In 2021, India’s Military Faces the Pakistani Horn

In 2021, India’s Military Faces Myriad Challenges

Rahul Bedi

Army soldiers stand guard at snow-bound Zojila Pass, situated at a height of 11,516 feet, on its way to frontier region in Ladakh. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: The operational prognosis for India’s military in the New Year is, to put it mildly, perilous.

It faces enhanced and relentless deployment along its unresolved and restive frontiers against belligerent nuclear and military allies, China and Pakistan and will continue to be hobbled by enduring critical equipment, ammunition and ordnance shortages. It also has to battle a declining defence budget and reorient its outdated doctrinal and warfighting strategies to meet 21st century challenges.

Indisputably, the continuing military standoff with China along the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, will dominate the gruelling operational agenda for all three services in 2021, especially that of the Indian Army (IA).

Presently, over 40,000 IA personnel and varied platforms including main battle tanks, howitzers, missile batteries, amongst other force multipliers, are deployed in a heightened state of alert along the LAC’s freezing desert frontage over a 350-400 km frontage, at heights above 14,000 feet. Their burdensome task in the rarefied environment is to thwart further ingress by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into territory claimed by India as its own, in temperatures that currently average minus 40 degrees Celsius.

To make matters worse, indicators denote that this formidable and skulking threat is unlikely to dissipate anytime soon. Senior military planners concede that hereafter, the IA’s heightened LAC deployment will duplicate its perennial, enervating and financially draining employment along the Line of Control (LoC) against Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir and across the 76 km long 17,700 feet high Siachen Glacier.

And though the LAC deployment is likely to exclude the frequent artillery, mortar and small arms firefights that define the LoC engagement, it is challengingly offset by its vast expanse, comparative lack of infrastructure for troops and above all, unfamiliarity with the lesser-known and better-accoutred enemy.

“The IA will have to remain in a state of constant operational readiness on the LAC in Ladakh for an extended period to counter the PLA’s unrelenting aggressive posture,” said military analyst Major General A.P. Singh (retired). Under the circumstances, the IA’s deployment here is almost certain to become permanent in order to prevent a duplicitous China from seizing additional territory, added the two-star officer who was earlier posted in Ladakh.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh hinted as much in a recent interview to ANI in which he declared that no “meaningful solution” had emerged from diplomatic and military level talks with China to resolve the LAC impasse. He stated that a “status quo” of mutual army deployments had emerged at the LAC May onwards, a euphemism for the ‘new normal’ along the inhospitable frontier in 2021 and beyond.

Army trucks move towards the LAC in eastern Ladakh. Photo: PTI

Senior IA officers too remain sceptical over anything positive emerging from talks with the PLA, through which India is futilely seeking to restore the ‘status quo ante’ that prevailed along the LAC before its siege commenced in April 2020. “The eight previous rounds of military talks between India and China have merely been talks about talks with little or nothing emerging from them,” said a one-star IA officer, declining to be identified.

India, he cautioned, cannot harbour illusions regarding an unconditional PLA pullback from the LAC, as that would be a major loss of face for Beijing, and one which it simply cannot countenance because of its own internal dynamics. Hence, the overstretched, inadequately-equipped and underfunded IA faces formidable resource and manpower challenges, ensuring a demanding year ahead. Other veterans said that the PLAs incursions will also enduringly ‘tie down’ the IA on the LAC, leaving it inadequate reserves to counter challenges elsewhere. The IA’s force levels, they warned, will need to be seriously re-evaluated and revamped over the coming months.

At present, the IA is re-orienting its Mathura-based 1 strike corps – one of three such ‘sword arm’ formations, with the other two headquartered at Ambala (2 Corps) and Bhopal (21 Corps) – to convert it into a mountain strike corps to counter the PLA along the 800 km long LAC in Ladakh. According to newly formulated plans, two of its infantry divisions are to be trained in mountain warfare before being gradually deployed to Ladakh in summer.

For several decades, a resource-strapped and diffident India has pursued the path of least resistance against China, sheltering behind multiple bilateral border treaties and confidence building measures to somehow secure peace with its more powerful neighbour. China, for its part, already embarked by the early 1990s on its path to global economic dominance, patronised India by lulling it into a false sense of security through these pacts which, in hindsight were little better than delaying tactical stratagems by Beijing.

Successive governments in Delhi remained in denial over possible military adventurism by China, driven in fact by the reality that India simply could not afford significant force deployment along the LAC other than the Leh-based 14 Corps. This situation persisted despite repeated PLA infiltrations of varying periods across the LAC in Chumar, Depsang in 2013 and 2014, and thereafter in Doklam in 2017. And though this lacuna is now being redressed after the PLA presented its fait accompli over nine months ago in Ladakh, analysts said that the IA continues to concentrate the bulk of its forces against Pakistan. Twenty two of its 38 divisions are earmarked for Pakistan, whilst 14 divisions are ranged against China, the obviously more formidable of India’s two adversaries. The remaining two divisions are, for now, earmarked as Army Headquarter reserves.

Conversely, the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) capacities too, like those of the IA, continue to be stretched as its transport and heavy-lift helicopter fleets endeavour to keeps the army’s logistics chain in Ladakh operational by ferrying personnel, equipment and assorted supplies to the LAC and its environs. Simultaneously, its depleted fighter squadrons, marginally boosted by the induction of eight French Rafale multi-role combat platforms, will also need to continue conducting combat patrols over Ladakh in 2021 to counter the PLA Air Force’s (PLAAF’s) threatening drills over the Tibetan plateau.

a Rafale combat aircraft at the Air Force Station in Ambala on July 29, 2020. Photo: IAF via PTI

Likewise, the Indian Navy (IN) will need to sustain its state of perpetual alert that it has maintained in the Indian Ocean Region and surrounding waters over the past few months, in an effort to ‘coerce’  Beijing into vacating occupied territory and pulling back from the LAC. It recently concluded the  Malabar exercises with the Australian, Japanese and US navies amongst assorted manoeuvres with other countries to try and forge an incipient anti-China coalition and leverage its maritime muscle against the PLA Navy. But like the IAF and the IA, the IN will need to reinvigorate its efforts in the New Year to sustain its operational momentum, despite the twin handicaps of equipment and resource shortages.

Meanwhile, the military impasse with the PLA has rendered palpable the advent of the terrifying collusive two-front threat from strategic allies China and Pakistan. Such an alarming scenario that successive Indian service chiefs have periodically, but perfunctorily enunciated, appears to be emerging. In recent months, senior retired military personnel and analysts warned the services and the federal government to abandon its earlier casual theorising regarding such a possibility and to begin seriously planning for a two-front conflict with its nuclear-armed neighbours.

And though the contours of such an engagement are unknown and speculatory, in all probability even to India’s antagonists, it presents Delhi an ominous Hobson’s choice; treating lightly such a forbidding possibility would be foolhardy, but preparing for it would be equally overwhelming, entailing, at the very least, colossal expenditures which India can ill afford.

Senior military analysts have called upon India’s Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat to oversee the development of operational capabilities to deal with such an apocalyptic challenge by revamping outdated strategies and doctrines. They have stressed the long overdue requirement for all three services-particularly the IA-to abandon WW II concepts of attrition and manoeuvre warfare, familiar to generations of commanders and ones they feel ‘comfortable’ planning for and executing like in the 1965, 1971 and 1999 wars with Pakistan.

