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.

Continue reading

U.S. Plans Test of Anti-Satellite Interceptor Against Failed Intelligence Satellite

The United States is planning to intercept a dying reconnaissance satellite with a missile launched from a Navy ship. The administration justifies the intercept on the basis of public safety. That is a long stretch, indeed, and thus far in the news coverage that I have seen there is virtually no mention of the political consequences of the United States’ conducting its first anti-satellite test in over two decades.

The United States, along with China, Russia, and other space-faring nations, should be working to ban anti-satellite weapons. Such a ban would work strongly in the best interests of the United States because we depend more, by far, than any other nation on access to space for our economy and security. Any measure that reduces the threats to satellites will enhance American security. The proposed test is a potential public relations bonanza, showing the public how a defensive missile can protect us from a—largely imaginary—danger from above. What follows is a simple analysis of what some of these dangers might be and a description of what might happen. These are questions that should have been asked of the administration.

Continue reading

Bush Administration Unveils New Export Control Directive

At a press briefing on Wednesday, John Rood, the Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, fielded questions about the Bush Administration’s new Export Control Directive – the latest attempt to reduce delays and inefficiencies in the State Department’s export control system. If implemented properly, some of the proposals could help to address long-standing staffing shortages, jurisdictional issues, and Information Technology (IT) problems. Improvements in these areas could help to reduce licensing delays, which, in turn, could alleviate pressure on the State Department to relax export controls.
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.
Continue reading

US Arms Sales to Pakistan: New CRS Report

A new Congressional Research Service report on “U.S. Arms Sales to Pakistan” recently obtained by the FAS provides a succinct overview of recent U.S. arms sales to General Pervez Musharraf’s regime, the tumultous fifty-year history of US security assistance to Pakistan, and presidential authority to stop such sales. The release of the report coincides with a worsening political crisis in Pakistan and growing Congressional and public discontent over the United States’ multi-billion dollar military aid program for General Musharraf’s beseiged and increasingly authoritarian regime.
Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

FAS Obtains DHS Report on Programs to Counter the Shoulder-fired Missile Threat

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the FAS, the Department of Homeland Security has released a December 2005 report to Congress on the status of DHS’s efforts to counter the threat from man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) to commercial airliners.

The report, which Congress required as part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, sheds new light on several key DHS counter-MANPADS efforts, including airport vulnerability assessments, contingency plans for MANPADS attacks, and intelligence sharing and law enforcement training. These efforts are part of a multi-faceted U.S. campaign to deprive terrorists of access to these weapons and mitigate the threat from missiles that are already in terrorist arsenals.
Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

Administration Increases Submarine Nuclear Warhead Production Plan

The slim Mk4A reentry body for the W76-1 warhead. The administration plans to produce 2,000 between 2007 and 2021.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Bush administration has decided to more than double the number of nuclear warheads undergoing an expensive upgrade for potential future deployment on the Navy’s 14 ballistic missile submarines, according to answers provided by the National Nuclear Security Administration in response to questions from the Federation of American Scientists.

The decision preempts a debate in Congress about how the United States should size its future nuclear weapons arsenal.

The upgrade concerns the W76, the most numerous warhead in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. The Clinton administration decided to upgrade 25 percent, but the Bush administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in 2001 recommended that significantly more warheads had to be upgraded. An assessment completed by the Department of Defense in 2005 increased the plan to 63 percent of the W76 stockpile, corresponding to an estimated 2,000 warheads.

More than just a refurbished weapon, official sources indicate, the new weapon will have significantly increased military capabilities against hard targets.
Continue reading