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 By 2012, approximately 4,470 of the warheads will have been withdrawn, leaving a stockpile of roughly 5,500 warheads.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.
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National Bio-Surveillance Integration System Program has been mismanaged

Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General released a stinging new report that details serious issues facing the National Bio-Surveillance Integration System (NBIS). NBIS was launched in 2004 with the goal of integrating all of the biosurveillance programs across the US into a single system to enhance our capability to detect agents and disease trends and respond rapidly. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention operates their BioSense program, to collect data on human health, but the data from that system is not integrated with data from the Department of Homeland Security’s BioWatch program, which is designed to detect the release of airborne biological agents. There are other surveillance systems in place and in development as well, and although you would be hard pressed to find anyone that thinks any of the systems are working optimally it is still important to try to integrate the programs into a single system (in case they ever do become robust and efficient).

The US has spent an estimated $32 billion on electronic surveillance systems and various other IT initiatives to address biodefense since 2001.

The report tells of inconsistent leadership and staffing, which has hampered NBIS delivery. In some cases many months were wasted with unnecessary administrative hurdles delaying the program. The few contracts that have been awarded under the program seem of questionable value, sometimes because the contractor was not given sufficient guidance to complete the work.

Most shocking to me was the fact that they have yet to finish a plan for implementation. The report stated plainly that, “As a result of the repeated transitions and staffing shortfalls, planning documents needed to guide information technology (IT) development have yet to be finalized. Program management has not effectively communicated and coordinated with stakeholders to secure the data, personnel, and information sharing agreements needed to support system development. Additionally, program management did not provide the contractor with adequate guidance, requirements input, or data sources to deliver a fully functional system. As such, the contractor may not fulfill NBIS capability and schedule requirements, which potentially could result in cost increases to the program.”

Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer, Jeffrey Runge MD, agreed with all of the findings and recommendations in the report and provided very constructive comments that indicate a sincere willingness to improve the program and stated that many of the IG’s recommendations were already being addressed. That is the nugget of good news here.

Licensing Exemptions, Round Two: The Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty

At a press briefing on Monday, Assistant Secretary of State John Rood elaborated on the Bush Administration’s latest attempt to secure license-free defense exports to the UK, a contentious issue that sparked a bruising battle between the administration and House Republicans three years ago. This time the exemptions are packaged in the form of a Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty (DTCT), the stated goal of which is to “improve transatlantic defence information sharing by reducing the barriers to exchanges of defence goods, services and information between the US and UK.” By pursuing a treaty, the administration avoids another confrontation with the House, but it remains to be seen whether the Democrat-controlled Senate will tolerate what appears to be an end-run around their colleagues, especially given the administration’s apparent failure to adequately consult either chamber before negotiating the treaty.
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New Jersey Woman finds “missile” in her front yard

Note: After this entry was posted, the Associated Press revealed that the item in question is actually a 20-year-old expended AT-4 anti-tank missile launcher that posed no threat.

This morning a woman from Jersey City discovered a “missile” lying in the grass on her front lawn. Niranjana Besai showed the missile to her neighbor, who told CBS 2 News that at first he thought the 6-foot-long item was just a pipe. Upon closer inspection, he concluded that it looked like the missile launchers he’d seen on TV. The New Jersey television station said that their “sources” told them that the “device is the type used ot shoot shoulder-fired rockets and is capable of taking down an aircraft.”

Little else is known about the item, but initial descriptions are consistent with the physical appearance of many man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), the launch tubes of which are approximately 5 to 6 feet long and look a bit like a pipe. Private ownership of MANPADS is ilegal in the United States, and the version used by the US military – the Stinger missile – is one of the most tighly guarded weapons in its arsenals. If the item is indeed a MANPADS, it would have profound national security and policy implications.
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Targeting Missile Defense Systems

By Hans M. Kristensen

The now month-long clash between Russia and the West over U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Europe should warn us that – despite important progress in some areas – Cold War thinking is alive and well.

The missile defense system, Moscow says, is but the latest step in a gradual military encroachment on Russian borders by NATO, and could well be used to shoot down Russian ballistic missiles. The head of Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces and President Putin have suggested that Russia might target the defenses with nuclear weapons. The United States has rejected the complaints insisting that Russia has nothing to fear and that the defenses will only be used against Iranian ballistic missiles. European allies have complained that the Russian threats are unacceptable and have no place in today’s Europe.

