General Cartwright Confirms B61-12 Bomb “Could Be More Useable”

By Hans M. Kristensen

General James Cartwright, the former commander of U.S. Strategic Command and former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed in an interview with PBS Newshour that the increased accuracy of the new guided B61-12 nuclear bomb could make the weapon “more useable” to the president or national-security making process.

GEN. JAMES CARTWRIGHT (RET.), Former Commander, U.S. Strategic Command: If I can drive down the yield, drive down, therefore, the likelihood of fallout, et cetera, does that make it more usable in the eyes of some — some president or national security decision-making process? And the answer is, it likely could be more usable.

Cartwright’s confirmation follows General Norton Schwartz, the former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, who in 2014 assessed that the increased accuracy would have implications for how the military thinks about using the B61. “Without a doubt. Improved accuracy and lower yield is a desired military capability. Without a question,” he said.

In an article in 2011 I first described the potential effects the increased accuracy provided by the new guided tail kit and the option to select lower yields in nuclear strike could have for nuclear planning and the perception of how useable nuclear weapons are. I also discuss this in an interview on the PBS Newshour program.

In contrast to the enhanced military capabilities offered by the increased accuracy of the B61-12, and its potential impact on nuclear planning confirmed by generals Cartwright and Schwartz, it is U.S. nuclear policy that nuclear weapons “Life Extension Programs…will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities,” as stated in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report.

The effect of the B61-12 modernization will be most dramatic in Europe where less accurate older B61s are currently deployed at six bases in five countries for delivery by older aircraft. The first B61-12 is scheduled to roll off the assembly line in 2020 and enter the stockpile in 2024 after which some of the estimated 480 bombs to be built and, under current policy, would be deployed to Europe for deliver by the new F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation fighter-bomber and (for a while) older aircraft.

For background information, see:

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

LRSO: The Nuclear Cruise Missile Mission

By Hans M. Kristensen

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, William Perry and Andy Weber last week called for canceling the Air Force’s new nuclear air-launched cruise missile.

The op-ed challenged what many see as an important component of the modernization of the U.S. nuclear triad of strategic weapons and a central element of U.S. nuclear strategy.

The recommendation to cancel the new cruise missile – known as the LRSO for Long-Range Standoff weapon – is all the more noteworthy because it comes from William Perry, known to some as “ALCM Bill,” who was secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997, and as President Carter’s undersecretary of defense for research and engineering in the late-1970s and early-1980s was in charge of developing the nuclear air-launched cruise missile the LRSO is intended to replace.

And his co-author, Andy Weber, was assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs from 2009 to 2014, during which he served as director of the Nuclear Weapons Council for five-plus years – the very time period the plans to build the LRSO emerged [note: the need to replace the ALCM was decided by DOD during the Bush administration in 2007].

Obviously, Perry and Weber are not impressed by the arguments presented by the Air Force, STRATCOM, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the nuclear laboratories, defense hawks in Congress, and an army or former defense officials and contractors for why the United States should spend $15 billion to $20 billion on a new nuclear cruise missile.

Those arguments seem to have evolved very little since the 1970s. A survey of statements made by defense officials over the past few years for why the LRSO is needed reveals a concoction of justifications ranging from good-old warfighting scenarios of using nuclear weapons to blast holes in enemy air defenses to “the old missile is getting old, therefore we need a new one.”  Continue reading

US Drops Below New START Warhead Limit For The First Time

By Hans M. Kristensen

The number of U.S. strategic warheads counted as “deployed” under the New START Treaty has dropped below the treaty’s limit of 1,550 warheads for the first time since the treaty entered into force in February 2011 – a reduction of 263 warheads over four and a half years.

Russia, by contrast, has increased its deployed warheads and now has more strategic warheads counted as deployed under the treaty than in 2011 – up 111 warheads.

Similarly, while the United States has reduced its number of deployed strategic launchers (missiles and bombers) counted by the treaty by 120, Russia has increased its number of deployed launchers by five in the same period. Yet the United States still has more launchers deployed than allowed by the treaty (by 2018) while Russia has been well below the limit since before the treaty entered into force in 2011.


These two apparently contradictory developments do not mean that the United States is falling behind and Russia is building up. Both countries are expected to adjust their forces to comply with the treaty limits by 2018.