Instead, they recommend that India concentrate on 21st century ‘informationalised’ instrumentalities that China has been pursuing over nearly three decades for conflict execution and which are on display in Ladakh. In short, Beijing has presented India with a complex and lethal Chinese Puzzle which is going to be tough to resolve in 2021 and for years afterwards.

Military analyst Lieutenant General D.S. Hooda (retired) and strategic affairs expert Happymon Jacob from Jawaharlal Nehru University criticised the country’s military for focusing unduly on major platforms like aircraft, ships and tanks and not enough on future technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence, cyber and electronic warfare. In their jointly authored analysis in The Hindu in late December, the two bluntly stated that it would indeed be ‘prudent’ for India to prepare for a two-front threat.

“In preparing for this, the Indian military needs to analyse how this threat could manifest itself and the type of capabilities that should be built up to counter it,” they suggested. They also warned that a two-front conflict presented India’s military with two dilemmas – of resources and strategy and of deploying both shrewdly and judiciously along putative primary and secondary fronts.

Representative image. A BSF soldier patrols the fenced border with Pakistan in Suchetgarh, Jammu and Kashmir. Photo: Reuters

Budget woes

However, the biggest challenge India’s military faces is monetary in times of acute indigence and a shrunken economy, hammered further by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Even in fiscal year 2020-21, when the economy faced none of the prevailing daunting challenges, the Centre was unable to meet the military’s monetary demands, leaving a gap of Rs 1,03,535 crore between their requirements and the eventual budgetary allocation.

Already the services have made purchases worth around $2 billion after the Chinese threat emerged under the emergency financial powers accorded to the services. This, in turn, had adversely impacted the perennial shortage of funds for modernisation and other operational expenditure which had soared to keep the LAC manned by over 40,000 troops in extreme climatic conditions.

Without doubt, the military’s monetary requirements will be substantially higher in the coming fiscal, adding to the government’s woes in the forthcoming financial year.

The China Nuclear Horn Grows: Daniel 7

China’s nuclear arsenal grows in capability

ANI | Updated: Dec 15, 2020 07:48 IST

Hong Kong, December 15 (ANI): China’s nuclear forces, under the aegis of the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF), are nowhere as large as those of the USA or Russia, but the inventory is significantly growing and modernizing.

New missiles such as DF-41 and DF-31AG intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) were paraded in Beijing in October 2019, demonstrating the forward strides that the PLARF is making.

An annual report from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, titled Chinese Nuclear Forces 2020 and authored by Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda, discussed the state of play in the PLARF. It claimed, “China is continuing the nuclear weapons modernization program that it initiated in the 1980s and increased in the 1990s and 2000s, fielding more types and greater numbers of nuclear weapons than ever before.”

It is impossible to say how many nuclear weapons China actually has, but Kristensen and Korda offer their best estimate in the report. They claimed, “We estimate that China has a produced a stockpile of approximately 350 nuclear warheads, of which roughly 272 are for delivery by more than 240 operational land-based ballistic missiles, 48 sea-based ballistic missiles and 20 nuclear gravity bombs assigned to bombers.” The report continued, “The remaining 78 warheads are intended to arm additional land- and sea-based missiles that are in the process of being fielded.”

This figure of 350 is up significantly from the estimated 290 listed in the 2019 edition of the report from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Significantly, these figures vary from those issued in the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) annual report on Chinese military power. The authors acknowledged: “This estimate is higher than the ‘low-200’ warheads reported by the Pentagon in its 2020 report to Congress; however, the Pentagon’s estimate only refers to ‘operational’ Chinese nuclear warheads, and therefore presumably excludes warheads that are attributed to newer weapons still in development. It is also possible that the Pentagon’s estimate does not include dormant bomber weapons. Taking those categories into account, the Pentagon’s estimate is roughly in line with our own.”

Some commentators over the past decade have warned that China has hundreds, some even thousands, of nuclear weapons. The Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences confirms that the more conservative estimates have invariably been correct, “while the higher estimates and projections for significant increases have been incorrect”.

Although US intelligence community projections have predicted greatly increased numbers of nuclear missiles for the PLA, these have generally proved inaccurate. For instance, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) estimate from 1999 predicted China might have 460 nuclear weapons by 2020. This obviously did not eventuate.

That makes it more difficult to accept with any degree of certainty current estimates. The DIA’s 2019 report predicted, for example, “Over the next decade, China will at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile.”

The new report highlighted the fielding of the dual-capable DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), as well as the aforementioned DF-31AG and DF-41 ICBMs. All are mounted on enormous road-mobile transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicles, which gives them greater survivability in the event of any conflict. The DF-41 is capable of carrying multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV), much like the older liquid-fueled and silo-based DF-5B also in PLARF service.

The report included a table with all known nuclear weapons fielded by the PLARF. The land-based missiles are: the DF-4 ICBM (x6 launchers, and probably gradually retiring); DF-5A ICBM (x10 launchers); DF-5B ICBM (x10 launchers and with five warheads per missile); DF-21A/E medium-range ballistic missile (x40 launchers); DF-26 (100 launchers, of which 20 missiles have nuclear warheads); DF-31 ICBM (x6 launchers); DF-31A ICBM (x36 launchers); DF-31AG ICBM (x36 launchers); and DF-41 ICBM (x18 launchers with 54 warheads in total).

This gives a total of 244 land-based launchers and 204 warheads. Once those new missiles approaching introduction are added to the equation, the numbers increase to 280 launchers and 258 warheads from land-based assets.

The report listed the upgraded DF-5C ICBM too, which is supposed to be deployed in 2020. It is unclear what modifications it has over the DF-5B, for it has the same 13,000km range and carries MIRVs. Also listed as not yet becoming operational is the DF-17, where 18 launchers carrying missiles with hypersonic glide vehicles are to be formally fielded in 2021. It is not immediately clear who will operate the DF-17, but it could be 627 Brigade in Puning.

Two DF-41 brigades are thought to exist, one of which may be nearing operational capability. These are assumed to be 634 Brigade in Tongdao and 644 Brigade in Hanzhong. Furthermore, 662 Brigade in Luanchuan could be upgrading to the DF-41. Additional DF-41 TELs are in production, so we can expect more to be added. As it replaces the DF-5, the DF-41 could also be launched from silos and railcars. Indeed, several new silos have been constructed in the Jilintai training area in Inner Mongolia, and there is possibly silo construction for 662 Brigade in Henan Province.

The DF-26 is an interesting case. This years’ Pentagon report on China’s military listed 200 such weapons, but Kristensen and Korda take this to be a typographic error, as the US Indo-Pacific Command only estimates 100 DF-26s, plus this lower figure better corresponds to known base infrastructure. It is estimated that 20 of the 100 IRBMs possess a nuclear warhead, with the rest of them carrying conventional high-explosive payloads. The primacy of the older DF-21 family has been overtaken by the DF-26, and users, in order of conversion, are the PLARF’s 666 Brigade in Xinyang, 626 Brigade in Qingyuan, 625 Brigade in Jianshui, and 654 Brigade in Dengshahe.