That may be true, but the reactions have revealed a frightening degree of naiveté about strategic war planning in the post-Cold War era, a widespread belief that such planning has somehow stopped. It has certainly changed, but all the major nuclear weapon states insist that they must hedge against an uncertain future and continue to adjust their strike plans against potential adversaries that have weapons of mass destruction. Russia continues to plan against the West and the West continues to plan against Russia. The plans are not the same that existed during the Cold War, but they are strike plans nonetheless.

The argument made by some officials that missile defense systems are merely defensive and don’t threaten anyone is disingenuous because it glosses over a fact that all planners know very well: Even limited missile defenses become priority targets if they can disturb other important strike plans. The West concluded that very early on in its military relationship with Russia.
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FAS Statement on Recent Testimony by Surgeon General Carmona

The Federation of American Scientists is profoundly disturbed by the testimony of former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona at the July 10th hearing of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. At the hearing, Surgeon General Carmona described a dismaying number of cases where he was forced to weaken or suppress reports providing public health information that should have been available to the public. He also reported that he was repeatedly instructed not to speak on a wide array of important health issues including stem cells, emergency contraception, and mental health.

While political pressure on government scientists is not new, the size and scope of the effort reported by Dr. Carmona are shocking. This is the first time an official of this rank has described in detail a persistent, long-term pattern of distorting science advice to the public. As America’s “chief health educator,” the Surgeon General’s office has a clear obligation to provide the public with timely, accurate, and accessible information about matters of health and medicine. The public needs this information to provide good care for themselves and their families and they need it to make informed decisions about health care policy. The public should never have to wonder whether statements made by high public officials can be trusted to be accurate and complete.

Dr. James Holsinger, nominated to be the next Surgeon General, will face Senate confirmation this week. FAS urges the Senators examining him to get assurances that he will always provide the public with the most complete, timely, and accurate health care information available to him. And we urge them to get assurances that he will bring important health care matters to public attention without regard to the effect these facts will have on partisan political debates.

Read Surgeon General Carmona’s testimony here.

United States Removes Nuclear Weapons From German Base, Documents Indicate

The United States appears to have quietly removed nuclear weapons from Ramstein Air Base. Here a B61 nuclear bomb is loaded unto a C-17 cargo aircraft.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. Air Force has removed its main base at Ramstein in Germany from a list of installations that receive periodic nuclear weapons inspections, indicating that nuclear weapons previously stored at the base may have been removed and withdrawn to the United States.

If correct, the withdrawal reduces the number of U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe to an estimated 350 B61 bombs, or roughly equivalent to the size of the entire French nuclear weapons inventory.
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Estimates of the US Nuclear Weapons Stockpile, 2007 and 2012

Click on figure to open full fact sheet. For an updated stockpile estimate, go here.

The Bush administration announced in 2004 that it had decided to cut the nuclear weapons stockpile “nearly in half” by 2012, but has refused to disclose the actual numbers. Yet a fact sheet published by the Federation of American Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that the stockpile will decline from approximately 9,938 warheads today to approximately 5,047 warheads by the end of 2012.

FAS and NRDC publish the fact sheet now because Congress is considering whether to approve a proposal by the administration to resume industrial production of new nuclear weapons, and because government officials have told Congress that production of new warheads will make it possible to reduce further the size of the stockpile in the future.

The fact sheet estimates are based on information collected by the authors over several decades about production, dismantlement and operation of US nuclear weapons.
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Small Fuze – Big Effect

“It is not true,” British Defence Secretary Des Browne insisted during an interview with BBC radio, that a new fuze planned for British nuclear warheads and reported by the Guardian will increase their military capability. The plan to replace the fuze “was reported to the [Parliament’s] Select Committee in 2005 and is not an upgrading of the system; it is merely making sure that the system works to its maximum efficiency,” Mr. Browne says.

The minister is either being ignorant or economical with the truth. According to numerous statements made by US officials over the past decade, the very purpose of replacing the fuze is – in stark contrast to Mr. Browne’s assurance – to give the weapon improved military capabilities it did not have before.

The matter, which is controversial now because Britain is debating whether to build a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines, concerns the Mk4 reentry vehicle on Trident D5 missiles deployed on British (and US) ballistic missile submarines. The cone-shaped Mk4 contains the nuclear explosive package itself and is designed to protect it from the fierce heat created during reentry of the Earth’s atmosphere toward the target. A small fuze at the tip of the Mk4 measures the altitude and detonates the explosive package at the right “height of burst” to create the maximum pressure to ensure destruction of the target. The new fuze will increase the “maximum efficiency” significantly and give the British Trident submarines hard target kill capability for the first time.
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