Rather, the differences are due to different histories and structures of the two countries’ strategic nuclear force postures as well as to fluctuations in the number of weapons that are deployed at any given time.  Continue reading

Upgrades At US Nuclear Bases In Europe Acknowledge Security Risk

By Hans M. Kristensen

Security upgrades underway at U.S. Air Force bases in Europe indicate that nuclear weapons deployed in Europe have been stored under unsafe conditions for more than two decades.

Commercial satellite images show work underway at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and Aviano Air Base in Italy. The upgrades are intended to increase the physical protection of nuclear weapons stored at the two U.S. Air Force Bases.

The upgrades indirectly acknowledge that security at U.S. nuclear weapons storage sites in Europe has been inadequate for more than two decades.

And the decision to upgrade nuclear security perimeters at the two U.S. bases strongly implies that security at the other four European host bases must now be characterized as inadequate.

Security challenges at Incirlik AB are unique in NATO’s nuclear posture because the base is located only 110 kilometers (68 miles) from war-torn Syria and because of an ongoing armed conflict within Turkey between the Turkish authorities and Kurdish militants. The wisdom of deploying NATO’s largest nuclear weapons stockpile in such a volatile region seems questionable. (UPDATE: Pentagon orders “voluntary departure” of 900 family members of U.S. personnel stationed at Incirlik.) Continue reading

US Nuclear Weapons Base In Italy Eyed By Alleged Terrorists

Italian security forces practice protection of US nuclear weapons at Ghedi Air Base in 2014.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Two suspected terrorists arrested by the Italian police allegedly were planning an attack against the nuclear weapons base at Ghedi.

The base stores 20 US B61 nuclear bombs earmarked for delivery by Italian PA-200 Tornado fighter-bombers in war. Nuclear security and strike exercises were conducted at the base in 2014. During peacetime the bombs are under the custody of the US Air Force 704th Munitions Support Squadron (MUNSS), a 130-personnel strong units at Ghedi Air Base.

The Italian police said at a press conference today that the two men in their conversations “were referring to several targets, particularly the Ghedi military base” near Brescia in northern Italy.

Ghedi Air Base is one of several national air bases in Europe that a US Air Force investigation in 2008 concluded did not meet US security standards for nuclear weapons storage. Since then, the Pentagon and NATO have spent tens of millions of dollars and are planning to spend more to improve security at the nuclear weapons bases in Europe.

There are currently approximately 180 US B61 bombs deployed in Europe at six bases in five NATO countries: Belgium (Kleine Brogel AB), Germany (Buchel AB), Italy (Aviano AB and Ghedi AB), the Netherlands (Volkel AB), and Turkey (Incirlik AB).

Over the next decade, the B61s in Europe will be modernized and, when delivered by the new F-35A fighter-bomber, turned into a guided nuclear bomb (B61-12) with greater accuracy than the B61s currently deployed in Europe. Aircraft integration of the B61-12 has already started.

Read also:

Italy’s Nuclear Anniversary: Fake Reassurance For a King’s Ransom

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

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

Iran Nuclear Deal: What’s Next?

By Muhammad Umar,

On July 14, 2015, after more than a decade of negotiations to ensure Iran only use its nuclear program for peaceful purposes, Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, Russia, China, France + Germany) have finally agreed on a nuclear deal aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Iran has essentially agreed to freeze their nuclear program for a period of ten years, as in there will be no new nuclear projects or research related to advanced enrichment processes. In exchange the West has agreed to lift crippling economic sanctions on Iran that have devastated the country for over a decade.

President Barack Obama said this deal is based on “verification” and not trust. This means that the sanctions will only be lifted after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified that Iran has fulfilled the requirements of the deal. Sanctions can be put back in place if Iran violates the deal in any way.

All though the details of the final agreement have not yet been released, based on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed to in April, some of the key parameters the IAEA will be responsible for verifying are that Iran has reduced the number of centrifuges currently in operation from 19,000 to 6,140, and does not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years. The IAEA will also verify that Iran has reduced its current stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU) from ~10,000 kg to 300 kg and does not build any new enrichment facilities. According to the New York Times, most of the LEU will be shipped to Russia for storage. Iran will only receive relief in sanctions if it verifiably abides by its commitments.

Even after the period of limitations on Iran’s nuclear program ends, it will remain a party to the NPT, its adherence to the Additional Protocol will be permanent, and it will maintain its transparency obligations.

The President must now submit the final agreement to the US Congress for a review. Once submitted, the Congress will have 60 days to review the agreement. There is no doubt that there will be plenty of folks in Congress who will challenge the agreement. Most of their concerns will be unwarranted because they lack a basic understanding of the technical details of the agreement.