China also has nuclear-tipped missiles assigned to its fleet of ballistic missile submarines (SSBN). The table in the report thus listed the 7,200km-range JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), with four submarines carrying 48 missiles (12 JL-2 missiles per boat), plus two more submarines and associated 24 missiles becoming operational next year.

In April this year, the PLA Navy (PLAN) actually debuted these two extra Type 094 SSBNs, and these give an added second-strike ability to China. These submarines are based at the Yulin base on Hainan Island on the periphery of the South China Sea.

Given that the Type 094 is a relatively noisy design, perhaps two orders of magnitude louder than the best American or Russian SSBNs, Beijing is now developing the Type 096 SSBN that will carry the newer JL-3 SLBM with potential 9,000km range. Production of the Type 094 will thus probably remain at six hulls, with the newer design to begin construction in the early 2020s. The PLAN could eventually have 8-10 SSBNs in service.

China has never confirmed that its SSBNs have conducted patrols with JL-2 SLBMs aboard, but potential adversaries must assume this is the case. A Reuters report last year revealed that the USA, Japan, Australia and the UK “are already attempting to track the movements of China’s missile submarines as if they are fully armed and on deterrence patrols”. Nonetheless, entrusting nuclear weapons to a submarine crew would represent a momentous step for the PLA.

Moving on to the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), the report mentioned, “China has recently reassigned a nuclear mission to its bombers and is developing an air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) that might have nuclear capability.” The table lists 20 H-6N bomber aircraft, each of which can carry a single ALBM (called the CH-AS-X-13 by the USA).

The H-6N can be refueled in midair, and one of the first such operational units is thought to be the 106th Brigade at Neixiang Air Base in Henan Province. Once the ALBM is functional, it will complete China’s viable nuclear triad of delivery systems encompassing land, sea and air. China is currently developing the H-20 stealth bomber that will replace the H-6 family, and it will assuredly have a nuclear mission.

With the navy and air force inventory added to the aforementioned land-based missiles, China currently has312 launchers (soon to be 372) and 272 warheads (soon to be 350).

Obviously, the fielding of MIRVs will greatly enhance China’s nuclear stockpile. However, Kristensen and Korda believe that the number of MIRVed warheads per missile will be three to five only, rather than the ten that some analysts predict. Furthermore, some of their missile payload will be assigned to decoys and penetration aids. “This is because we believe that the purpose of the MIRV program is to ensure penetration of US missile defenses, rather than to maximize the warhead loading of the Chinese missile force.”

China’s use of hypersonic glide vehicles is another trend, as this will allow China to ensure the credibility of its retaliatory strike force as the US strengthens its missile defensive shield.

The US government thinks China could have 400-500 nuclear warheads by later this decade, apparently achieved “without new fissile material production”. The latter is an indication that China has not resumed production of fissile material for weapons.

Such predictions of nuclear weapon expansion also trigger speculation as to China’s intentions when it comes to nuclear posture. One wild claim from a Trump official was that “China no longer intends to field a minimal deterrent,” and is instead striving for “a form of nuclear parity with the United States and Russia”. Such exaggerations are more related to Trump’s efforts to include China in strategic nuclear arms control talks with Russia, than having any basis in reality.

China warned that it is “unrealistic to expect China to join the two countries in a negotiation aimed at nuclear arms reduction,” given that its inventory lags so far behind America’s and Russia’s.

China keeps most nuclear warheads at a central storage facility in the Qinling mountain range, but with others held at smaller regional centers. This is in keeping with its “low alert level” posture, enough to maintain a credible second-strike capability. Indeed, the Pentagon report states “China almost certainly keeps the majority of its nuclear force on a peacetime status – with separated launchers, missiles and warheads”.

Nonetheless, the PLARF “maintains a high degree of combat readiness,” according to the US military. Brigades regularly conduct combat readiness duties, assigning a battalion ready to launch and rotating to standby sites as often as every month.

A Chinese delegation explained last year, “In peacetime, the nuclear force is maintained at a moderate state of alert. In accordance with the principles of peacetime-wartime coordination, constant readiness and being prepared to fight at any time, China strengthens its combat readiness support to ensure effective response to war threats and emergencies. If the country faced a nuclear threat, the alert status would be raised and preparations for nuclear counterattack undertaken under the orders of the Central Military Commission to deter the enemy from using nuclear weapons against China. If the country were subjected to nuclear attack, it would mount a resolute counterattack against the enemy.”

The Pentagon warns that China may adopt a “launch-on-warning” posture in the future, whereby missiles already have nuclear warheads installed.

The PLARF is increasing its number of missile bases to accommodate the expansion in warheads/missiles. The number of brigades may have increased 35% in just the past three years. Indeed, the PLARF now probably has 40 brigades equipped with ballistic and cruise missiles, of which half could be nuclear-armed. (ANI)

Joe Biden WILL NOT avert a new arms race: Revelation 16

Nuclear stand-off: can Joe Biden avert a new arms race?

Analysis: new president will face threats on multiple fronts, including from Russia and Iran, and must decide future of US arsenal

Julian Borger in Washington

Mon 11 Jan 2021 01.00 EST

Joe Biden will have to make critical decisions on arms control in his first days in the White House that could determine whether a new nuclear arms race can be averted, and possibly reversed.

When the new president takes the oath of office on 20 January, there will be 16 days left before the 2010 New Start treaty with Russia expires, and with it the last binding limit on the world’s two biggest nuclear arsenals left standing in the wake of the Trump era.

At the same time, there will be urgent pressure on the incoming administration to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which has been unraveling at an accelerating speed since Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018.

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that, for the first time since the deal was agreed, Iran had begun the process of producing 20% enriched uranium, a major step towards the capability of making weapons-grade material.

The Biden national security team will also be expected within a couple of months to produce its first defence budget request, which involves making decisions on whether to continue, pause or kill new nuclear weapon programmes begun by Trump.

On New Start (which limits each country’s deployed strategic arsenal to 1,550 warheads each) Biden and his close aides have signalled they are interested in extending the treaty, and that would be technically feasible even in the very limited time remaining, as extension requires only an exchange of notes between Washington and Moscow.

Iran says it would rejoin nuclear deal within an hour of US doing so

Russia has indicated its readiness to extend but there is still the question of how long for. Anthony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, told the New York Times in November that the new administration would favour five years, the maximum term possible, but there have since been reports that some in the new national security team believe the extension should be shorter, as a way of keeping pressure on Russia to negotiate a successor treaty.

Rose Gottemoeller, who was chief US negotiator on New Start, rejects those arguments.

“We would be wasting our time fighting over who had the leverage in hand when what we need to get done is to negotiate the next phase of reductions,” Gottemoeller, now at Stanford University, told the Guardian. “We also need the five-year period to create a predictable environment for our own nuclear arsenal modernisation.”

Biden’s team will also have to decide how to balance New Start extension with a desire to take a tougher line with Moscow on other issues, particularly its recent cyber attacks on US institutions.

Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, said: “Within the first 100 or 200 days of the administration, the US and Russia should resume strategic stability talks that would hopefully cover a wide range of topics and help to set the stage for more formal negotiations.”

