After a transparency hiatus of four years, the Obama administration has declassified the size of its nuclear weapons stockpile: 4,804 warheads as of September 2013.
The new stockpile size is 309 warheads fewer than the 5,113 warheads that the administration in 2010 reported were in the stockpile as of September 2009.
The new number of 4,804 warheads is 154 warheads more than Norris and I have in our latest Nuclear Notebook, in which we estimated a stockpile of 4,650 warheads. That estimate was, in part, based on the statement by Donald Cook, the NNSA administrator for defense programs, who in an email in February 2013 informed us that the reduction had been “approximately 85%” since 1967.
The new State Department announcement also mentions the “85 percent reduction,” although the 4,804 warheads actually correspond to a reduction of approximately 84 percent from the peak of 31,255 warheads in 1967. We thought 154 additional warheads had been retired, but apparently that will take a little longer.
What the declassification does not include, unfortunately, is a number for how many retired warheads are awaiting dismantlement. That number includes “several thousand” warheads, according to the fact sheet; we estimate approximately 2,500. Continue reading →
In the wake of recent problems related to Air Force officer morale and test cheating, 60 Minutes examined the U.S. land-based nuclear missile program, one part of the nuclear triad which includes submarines and bombers. Reporter Lesley Stahl visited an underground control room at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming and spoke to the young officers who watch over these weapons which are on high alert. The control centers were built in the 1960s and due to aging infrastructure, officers who oversee the world’s deadliest weapons are working with computers so old they use floppy disks and outdated, faulty phones.
Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project, worked with the production team of this piece to provide factual information on the status of the U.S. ICBM force. In 2013, FAS and the Natural Resources Defense Council examined the status of U.S. and Russian nuclear alert forces and provided recommendations to reduce the alert levels of nuclear forces; the report is available here.
60 Minutes piece (video and transcript) available here.
B61 nuclear bomb family, DNI bans employees from talking to journalists, China SSBNs and more.
The B61 Nuclear Bomb Family
Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris take a look at the B61 nuclear bomb family, and the half a dozen different types of B61 nuclear weapons that were derived from the original design in a new article published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The Obama administration is about to give birth to the newest member of the B61 family: the B61-12; this golden baby is estimated to cost about $10 billion.
The new B61-12 will be capable of holding at risk the same targets as current gravity bombs in the US stockpile (apparently even those currently covered by the B61-11 nuclear earth-penetrator that the Air Force no longer needs), but it will able to do so more effectively and with less yield (thus less collateral damage and radioactive fallout) that the existing bombs.
In Europe, the effect of the B61-12 will be even more profound because its increased accuracy essentially will add high-yield targeting capability to NATO’s non-strategic arsenal. When mated with the stealthy F-35A fighter-bomber planned for Europe in the mid-2020s, the B61-12 will represent a considerable enhancement of NATO’s nuclear posture in Europe.
China’s emerging fleet of 3-4 new Jin-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines is getting ready to deploy on deterrent patrols, “probably before the end of 2014,” according to U.S. Pacific Command.
A new satellite image taken in October 2013 (above) shows a Jin SSBN in dry dock at the Bohai shipyard in Huludao. Two of the submarine’s 12 missile tubes are open. It is unclear if the submarine in the picture is the fourth boat or one of the first three Jin SSBNs that has returned to dry dock for repairs or maintenance.
The U.S. intelligence community predicts that “up to five [Jin-class (Type 094) SSBNs] may enter service before China proceeds to its generation SSBN (Type 096) over the next decade,” an indication that the noisy Jin-class design might already be seen as outdated.
This and numerous other commercial satellite images (see below) show how China over the past decade has built an infrastructure of naval facilities to service the new SSBN fleet. This includes upgrades at naval bases, submarine hull demagnetization facilities, underground facilities and high-bay buildings for missile storage and handling, and covered tunnels and railways to conceal the activities from prying eyes in the sky.
Apart from how many Jin SSBNs China will build, the big question is whether the Chinese government will choose to operate them the way Western nuclear-armed states have operated their SSBNs for decades – deployed continuously at sea with nuclear warheads on the ballistic missiles – or continue China’s long-held policy of not deploying nuclear weapons outside Chinese territory but keeping them in central storage for deployment in a crisis. Continue reading →
Robert Norris and I have made an update to our Nuclear Notebook on the B61 nuclear bomb family. Kind of an arcane title but that cozy-feeling title is what the nuclear weapon designers call that half a dozen different types of B61 nuclear weapons that were derived from the original design.
And it’s kind of timely, because the Obama administration is about to give birth to the newest member of the B61 family: the B61-12. And this is a real golden baby estimated at about $10 billion. Continue reading →
B61-12 nuclear bomb design features, crisis in Ukraine and more.
From the Blogs
History of 1953 CIA Covert Action in Iran to be Published: In 1989, the Department of State published a notorious volume that purported to document U.S. foreign policy towards Iran in the early Eisenhower Administration. The volume triggered an avalanche of criticism because it omitted any mention of the CIA’s role in a 1953 covert action that helped overthrow the government of Iran. Later this year, the State Department will publish a supplemental volume of declassified documents in its Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series that is expected to fill in the missing pieces of the documentary record of the 1953 coup against the Mossadeq government of Iran.
B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Design Features: Last week, additional design details of the new B61-12 guided standoff nuclear bomb emerged with the publication of new images. The B61-12 will have a new guided tail kit to improve accuracy and will give the bomber a limited standoff capability. The NNSA budget request for FY2015 includes $643 million for development of the B61-12, which is expected to cost $8 billion to $10 billion to develop and produce. An estimated 480 B61-12 bombs are planned, with first production unit in 2020.