The confusion for those opposing the deal on technical grounds is simple to understand. Iran had two paths to the bomb. Path one involved enriching uranium by using centrifuges, and path two involved using reactors to produce plutonium. The confusion is that if Iran is still allowed to have enriched uranium, and keep centrifuges in operation, will it not enable them to build the bomb?

The fact is that Iran will not have the number of centrifuges required to enrich weapons grade uranium. It will only enrich uranium to 3.7 percent and has a cap on its stockpile at 300 kilograms, which is inadequate for bomb making.

Again, the purpose of the deal is to allow greater access to the IAEA and their team of inspectors. They will verify that Iran complies with the agreement and in exchange sanctions will be lifted.

Congress does not have to approve the deal but can propose legislation that blocks the execution of the deal. In a public address, the President vowed to “veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of the deal.”

The deal will undergo a similar review process in Tehran, but because it has the support of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameeni, there will be no objection.

Those opposing the deal in the United States fail to understand that although the deal is only valid for 10 to 15 years, the safeguards being put in place are permanent. Making it impossible for Iran to secretly develop a nuclear weapon.

This deal has potentially laid down a blueprint for future nuclear negotiations with countries like North Korea. Once the deal is implemented, it will serve as a testament for diplomacy. It is definitely a welcome change from the experience of failed military action in Iraq, a mess we cannot seem to get out of to this day.

A stable Iran with a strong economy will not only benefit the region but the entire world. The media as well as Congress should keep this fact in mind as they begin to review the details of the final deal.

This is a tremendous victory for the West as well as Iran. This deal has strengthened the non-proliferation regime, and has proven the efficacy of diplomacy.

The writer is a visiting scholar at the Federation of American Scientists. He tweets @umarwrites.

Obama Administration Releases New Nuclear Warhead Numbers

By Hans M. Kristensen

In a speech to the Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York earlier today, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry disclosed new information about the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

Updated Stockpile Numbers

First, Kerry updated the DOD nuclear stockpile history by declaring that the stockpile as of September 2014 included 4,717 nuclear warheads. That is a reduction of 87 warheads since September 2013, when the DOD stockpile included 4,804 warheads, or a reduction of about 500 warheads retired since President Obama took office in January 2009.

The September 2014 number of 4,717 warheads is 43 warheads off the estimate we made in our latest FAS Nuclear Notebook in March this year.

Disclosure of Dismantlement Queue

Second, Kerry also announced a new number we have never seen in public before: the official number of retired nuclear warheads in line for dismantlement. As of September 2014, the United States had approximately 2,500 additional warheads that have been retired (but are still relatively intact) and awaiting dismantlement.

The number of “approximately 2,500” retired warheads awaiting dismantlement is close to the 2,340 warheads we estimated in the FAS Nuclear Notebook in March 2015.

Increasing Warhead Dismantlements

Kerry also announced that the administration “will seek to accelerate the dismantlement of retired nuclear warheads by 20 percent.”

“Over the last 20 years alone, we have dismantled 10,251 warheads,” Kerry announced.

This updates the count of 9,952 dismantled warheads from the 2014 disclosure, which means that the administration between September 2013 and September 2014 dismantled 299 retired warheads.

Under current plans, of the “approximately 2,500” warheads in the dismantlement queue, the ones that were retired through (September) 2009 will be dismantled by 2022. Additional warheads retired during the past five years will take longer.

How the administration will accelerate dismantlement remains to be seen. The FY2016 budget request for NNSA pretty much flatlines funding for weapons dismantlement and disposition through 2020. In the same period, the administration plans to complete production of the W76-1 warhead, begin production of the B61-12, and carry out refurbishments of four other warheads. If the administration wanted to dismantle all “approximately 2,500” retired warheads by 2022 (including those warheads retired after 2009), it would have to dismantle about 312 warheads per year – a rate of only 13 more than it dismantled in 2014. So this can probably be done with existing capacity.


Secretary Kerry’s speech is an important diplomatic gesture that will help the United States make its case at the NPT review conference that it is living up to its obligations under the treaty. Some will agree, others will not. The nuclear-weapon states are in a tough spot at the NPT because there are currently no negotiations underway for additional reductions; because the New START Treaty, although beneficial, is modest; and because the nuclear-weapon states are reaffirming the importance of nuclear weapons and modernizing their nuclear arsenals as if they plan to keep nuclear weapons indefinitely (see here for worldwide status of nuclear arsenals).