Almost as urgent as New Start will be the fate of the multilateral 2015 Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action (JCPOA), by which Iran accepted limits on its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief. Trump attempted to destroy the agreement (not least because it was negotiated by his predecessor), by withdrawal and then a relentless campaign of sanctions. In response, Iran began shrugging off the deal’s constraints, culminating in the move to 20% enrichment.

This handout satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies on 8 January shows an overview of Iran’s Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant, northeast of the Iranian city of Qom. Photograph: Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Tech/AFP/Getty Images

“If Iran moves back into compliance with its nuclear obligations, I will reenter the JCPOA as a starting point and work with our allies in Europe and other world powers to make the deal longer and stronger,” Biden told the Council for a Livable World, in a series of questions and responses that the transition team still points to on nuclear weapons issues.

Reentry might not be straightforward, however. The sequence in which the US lifts sanctions and Iran returns to JCPOA limits could be contentious, as will be Biden’s desire to begin talks on a separate agreement limiting ballistic missiles.

‘We are at an inflection point’

A further set of critical decisions will have to be made by March, by which time the incoming administration will be expected to put together its first defence budget, including items for a nuclear modernization programme that was already set to cost more than $1tn when Trump took office and has become even more bloated since then. The Trump administration deployed a low-yield variant of the Trident missile warhead, and began work on a nuclear submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM). It increased spending on making and maintaining nuclear warheads by 50%.

“I regard those programs with a degree of skepticism and I think others do as well,” Gottemoeller said. “So I do think that there will be a thoroughgoing review of some of these ‘add ons’ and whether we actually need them.”

Lynn Rusten, who served as senior director for arms control and nonproliferation in the Obama National Security Council (NSC), said: “I’m sure they’ll take a hard look at the nuclear SLCM which is really just a research activity at the moment.”

A more radical departure would be to slow down work on a new generation intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), while it is in its early stages, pending a wider review of the nuclear weapons triad: ICBMs, submarine-launched missiles and air-launched weapons.

In this file photo taken in 2015, a deactivated Titan II nuclear ICMB is seen in a silo at the Titan Missile Museum in Green Valley, Arizona. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Many arms control advocates argue ICBMs are the shakiest, most dangerous, leg of the triad. Because they are static, they have to be launched on warning of an incoming attack, or potentially be lost altogether.

“We are at an inflection point where the ICBMs are not yet being produced,” said Pranay Vaddi, a former senior state department arms control official, now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which has presented proposals for disarmament in the Biden era.

“It makes sense to us to say: hey, we’re willing to have two or three hundred ICBMs instead of 400 now deployed and see what the Russians are willing to reduce in response.”

Although most observers expect a Biden administration to revert to an Obama-era policy of continuing with the broad modernisation of the US arsenal while seeking a new bilateral deal with Russia, there is some reason to believe that it might take a more comprehensive look at the usefulness of the nuclear triad.

In 2017, Colin Kahl, who has been nominated as undersecretary of defence for policy, raised the question of whether the US could make do with a dyad, without ICBMs altogether.

In his book, The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War, journalist Fred Kaplan tells the story of a simulation carried out by the Obama NSC in which Russia invades one of the Baltic States and fires a low-yield nuclear weapon at a Nato base. Most of the generals in the wargame advocated a nuclear response. But Kahl, then vice president Biden’s national security adviser, spoke up, saying they “were missing the big picture.”

Responding in kind, Kahl argued, would forfeit an opportunity to rally the world against Russia, and help normalise the use of nuclear weapons. He advocated a non-nuclear response.

“I don’t think there is just going to be a back to normal,” said a former arms control official. “The threats we’re enduring right now have nothing to do with weaponry. Security is so much more than just guns and bombs and tanks.”

What Biden’s nuclear policy will look like

What could Biden’s nuclear policy look like?

King County sits only miles away from one-third of the deployed U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Aaron Kunkler

Tuesday, January 12, 2021 11:47am

The ballistic-missile submarine USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN 730) arrives home at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor following a strategic deterrent patrol in this 2015 file photo. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Brian Badura/Released)

For Leonard Eiger, having the U.S. Navy’s entire Pacific fleet of nuclear-armed submarines only a short excursion away doesn’t sit well with him.

The longtime anti-nuclear weapons activist and former North Bend resident has for decades worked to educate Puget Sound residents about Naval Base Kitsap Bangor, which houses around one-third of the nuclear weapons that are actively deployed. Eight of the 14 Ohio-class submarines, which carry powerful nuclear weapons, are stationed out of the base in Kitsap County.

For me there’s a real futility in thinking of, and preparing to fight, a nuclear war,” Eiger said. “Because any nuclear war, any nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia, is game over.”

Eiger lived in North Bend for 26 years, before recently moving to the San Juan Islands. He’s been involved with the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, which stages demonstrations against — and education campaigns about — nuclear weapons.

As the Donald Trump administration winds down, he’s hoping that a Joe Biden presidency will mark a turning point in the way the U.S. approaches nuclear weapons.

The Trump administration didn’t make significant progress toward renewing the New START Treaty, which expires on Feb. 5 and began deploying “low-yield” nuclear weapons on submarines, he said. The administration also did not subscribe to a “no first use” policy. It also pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal.

In its 2018 nuclear stance position paper, which outlined scenarios where nuclear weapons could be used, it retained the right to use nuclear weapons in retaliation for conventional or cyber attacks against the U.S.

New nukes, old problems

These policy decisions could be reversed or changed under a Biden administration.

The new “low-yield” nuclear warheads are some eight kilotons, about half as powerful as the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War 2. They’re designed to take out the nuclear weapon silos of potential adversaries, and are more accurate than their predecessors.

“For me, this is a hugely destabilizing act because it lowers the threshold of nuclear war,” Eiger said. “Essentially, the idea of deterrence is we have a large enough and credible deterrent, a threat of mutually assured destruction, if you will.”

And if a nuclear weapon was fired at one country, other nuclear powers wouldn’t know where it was destined, and could launch their own nukes, fearing an attack, he said.

These missiles are something that Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, is thinking about. He said that this could make military leaders more comfortable using them from technical and humanitarian points of view because there could be less collateral damage and fallout.

“It is generally a concern that, over the last decade especially, both Russia and the United States seem to talk about the role of low-yield weapons in a different way than they did a decade ago,” Kristensen said.

However, using nuclear weapons is still politically taboo, and would be exceeding difficult for any administration to use, Kristensen said.

The Biden administration could choose, if it wanted, to remove these smaller nuclear weapons from submarines.

On the first use of nuclear weapons, Biden’s policy platform states that he believes the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is to deter other countries from attacking the U.S. with nuclear weapons. If he holds to this statement, then he would enact a no first use policy, according to Kristensen.

Treaties

Biden is also hoping to resurrect two important nuclear treaties. The first is the Iran nuclear deal, which was negotiated by the Obama administration while he served as vice president. Trump withdrew from the treaty and put additional sanctions on Iran.

The nuclear deal allowed outside observers to certify that Iran wasn’t building nuclear weapons. In exchange, the country was allowed to continue to build its nuclear energy capabilities. Iran has breached the nuclear deal, more than a year after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement.

