DOD Official: Cruise Missile, ICBM Recap Quantities Depend On Future Treaties
Posted: February 20, 2015
The exact number of new nuclear-tipped weapons the Air Force will build through the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent and Long-Range Standoff Weapon programs could change depending on future treaty negotiations with Russia, according to a Pentagon official.
According to the Pentagon's principal director for nuclear and missile defense policy, Greg Weaver, “we don't have any idea what our force requirement is going to be” because New START would expire in 2021 without a follow-on agreement, and long-term force structure plans depend on future arms control negotiations and future policies and strategies.
Weaver told Inside the Air Force on the sidelines of the Nuclear Deterrence Summit in Washington Feb. 20 that current nuclear weapon modernization programs assume New START force structure limits, but those numbers could change depending on what limits, if any, the U.S. and Russia agree to down the road.
According to one former senior government official at the conference, Russia is the “only country that can unambiguously end us as a functioning society in an afternoon” and the prospect of further near-term arms control agreements with Moscow are low. However, he said, Russia would not want to allow New START to expire without a replacement.
“Here's the deal,” Weaver said. “Today we're in New START and by February of '18 we'll go to 400 deployed ICBMs and 50 non-deployed launchers. They'll all have one warhead. By the time we get GBSD in the transition, we don't have any idea what our force requirement is going to be. You have to have a number to budget and program, so it's budgeted based on the current policy and strategy and guidance and ar ms control limits.”
Weaver said that's the case for the Air Force's GBSD and LRSO programs, and the Navy's Ohio-class replacement program. Each of those programs, he said, is needed to modernize the U.S. nuclear triad, and all will be fielded in the 2020-40 time frame. “Nobody can tell you what our force structure size is going to be that far out,” he said.
The exact number of cruise missiles appears to be less certain, since the U.S. had wanted the number of deployed nuclear-armed cruise missiles to count toward New START limits, but the proposal was rejected by Russia. So currently, one bomber counts as one “strategic delivery system” under the treaty, even though one B-52 Stratofortress can carry 20 air-launched cruise missiles -- eight internally and 12 under the wings.
Once New ST ART comes into full effect in 2018, the U.S. and Russia will be limited to 700 strategic delivery systems each and 1,500 deployed nuclear warheads. Cruise missiles carried by bombers do not count toward the warhead cap.
“The Russians vehemently opposed doing that, and we ended up with the bomber counting rule that we have where bombers count and missiles don't,” Weaver said. “We did make an effort to address nuclear-armed cruise missiles in New START, but we didn't have a partner that was willing to do that.”
According to Weaver, the Pentagon would have pursued an LRSO to replace the current ALCM, or Air-Launched Cruise Missile. That cruise missile has a range of 1,500 miles. It was designed in the 1970s and produced in the 1980s and is currently on its fifth life-extension.
“The LRSO plays a really critical role in our forces, and we would have retained it had we not had the bomber counting rule,” Weaver said. “The LRSO is needed because the ALCM's original life expectancy was to end in 1989. We've done lots of life-extension on that system and it's still effective, but like any system it won't last forever and we do need a follow-on system. We're dedicated to getting it and it's a central part of our modernization effort.”
According to Linton Brooks, former head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, there is “no significant near-term prospect for further progress on arms control” with Moscow, but it is in Russia's national security interest to implement a follow-on treaty despite the current tensions over Ukraine.
“The Russian Federation, and -- for the last half of the Cold War -- the Soviet Union, did not like the idea that there was no regulation of the nuclear balance between the two countries,” Brooks said. “Therefore, I believe that the Russians will be unwilling to have New START expire in 2021 without some replacement. Remember, arms control doesn't require good relations. In fact, arms control among states with good relations is really sort of irrelevant.”
The Air Force plans to spend $945 million on GBSD and $1.8 billion on LRSO across the future years defense program. Both programs are new starts in the FY-16 president's budget that was submitted to Congress Feb. 2. The Navy has programmed $3.1 billion over the next five years to develop the Ohio-class replacement submarine. -- James Drew