And the disclosure is a surprise. As recently as a few weeks ago, White House officials said privately that the United States would not be releasing updated nuclear warhead numbers at the NPT conference. Apparently, the leadership decided last minute to do so anyway. [Update: another White House official says the release was cleared late but that it had been the plan to release some numbers all along.]

The roughly 500 warheads cut from the stockpile by the Obama administration is modest and a disappointing performance by a president that has spoken so much about reducing the numbers and role of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the political reality has been an arms control policy squeezed between a dismissive Russian president and an arms control-hostile U.S. Congress.

In addition to updating the stockpile history, the most important part of the initiative is the disclosure of the number of weapons awaiting dismantlement. This is an important new transparency initiative by the administration that was not included in the 2010 or 2014 stockpile transparency initiatives. Disclosing dismantlement numbers helps dispel rumors that the United States is hiding a secret stash of nuclear warheads and enables the United States to demonstrate actual dismantlement progress.

And, besides, why would the administration not want to disclose to the NPT conference how many warheads it is actually working on dismantling? This can only help the United States at the NPT review conference.

There will be a few opponents of the transparency initiative. Since they can’t really say this harms U.S. national security, their primary argument will be that other nuclear-armed states have so far not response in kind.

Russia and China have not made public disclosures of their nuclear warhead inventories. Britain and France has said a little on a few occasions about their total inventories and (in the case of Britain) how many warheads are operationally available or deployed, but not disclosed the histories of stockpiles or dismantlement. And the other nuclear-armed states that are outside the NPT (India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan) have not said anything at all.

But this is a work in progress. It will take a long time to persuade other nuclear-armed states to become more transparent with basic information about nuclear arsenals. But seeing that it can be done without damaging national security and at the same time helping the NPT process is important to cut through old-fashioned excessive nuclear secrecy and increase nuclear transparency. Hat tip to the Obama administration.

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

New START Treaty Count: Russia Dips Below US Again

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russian deployed strategic warheads counted by the New START Treaty once again slipped below the U.S. force level, according to the latest fact sheet released by the State Department.

The so-called aggregate numbers show that Russia as of March 1, 2015 deployed 1,582 warheads on 515 strategic launchers.

The U.S. count was 1,597 warheads on 785 launchers.

Back in September 2014, the Russian warhead count for the first time in the treaty’s history moved above the U.S. warhead count. The event caused U.S. defense hawks to say it showed Russia was increasing it nuclear arsenal and blamed the Obama administration. Russian news media gloated Russia had achieved “parity” with the United States for the first time.

Of course, none of that was true. The ups and downs in the aggregate data counts are fluctuations caused by launchers moving in an out of overhaul and new types being deployed while old types are being retired. The fact is that both Russia and the United States are slowly – very slowly – reducing their deployed forces to meet the treaty limits by February 2018.  Continue reading

The INF Crisis: Bad Press and Nuclear Saber Rattling

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russian online news paper Vzglaid is carrying a story that wrongly claims that I have said a Russian flight-test of an INF missile would not be a violation of the INF Treaty as long as the missile is not in production or put into service.

That is of course wrong. I have not made such a statement, not least because it would be wrong. On the contrary, a test-launch of an INF missile would indeed be a violation of the INF Treaty, regardless of whether the missile is in production or deployed.

Meanwhile, US defense secretary Ashton Carter appears to confirm that the ground-launched cruise missile Russia allegedly test-launched in violation of the INF Treaty is a nuclear missile and threatens further escalation if it is deployed. Continue reading

The Nuclear Weapons “Procurement Holiday”

harencakBy Hans M. Kristensen

It has become popular among military and congressional leaders to argue that the United States has had a “procurement holiday” in nuclear force planning for the past two decades.

“Over the past 20-25 years, we took a procurement holiday” in modernizing U.S. nuclear forces, Major General Garrett Harencak, the Air Force’s assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, said in a speech yesterday.

Harencak’s claim strongly resembles the statement made by then-commander of US Air Force Global Strike Command, Lt. General Jim Kowalski, that the United States had “taken about a 20 year procurement holiday since the Soviet Union dissolved.”

Kowalski, who is now deputy commander at US Strategic Command, made a similar claim in May 2012: “Our nation has enjoyed an extended procurement holiday as we’ve deferred vigorous modernization of our nuclear deterrent forces for almost 20 years.”

One can always want more, but the “procurement holiday” claim glosses over the busy nuclear modernization and maintenance efforts of the past two decades. Continue reading