Biden has vowed to re-enter the agreement using “hard-nosed diplomacy” to extend it. Kristensen said Iran has signaled interest in returning to the deal as well. If they do, Congress would likely need to lift sanctions in exchange for reinstating monitoring and things like uranium enrichment.

Scott Montgomery, University of Washington affiliate member with the Jackson School of International Studies, agreed that Biden will likely try and restart negotiations. But there will be distrust from the Iranian government.

“Mr. Trump showed that even the most difficult and long-suffering agreements — the agreements that took a great amount of time and energy — can be completely wiped away by a succeeding president,” he said.

Iran may look for long-term guarantees in a renewed treaty. But it’s unclear whether Biden would be able to promise these, Montgomery said.

The second significant nuclear agreement is the New START Treaty between Russia and the U.S. The treaty limits the number of nuclear weapons that the countries can own, and have deployed, at any given time. It includes all three legs of the U.S. nuclear triad, including submarine, bomber and land-based missiles.

It is the last nuclear treaty still in effect between the U.S. and Russia after the U.S. withdrew from the INF Treaty in 2019.

The New START Treaty went into effect in 2011, and is up for renewal on Feb. 5. Trump’s administration said in October that it wasn’t “a good deal.” Russia has violated the treaty by testing mid-range cruise missiles.

Biden’s policy platform states he will try to renew and extend the New START Treaty. The treaty could be extended up to five years, but Kristensen said the administration could choose a shorter term.

If Biden chose to go with a longer five year renewal, it would likely have a calming effect on nuclear competition between the U.S. and Russia. However, a shorter term would send signals that the two countries need to address the problems with the treaty and create something stronger, Kristensen said.

In a March 2020 column in Foreign Affairs, Biden wrote that he would use a renewed New START Treaty as a foundation for new arms control agreements. Montgomery expects the incoming administration to propose new agreements, but views New START as an anchor.

“That is essential, and I think everyone understands, who is knowledgeable about arms control and the global nonproliferation situation, that this is essential,” he said.

Biden will also need to think about how to engage China in nuclear discussions, Kristensen said. He said Trump was correct in pushing for China to be involved in nuclear discussions, even if the tactics weren’t productive.

Montgomery said the Chinese government will likely not agree to reducing its amount of nuclear weapons because the U.S. and Russia have far more warheads. China has around 320 warheads, according to Arms Control International based off estimates from Kristensen, while the U.S. has some 5,800 and Russia 6,375.

Having served in Obama’s administration, Biden has a broader understanding of nuclear issues than past presidents, including Obama and George W. Bush, who have come into office with plans to rework how the U.S. handles its nuclear arsenal. Kristensen said new presidents are often flooded with briefs by advocates of nuclear arms within the government.

“When presidents run for office, even the first month of when they come in, they often have very ambitious statements, and when they come in they get briefed to death,” he said.

This leads them to back off more ambitious plans. Biden has experience receiving these kinds of briefings from his terms as vice president, and he may not be as easily swayed, Kristensen said.

Still, any changes will likely be gradual. Nuclear policy changes slowly, he said.

And nuclear stances do need to change, Eiger said. Even a relatively small nuclear war, like one between India and Pakistan, would trigger a global famine.

For activist Leonard Eiger, the world of today is only here because of a series of fortunate events. He cited the Cuban Missile Crisis, where the U.S. and Russia came close to nuclear war in 1962.

“We still live under the threat of either accidental or intentional nuclear war,” he said. “So long as nuclear weapons exist, that threat will continue to exist.”

Montgomery said the world today is in the most precarious position it’s been in for decades. He described the situation as tense, not just between the U.S. and Russia, but also between China, India and Pakistan, and between North Korea and its neighbors.

“The global security framework has decayed significantly,” he said. “Countries are more hostile toward one another, more suspicious toward one another, and more willing to believe the worst or worse things of each other than they have been for a long time.”

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@kentreporter.com.

European Horns Make Plea to the Iranian Nuclear Horn : Daniel

Iran must undo uranium enrichment, help nuclear diplomacy, EU says

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters, where Brexit talks are taking place, in Brussels, Belgium, December 24, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Iran must reverse its decision to enrich uranium at higher levels and give international diplomacy a chance to save the 2015 nuclear accord, the European Union said in a statement.

“The initiation of uranium enrichment to up to 20% by Iran at the underground Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant … is a very serious development and a matter of deep concern,” the EU’s 27 governments said in a statement released late on Monday.

“At this critical juncture, Iran’s action also risks undermining efforts aimed at building upon the existing diplomatic process. We urge Iran to refrain from further escalation and reverse this course of action without delay.”

Iran started pressing ahead with plans to enrich uranium to 20% fissile strength at its underground Fordow nuclear plant last week, a level Tehran achieved before striking the deal with world powers to contain its disputed nuclear ambitions.

The head of the global atomic watchdog told Reuters on Monday that world powers and Iran had weeks, not months to save the nuclear accord once U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by Marine Strauss

Nuclear Notebook: Babylon the Great’s nuclear weapons, 2021

Nuclear Notebook: United States nuclear weapons, 2021

By Hans M. Kristensen, Matt Korda, January 12, 2021

At the beginning of 2021, the US Defense Department maintained an estimated stockpile of 3,800 nuclear warheads for delivery by 800 ballistic missiles and aircraft. Most of the warheads in the stockpile are not deployed, but rather stored for potential upload onto missiles and aircraft as necessary. Many are destined for retirement. We estimate that approximately 1,800 warheads are currently deployed, of which roughly 1,400 strategic warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles and another 300 at strategic bomber bases in the United States. An additional 100 tactical bombs are deployed at air bases in Europe. The remaining warheads—approximately 2,000—are in storage as a so-called hedge against technical or geopolitical surprises. Several hundred of those warheads are scheduled to be retired before 2030. (See Table 1.)

Kristensen Korda_Nuclear Notebook_US nuclear weapons_Table 1_final

In addition to the warheads in the Defense Department stockpile, approximately 1,750 retired— but still intact—warheads are stored under custody of the Energy Department and are awaiting dismantlement, giving a total US inventory of an estimated 5,550 warheads. Between 2010 and 2018, the US government publicly disclosed the size of the nuclear weapons stockpile. But in 2019, the Trump administration rejected a request from the Federation of American Scientists to declassify the latest stockpile number, and these numbers remain classified at the time of this publication (Aftergood 2019; Kristensen 2019a).

The nuclear weapons are thought to be stored at an estimated 24 geographical locations in 11 US states and five European countries. The location with the most nuclear weapons by far is the large Kirtland Underground Munitions and Maintenance Storage Complex south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Most of the weapons in this location are retired weapons awaiting dismantlement at the Pantex Plant in Texas. The state with the second-largest inventory is Washington, which is home to the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific and the ballistic missile submarines at Naval Submarine Base Kitsap. (Washington is the state with most nuclear weapons if counting only stockpiled weapons).

Implementing New START

The United States appears to be in compliance with the New START treaty limits, with 675 deployed strategic launchers with 1,457 attributed warheads counted as of October 1, 2020, well below the limits of 700 deployed strategic launchers with 1,550 warheads. Another 125 launchers were not deployed, for a total inventory of 800 deployed and non-deployed launchers (State Department 2020a). This is an increase of 20 deployed strategic launchers and 85 deployed strategic warheads over the past 6 months (State Department 2020b). However, these are not actual increases; they reflect normal fluctuations caused by launchers moving in and out of maintenance. The United States has not reduced its total inventory of strategic launchers since 2017 (Kristensen 2020a).

