| Walter Pincus |
The United States isn’t leading by example on the nonproliferation front.
It’s increasing spending across the board on its nuclear weapons.
President Barack Obama’s budget for fiscal 2016 seeks $8.8 billion for the nuclear weapons programmes run by the National Nuclear Security Administration. That figure is up almost 10.5 per cent from this year’s congressionally approved figure and is projected to continue to grow. By 2020, the NNSA’s spending on nuclear weapons activities would hit $9.8 billion, according to the agency’s budget projections. That’s a high for any administration.
For example, the NNSA is seeking $1.3 billion for next year to work on adding to the service lives of nuclear packages of six different deployed warheads or bombs.
The most costly refurbishment, some $643 million, is for the B-61 bomb, which is carried by strategic bombers based in the United States and by US and NATO allies’ tactical fighters stationed in NATO countries.
Its new version, known as the B61-12 because it is the 12th incarnation, will have a dial that allows its explosive power to be varied. Its power will go from less than half a kiloton (less than the explosive power of 500 tons of TNT) to 30 kilotons (30,000 tons of TNT, or one-third larger than the atomic bomb that all but destroyed Nagasaki).
The first redone B61-12 nuclear package – more than 200 are planned – is not expected until the second quarter of 2020.
The NNSA’s efforts are only part of the US government’s expenses on such programmes.
At the Defense Department, the budget identifies at least an additional $3 billion the military services want to spend for developing new delivery systems to carry nuclear weapons.
The services also spend hundreds of millions of dollars developing non-nuclear elements for weapons and delivery systems that have been deployed or stockpiled.
Remember the B61-12 bomb? The Air Force in its 2016 request wants $212 million to continue to develop a new GPS-inertial guided tail kit for the B61-12 that would make it a precision-guided nuclear bomb. That tail kit alone is expected to cost $1 billion to complete.
The Pentagon is also putting $36.6 million into studies for a new long-range standoff weapon, up from $3.4 million this year. It’s meant to replace the current air-launched cruise missile carried by B-52 strategic bombers. That increase would permit a two-year programme acceleration, according to the Pentagon.
And back over at the NNSA, there is $25 million for the first year of the life-extension programme for the W-80 nuclear warhead, which is set to be mated with the new Air Force long-range standoff weapon. It, too, has been accelerated to be ready by 2025, according to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s budget presentation.
Why the sudden need to move faster to build a nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile?
A few years ago, the Air Force delayed and cancelled some work on refurbishing the W-80 and was planning to reduce the number of such stockpiled weapons, according to a 2013 Rand Corp report.
Voicing concern that Russia and China are building nuclear weapons, the Pentagon continues to upgrade the capabilities of deployed US weapons.
There are other issues to be addressed and financed as well. More personnel are being added to address findings of low morale and material weaknesses in the Air Force and Navy nuclear forces. The Air Force, for example, is to create 1,120 military and civilian jobs as part of its Nuclear Forces Improvement Program. The cost could reach more than $3 billion.
The Navy is adding $4.5 million for additional people at its Kings Bay, Georgia, and Bangor, Washington, missile processing facilities.
It’s not just personnel. There will be new equipment such as $2.5 million in 2016 to buy new UH-1N helicopters, which provide vertical lift support for Air Force missile base nuclear weapon convoy escorts.
New construction won’t be cheap, either. One example – $95 million in 2016 for a new nuclear weapons facility that puts all weapons storage and maintenance in one building at Francis E Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, near where intercontinental ballistic missiles are deployed.
But I am even more concerned about the billions we are planning to spend to prepare the homeland in the event of a nuclear first strike. It was a myth that drove the United States and Soviet Union each to build thousands of weapons during the Cold War. Unlikely then. And it’s certainly unlikely now. Nonetheless, the 2016 budget has millions for hardening redundant Air Force and Navy communications so they can survive a hit by a nuclear first strike.
– The Washington Post