pincus covered the report in the Washington Post. The summary is posted on the FAS website.

Although almost everything about nuclear weapons and their design is classified, the unclassified summary contains many hints of problems with the RRW that are yet to be overcome.
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Two More Chinese SSBNs Spotted

China appears to have launched two more SSBNs.

By Hans M. Kristensen (BLOG UPDATED OCTOBER 10, 2007)

China appears to have launched two more ballistic missiles submarines from the Bohai shipyard at Huludao approximately 400 km east of Beijing. This could bring to three the number of Jin-class (Type 094) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) launched by China in the past three to four years.

The two submarines were discovered during analysis of newly published commercial satellite images on Google Earth. This is the second time in three months that FAS has discovered new Chinese ballistic missile submarines on commercial satellite images. The first time was in July 2007, when the first Jin-class was disclosed on the FAS Strategic Security Blog.

The submarines on the new image have the same dimensions as the previous submarine.
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Flying Nuclear Bombs

The Air Force is reported to have loaded and flown five (some say six) nuclear-armed Advanced Cruise Missiles on a B-52H bomber – by mistake. This image shows a B-52H will a full load of 12 Advanced Cruise Missiles under the wings.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Michael Hoffman reports in Military Times that five (some say six) nuclear-armed Advanced Cruise Missiles were mistakenly flown on a B-52H bomber from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on August 30.

I disclosed in March that the Air Force had decided to retire the Advanced Cruise Missile (ACM), and the Minot incident apparently was part of the dismantlement process of the weapon system.

Update September 23, 2007:
Contributed information to story in the Washington Post.

Update September 6, 2007:
The Air Force has issued a statement on the B-52 incident.

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Article: U.S. Nuclear Stockpile Today and Tomorrow

The latest FAS-NRDC estimate of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile currently contains an estimated 9,900 nuclear warheads of 15 different versions of nine basic types, according to the latest FAS-NRDC Nuclear Notebook published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. By 2012, approximately 4,470 of the warheads will have been withdrawn, leaving a stockpile of roughly 5,500 warheads.

The administration insists that the size and breakdown of the stockpile must be kept secret in the interest of national security, but a growing number of lawmakers argue that some stockpile information is not necessary to classify.

The Nuclear Notebook is written by FAS’ Hans M. Kristensen and NRDC’s Robert Norris.

Background: Administration Increases Submarine Warhead Production Plan | Estimates of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile, 2007 and 2012 | U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2007