The numbers reported by the State Department differ from the estimates presented in this Nuclear Notebook because the New START counting rules artificially attribute one warhead to each deployed bomber, even though US bombers do not carry nuclear weapons under normal circumstances, and because this Nuclear Notebook counts weapons stored at bomber bases that can quickly be loaded onto the aircraft.

Since the treaty entered into force in February 2011, the biannual aggregate data show the United States has cut a total of 324 strategic launchers, 207 deployed launchers, and 343 deployed strategic warheads from its inventory. The warhead reduction represents approximately 9 percent of the of the 3,800 warheads remaining in the US stockpile, and approximately 6 percent of the total US arsenal of 5,550 stockpiled and retired warheads awaiting dismantlement.

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review states that the United States “will continue to implement the New START Treaty” while it remains in effect (Department of Defense 2018, 73). The treaty will remain in effect until February 2021, at which point it may be extended for up to five years (either a single, five-year extension, or multiple extensions adding up to five years) with mutual agreement. Although it is unlikely to withdraw from New START entirely, the Trump administration appears to have little interest in a clean extension of the treaty. After waiting more than three years to begin bilateral arms control talks in earnest, the Trump administration has recently walked its position back from an initial prerequisite on including China to a willingness to agree to an unverifiable bilateral warhead freeze. This is equal parts shocking and confusing, given that the Trump administration spent its entire four-year term in office criticizing New START for being a “bad deal”––specifically because of its presumed verification deficiencies and a lack of Chinese participation (Gertz 2020).

The United States is currently 25 launchers and 93 warheads below the treaty limit for deployed strategic weapons, but has 165 deployed launchers more than Russia––a significant gap that exceeds the size of an entire US Air Force ICBM wing. It is notable that Russia has not sought to reduce this gap by deploying more strategic launchers. Instead, the Russian launcher deficit has increased by one-third since its lowest point in February 2018.

If New START were allowed to expire, both Russia and the United States could upload several hundreds of extra warheads onto their launchers, which means that the treaty has proven useful thus far in keeping a lid on both countries’ nuclear modernization plans. Additionally, if New START expired, then both countries would lose a critical node of transparency into each other’s nuclear forces. As of October 29, 2020, the United States and Russia have completed a combined 328 on-site inspections and exchanged 21,038 notifications (State Department 2020c). Only two inspections each have been conducted by the United States and Russia during this treaty year, because inspections were paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Nuclear Posture Review and nuclear modernization

Although the Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) followed the broad outlines of the Obama administration’s 2010 NPR to modernize the entire nuclear weapons arsenal, it includes several important changes.

The most significant change is a recommendation to increase the types and role of US nuclear weapons. The Trump NPR takes a confrontational tone, presenting an assertive posture that embraces “Great Power competition,” and includes plans to develop new nuclear weapons and modify others. The report backs away from the goal of seeking to limit the role of nuclear weapons to the sole purpose of deterring nuclear attacks, and instead emphasizes “expanding” US nuclear options to deter, and, if deterrence fails, to prevail against both nuclear and “non-nuclear strategic attacks.” To be clear, any use of a nuclear weapon to respond to a non-nuclear strategic attack would constitute nuclear first use.

The NPR explains that “non-nuclear strategic attacks include, but are not limited to, attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities” (Department of Defense 2018, 21). US nuclear capabilities will be postured to “hedge against the potential rapid growth or emergence of nuclear and non-nuclear strategic threats, including chemical, biological, cyber, and large-scale conventional aggression” (Department of Defense 2018, 38). To achieve these goals, the NPR states that “the United States will enhance the flexibility and range of its tailored deterrence options. … Expanding flexible US nuclear options now, to include low-yield options, is important for the preservation of credible deterrence against regional aggression,” the report claims (Department of Defense 2018, 34).

The new tailored capabilities include modifying “a small number” of the existing W76-1 90-kiloton two-stage thermonuclear warheads to single-stage warheads by “turning off” the secondary to limit the yield to what the primary can produce (an estimated 5–7 kilotons). This new warhead (W76-2), the NPR claims, is necessary to “help counter any mistaken perception of an exploitable ‘gap’ in US regional deterrence capabilities.” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood told reporters in December 2019 that the low-yield Trident warhead was “very stabilizing” and in no way supported the concept of early use of low-yield nuclear weapons (Kreisher 2019), even though the NPR explicitly states the weapon is being acquired to provide “a prompt response option” (Department of Defense 2018).

In the longer term, the NPR declares that the United States will also “pursue a nuclear-armed” submarine-launched cruise missile to “provide a needed nonstrategic regional presence, an assured response capability, and an INF-Treaty compliant response to Russia’s continuing Treaty violation.” The NPR specifically notes that, “If Russia returns to compliance with its arms control obligations, reduces its non-strategic nuclear arsenal, and corrects its other destabilizing behaviors, the United States may reconsider the pursuit of a [submarine-launched cruise missile].” In pursuit of this new missile, the review states “we will immediately begin efforts to restore this capability by initiating a requirements study leading to an Analysis of Alternatives … for the rapid development of a modern [submarine-launched cruise missile].” The report’s authors believe that “US pursuit of a submarine-launched cruise missile may provide the necessary incentive for Russia to negotiate seriously a reduction of its nonstrategic nuclear weapons, just as the prior Western deployment of intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe led to the 1987 INF Treaty” (Department of Defense 2018, 55).

The new nuclear “supplements” proposed by the NPR are needed, the authors say, to “provide a more diverse set of characteristics greatly enhancing our ability to tailor deterrence and assurance; expand the range of credible US options for responding to nuclear or non-nuclear strategic attack; and, enhance deterrence by signaling to potential adversaries that their concepts of coercive, limited nuclear escalation offer no exploitable advantage” (Department of Defense 2018, 55).

Yet the US arsenal already includes around 1,000 gravity bombs and air-launched cruise missiles with low-yield warhead options (Kristensen 2017a). The NPR provides no evidence that existing capabilities are insufficient or document that the yield of US nuclear weapons is a factor in whether Russia would decide to use nuclear weapons. The NPR authors simply claim that the new capabilities are needed. The US Navy used to have a nuclear submarine-launched cruise missile (the TLAM/N) but retired it in 2011 because it was redundant and no longer needed. All other nonstrategic nuclear weapons—with the exception of gravity bombs for fighter-bombers—have also been retired because there was no longer any military need for them, despite Russia’s larger nonstrategic nuclear weapons arsenal.

The suggestion that a US submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) could motivate Russia to return to compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is flawed because Russia embarked upon its current violation of the treaty at a time when the TLAM/N was still in the US arsenal, and because the Trump administration has since withdrawn the United States from the INF Treaty. Moreover, US Strategic Command has already strengthened strategic bombers’ support of NATO in response to Russia’s more provocative and aggressive behavior (see above); 46 B-52 bombers are currently equipped with the air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) and both the B-52 and the new B-21 bomber will receive the new long-range standoff (LRSO) weapon, which will have essentially the same capabilities as the SLCM proposed in the NPR.

