The Trump Administration and Nuclear Weapons: Shaping Priorities

2017-07-09 Richard Weitz

Does President Trump’s budget execute the president’s nonproliferation through firmness and strength approach?.

The Trump administration’s proposed FY2018 Presidential Budget Request (PBR) would allocate approximately $19 billion for the Defense Department’s nuclear enterprise, of which some $5 billion would support recapitalization, rising to $43 billion during the FYDP.

The Department estimates that the recapitalization costs of executing all existing programs from FY2018 to FY2040 would amount to between $230 to $290 billion. The percentage of the defense budget devoted to nuclear programs would range up to 6.5% (operating and maintaining the force would cover 3%, while modernization would run from 2-3.5%).

If Congress fully supports the PBR, funding for all the major nuclear modernization programs in FY2018 would increase from FY2017 levels.

The PBR would incrementally finance the first Columbia-Class SSBN in FY2018, the next-generation ballistic missile submarines, formally referred to as the Sea Based Strategic Deterrent Advanced Submarine System Development.

The SSBN is projected to begin its strategic deterrent patrols in 2031, replacing the Ohio-class SSBNs, and remain in operation until the 2080s. The total cost of the new SSBN fleet will amount to around $100 billion, of which some $12 billion would be for research and development and the rest for procurement.

Spending on Trident D5 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) Life Extension Program (LEP) would rise to $1.270 billion in FY2018. From FY2018 to FY2021, the Navy aims to spend $4.8 billion on modernizing its electronics and other components.

The Navy is considering ways to extend the operational life of the D5 beyond the 2040s.

Another modernization priority is the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), which will replace the LGM-30 Minuteman III ICBM, and would remain in service through 2075. The GBSD would have superior guidance, propulsion, and command and control systems, yielding in a safer and more accurate system.

STRATCOM Commander Admiral Cecil Haney affirmed that the United States needs the GBSD to “ensure an adversary cannot launch a comprehensive counterforce attack on the United States by striking only a few targets.”

Proposed funding for the GBSD would almost double in the current PBR, from $113.9 million in FY2017 to $215.7 million in FY 2018.

The Pentagon will soon select the two companies that will proceed to the Technological Maturity Risk Reduction phase for this program. in 2020, the Department will select the sole firm that will manufacture the GBSD. Annual funding for the system is expected to rise to $2.5 billion in FY2022.

The Pentagon plans to have an initial operating capacity by 2029 and complete the deployment of the 400 GBSD by 2036.

According to the Gen. Robin Rand, Commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command, the costs of maintaining the current Minuteman III ICBM for 50 years or buying the new GBSD are approximately the same ($160 billion vs $159 billion) because the military would need to replace almost the entire Minuteman missile, substituting a new booster, guidance system, reentry vehicle, and so on.

The Minuteman also has a Cold War-era command and control system, which came of age when cyber and other threats were undeveloped, that would need to be fully overhauled.

Therefore, the Pentagon plans to remove all Minuteman IIIs from service by 2036 and rely on the GBSD as the sole ground-based ICBM.

Since the D5 SLBM LEP would keep that missile operational into 2040s, the Navy and Air Force are assessing the extent to which any future SLBM, including a modernized version of the D-5, could build on the GBSD technology development process to save money.

However, the more identical the two missiles are, the more vulnerable they become to a single point of failure.

In its coordinated acquisition strategies, the Pentagon will therefore rely on some common technologies and sub-systems but give each missile some unique features regarding certain defense-unique components: high-performance strategic solid rocket motors, submarine-launched missile tubes, radiation-hardened electronics, warhead reentry body materials, and SLBM and ICBM guidance requirements.

The GBSD would be equipped with the first of three planned “Interoperable” warheads (IW) that can be used on both land- and sea-based platforms.

The Department of Energy (DOE) will start manufacturing the IW-1, which will replace the USAF W78 warhead and the US Navy W88 warhead in 2031. A second IW-2 will replace the W77 and W88-1, while the IW-3 will replace the W76-1 warhead. Manufacturing enough replacement warheads for all the US nuclear delivery vehicles would require the US nuclear infrastructure to produce hundreds of plutonium pits each year; the Los Alamos National Lab is now making only about a dozen warheads annually.

Of the $13.9 billion in the PDR for the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), $10.2 billion would go to various Weapons Activities: the W76-1 LEP warhead, the B61-12 LEP First Production Unit (FPU), the W88 ALT 370 FPU (in FY2020), with the W80-4 FPU (in FY2025), as well as modernizing production of plutonium pits and tritium, certifying the US nuclear weapons stockpile, and strengthen physical and cyber security throughout the US nuclear weapons enterprise.

The Pentagon’s Next Generation Bomber, the B-21 Raider Long Range Strike Bomber, is expected to beginning entering the operational force in 2025.

As a penetrating bomber, the plane will be designed to overcome any air defense environment.

Since it is expected to remain airborne and on-call for extended time periods, the plane is also known as a “Persistence” bomber.

It could carry nuclear bombs, nuclear-armed cruise missiles, as well as conventional armaments.

The FY2018 PBR requests $2 billion in FY2018, almost double to current year figure, for B-21 research and development. The Defense Department wants to eventually buy at least 100 planes to meet combatant commanders’ requirements.

Pentagon planners want to avoid repeating the experience with the B2 Spirit, when the eventual purchase of only 21 planes drove unit costs skyward and presented major problems sustaining an adequate number of good sub-contractors.

The 100 B-21 will eventually replace the B-52 and the B-1.

Funding for the stealthy Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) cruise missile, the successor to the 37-year-old AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM), with a new W80-4 warhead, a modified version of the W80-1, from $95.6 million in FY2017 to $451.3 million in FY2018.

The Energy Department is requesting a similar amount to begin developing the LRSO warhead. The total cost for procuring up to 1,000 warheads and missiles will approach $20 billion. Based on an acquisition plan approved one year ago, the Pentagon anticipates awarding contracts for the next development phase of the missile later this year and retiring the ALCM by 2030.

The United States also has begun the overly long delayed modernization of the more than one hundred separate Nuclear Command, Control and Communication System (NC3) sub-systems, upgrading or replacing obsolete units with what in many cases are only emerging technologies.

These sub-systems include the Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals, Presidential and National Voice Conferencing; and the Global Aircrew Strategic Network Terminal.

The FY2018 PDR would only slightly increase funding for the Missile Defense Agency, from $7.5 billion in FY2017 to $7.9 billion in FY2018. Most of this growth would go to Research Development Test & Evaluation (RDT&E), which would rise to $6.2 billion.

Given the existential threat to the United States from North Korea’s growing nuclear missile capabilities, this seems the main area where urgent congressional plus-ups are needed.

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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