Russia’s decisions about the size and composition of its nonstrategic arsenal appear to be driven by the US military’s superiority in conventional forces, not by the US nonstrategic nuclear arsenal or by the yield of a particular weapon. Instead, the pursuit of a new nuclear SLCM to “provide a needed nonstrategic regional presence” in Europe and Asia could increase Russia’s reliance on nonstrategic nuclear weapons and could potentially even trigger Chinese interest in such a capability as well—especially when combined with the parallel expansion of US long-range conventional strike capabilities including development of new conventional INF-range missiles.

One final argument against the SLCM is that nuclear-capable vessels triggered frequent and serious political disputes during the Cold War when they visited foreign ports in countries that did not allow nuclear weapons on their territory. In the case of New Zealand, diplomatic relations have only recently—30 years later—recovered from those disputes. Reconstitution of a nuclear SLCM would reintroduce this foreign relations irritant and needlessly complicate relations with key allied countries in Europe and Northeast Asia

According to an estimate published in January 2019 by the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO), modernizing and operating the US nuclear arsenal and the facilities that support it will cost around $494 billion for the period 2019–2028 (Congressional Budget Office 2019, 1). This is $94 billion more than CBO’s 2017 estimate for the 2017–2026 period, in part because modernization programs continue to ramp up, cost estimates are increasing, and because of the NPR’s call for new nuclear weapons. The nuclear modernization (and maintenance) program will continue well beyond 2028 and, based on the CBO’s estimate, will cost $1.2 trillion over the next three decades. Notably, although the CBO estimate accounts for inflation (Congressional Budget Office 2017), other estimates forecast that the total cost will be closer to $1.7 trillion (Arms Control Association 2017). Whatever the actual price tag will be, it is likely to increase over time, resulting in increased competition with conventional modernization programs planned for the same period. The NPR belittles concerns about affordability issues in the nuclear modernization program and instead labels it “an affordable priority,” pointing out that the total cost is only a small portion of the overall defense budget (Department of Defense 2018, XI). There is little doubt, however, that limited resources, competing nuclear and conventional modernization programs, tax cuts, and the rapidly growing US budget deficit will present significant challenges for the nuclear modernization program.

Nuclear planning, nuclear exercises

The changes in the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review so far do not appear to have required new guidance from the White House on nuclear weapons strategy. The previous guidance, issued in 2013, also reaffirmed the importance of nuclear weapons and modernization and emphasized a strong counterforce strategy—planning principles that have already been incorporated into a host of highly flexible strategic and regional nuclear strike plans (Kristensen 2013a).

This includes a “family” of plans organized under the strategic “Operations Plan (OPLAN) 8010–12,” and also into various regional plans. The OPLAN, which is named “Strategic Deterrence and Force Employment” and first entered into effect in July 2012 in response to Operations Order (OPORD) Global Citadel signed by the secretary of defense, is flexible enough to absorb normal changes to the posture as they emerge, including those flowing from the NPR. Several updates have been published since 2012. OPLAN 8010–12 is part of a broader plan that also includes conventional weapons such as the Tactical Tomahawk submarine-launched cruise missile and the extended-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, as well as missile defense and cyber. OPLAN 8010–12 includes strike options against Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. Although the Trump administration’s NPR criticizes Russia for an alleged willingness to use nuclear weapons first as part of a so-called escalate-to-deescalate strategy, OPLAN 8010–12 also “emphasizes escalation control designed to end hostilities and resolve the conflict at the lowest practicable level” by developing “readily executable and adaptively planned response options to de-escalate, defend against, or defeat hostile adversary actions” (US Strategic Command 2012). This objective is not just directed at nuclear attacks, as the 2018 NPR calls for “expanding” US nuclear options against “non-nuclear strategic attacks.”

The strategic war plan is a whole-of-government plan that includes the full spectrum of national power to affect potential adversaries. This integration of nuclear and conventional kinetic and non-kinetic strategic capabilities into one overall plan is a significant change from the strategic war plan of the Cold War, which was almost entirely nuclear. Former US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) commander Gen. John Hyten, now the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in 2017 explained the scope of modern strategic planning:

I’ll just say that the plans that we have right now, one of the things that surprised me most when I took command on November 3 was the flexible options that are in all the plans today. So we actually have very flexible options in our plans. So if something bad happens in the world and there’s a response and I’m on the phone with the secretary of defense and the president and the entire staff, which is the attorney general, secretary of state, and everybody, I actually have a series of very flexible options from conventional all the way up to large-scale nuke that I can advise the president on to give him options on what he would want to do.

So I’m very comfortable today with the flexibility of our response options. Whether the president of the United States and his team believes that that gives him enough flexibility is his call. So we’ll look at that in the Nuclear Posture Review. But I’ve said publicly in the past that our plans now are very flexible.

And the reason I was surprised when I got to [Strategic Command] about the flexibility, is because the last time I executed or was involved in the execution of the nuclear plan was about 20 years ago, and there was no flexibility in the plan. It was big, it was huge, it was massively destructive, and that’s all there. We now have conventional responses all the way up to the nuclear responses, and I think that’s a very healthy thing (Hyten 2017).

To practice and fine-tune these plans, the armed forces conducted several nuclear-related exercises in 2020. These included STRATCOM’s Global Lightning exercise in January, a command and control and battle staff exercise designed to assess joint operational readiness across all of STRATCOM’s mission areas. To that end, Global Lightning is typically a globally integrated exercise that links to several other exercises. In 2019, Global Lightning was designed to support US European Command (USEUCOM) and was thus linked to several Europe-focused exercises including USEUCOM’s Exercise Austere Challenge and the United Kingdom’s Exercise Joint Venture (US Strategic Command 2019a). In 2019, at the start of Global Lightning, four B-52s deployed to Royal Air Force Fairford in England (two more joined later) for month-long operations over Europe, which included unprecedented four-bomber strike formations over the eastern Baltic Sea (US Air Forces In Europe 2019a) and north along the Norwegian coast (US Air Forces In Europe 2019b).

In 2020, the exercise was linked to US Cyber Command’s Exercise Cyber Lightning 2020, North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command’s Exercise Vigilant Shield 2020, US Transportation Command’s Exercise Turbo Challenge, and a US Space Command exercise (US Strategic Command 2020a).

Notably, the 2020 Global Lightning exercise was the first to be conducted entirely from STRATCOM’s new Command and Control Facility, also known as C2F. Dedicated to General Curtis E. LeMay, the new facility includes over 650 miles of telecommunications cables––“enough to link Omaha to Dallas”––and will function as “the heart of the nation’s nuclear command” (US Strategic Command 2019b).

In October 2020, STRATCOM conducted its annual week-long Global Thunder exercise. The exercise, which involved more than 150,000 personnel, focused on “providing realistic training on joint operations and nuclear readiness” (US Strategic Command 2020b). The exercise also included significant non-nuclear or mixed components, such as practice loadings of the conventional Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile and BLU-109 conventional bunker busters in conjunction with B61-7 strategic nuclear gravity bombs (Kristensen 2020c).

Just like the 2019 exercise, Global Thunder coincided with the participation of US strategic bombers in European deterrence exercises. In 2019, the United States conducted several B-52 missions very close to Russian airspace, including a likely simulated bombing strike against Russian forces in Kaliningrad, and another unprecedented three-aircraft B-52 formation flying deep into the Barents Sea––only about 300 kilometers (200 miles) from Russia’s naval base on the Kola Peninsula. In 2020, two B-52s from the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base participated in a two-week NATO Bomber Task Force exercise, following an earlier exercise in August called Allied Sky, wherein six B-52s flew over all 30 NATO countries in a single day (US European Command 2020; NATO 2020a). In June, B-52s from Minot Air Force Base also conducted flights over the Arctic Ocean and participated in the Baltic Sea operation BALTOPS (US Air Forces in Europe 2020; US Strategic Command 2020c).

The US Air Force has increased bomber operations as part of a Great Power Competition strategy, with frequent flights over all areas around Russia. This image shows US B-52 bomber and Norwegian F-16 fighters over Northern Norway in November 2019 before the bombers continued into the Barents Sea near Russia’s strategic submarine base on the Kola Peninsula. (Image: US Air Force).

These operations mark a peak in steadily increasing US bomber operations in Europe since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Before that, one or two bombers would deploy for an exercise or airshow. But since then, the number of deployments and bombers has increased, and the mission changed. Very quickly after the Russian annexation of Crimea, STRATCOM increased the role of nuclear bombers in support of EUCOM (Breedlove 2015), which in 2016 put into effect a new standing war plan for the first time since the Cold War (Scapparotti 2017). Before 2018, the bomber mission was called the Bomber Assurance and Deterrence missions to show the flag, but now the bombers deploy as a Bomber Task Force that brings the full offensive capability to the forward base. Whereas the mission of Bomber Assurance and Deterrence was to train with allies and have a visible presence to deter Russia, the mission of the Bomber Task Force is to move a fully combat ready bomber force into the European theater. “It’s no longer just to go partner with our NATO allies, or to go over and have a visible presence of American air power,” according to the commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing. “That’s part of it, but we are also there to drop weapons if called to do so” (Wrightsman 2019).

RELATED: Nuclear notebook: Chinese nuclear forces, 2020

These changes are important indications of how US strategy has changed in response to deteriorating East-West relations and the new “Great Power competition” strategy promoted by the Trump administration. They also illustrate a growing integration of nuclear and conventional capabilities that is frequently overlooked. The deployment of four B-52s to Royal Air Force Fairford in March 2019, for example, included two nuclear-capable aircraft and two that have been converted to conventional-only missions. NATO’s official announcement of the exercise did not notice this feature but said the deployment “shows that the US nuclear umbrella protects Europe.” (NATO 2019). The statement also said that the B-52 bombers “can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons” when, in fact, nearly half of them—41 of 87—cannot because they have been denuclearized under the New START treaty. The close integration of nuclear and conventional bombers into the same task force can have significant implications for crisis stability, misunderstandings, and the risk of nuclear escalation.

Land-based ballistic missiles

The US Air Force operates a force of 400 silo-based Minuteman III ICBMs split across three wings: the 90th Missile Wing at F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming; the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota; and the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. In addition to the 400 silos with missiles, another 50 silos are kept “warm” to load stored missiles if necessary. Each wing has three squadrons, each with 50 Minuteman III silos. They are collectively controlled by five launch control centers.

The 400 ICBMs as deployed carry one warhead each, either a 300-kiloton W87/Mk21 or a 335-kiloton W78/Mk12A. ICBMs equipped with the W78/Mk12A, however, could theoretically be uploaded to carry two or three independently targetable warheads each, for a total of 800 warheads available for the ICBM force. The ICBMs completed a multibillion-dollar, decade-long modernization program in 2015 to extend the service life of the Minuteman III to 2030. Although the United States did not officially deploy a new ICBM, the upgraded Minuteman IIIs “are basically new missiles except for the shell,” according to Air Force personnel (Pampe 2012).

An ongoing Air Force modernization program involves upgrades to the arming, fuzing, and firing component of the Mk21 reentry vehicle, at a cost of slightly over a billion dollars in total. The publicly stated purpose of this refurbishment is to extend the vehicles’ service life, but the effort appears to also involve adding a “burst height compensation” to enhance the targeting effectiveness of the warheads (Postol 2014). Priority is on replacement of the Mk21 fuze. A total of 693 fuze replacements were initially planned; however, the new fuzes will also reportedly be deployed on the Minuteman replacement missile, which means that the fuze modernization program is likely to expand significantly to accommodate those new missiles (Woolf 2020, 15-16). The effort complements a similar fuze upgrade underway to the Navy’s W76-1/Mk4A warhead. The enhanced targeting capability might also allow for lowering the yield on future warhead designs.

It is possible to do a second life-extension of the Minuteman III. In March 2019, the Air Force’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration noted in his testimony to the House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces that there was one more opportunity to life-extend the missiles before the Minuteman III would have to be replaced (Clark 2019). However, the Air Force has decided against life-extension, instead opting to purchase a whole new generation of ICBMs.

In August 2017, the Air Force awarded $678 million worth of contracts to Boeing and Northrop Grumman to develop trade studies for the next-generation ICBM that is currently known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) (Erwin 2018). In October 2019, the Program Manager for GBSD noted that the official name for the missile would be selected within 12 months; however, over a year later an official name has still not yet been announced (Bartolomei 2019). On July 16, 2019, the Air Force issued a formal “request for proposals” for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase of the GBSD program, which includes five production lot options to produce and deploy the system (Bryant 2019).

As the two companies under contract for the GBSD’s Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction phase, Boeing and Northrop Grumman were both expected to bid for the EMD contract. However, only a week after the request for proposals was issued, Boeing surprisingly walked away from the competition, stating that “the current acquisition approach does not provide a level playing field for fair competition” (Weisgerber 2019). The dispute centers on Northrop Grumman’s 2018 acquisition of Orbital ATK, which is one of only two US-based companies that produces solid rocket motors and launch vehicles. Under the terms of the acquisition, Northrop Grumman is required to provide “for solid rocket motors to be available on a non-discriminatory basis under certain conditions and processes.” However, Boeing has expressed concern that Northrop Grumman would not comply with that order, thus putting Northrup Grumman at a favorable position in the bidding process over Boeing, which does not produce those systems in-house. Despite Boeing’s stated intention to not submit a bid for the EMD contract, Boeing conducted a substantial lobbying campaign throughout the summer of 2019, in an effort to convince Congress and the Air Force to force Northrop Grumman into submitting a joint “best-of-industry” bid with Boeing (Mehta 2019). However, Northrop Grumman declined Boeing’s offer and the Air Force did not intervene to force a joint bid. The Air Force subsequently terminated the remainder of Boeing’s Technological Maturation and Risk Reduction contract in October 2019 by refusing to allocate any further funding to the contract, thus effectively ending Boeing’s involvement with the GBSD program (Insinna 2019).

By December 13, 2019––the Request for Proposal deadline for the EMD contract––the Air Force received only a single bid for the contract, and on September 8, 2020, the Air Force officially awarded the $13.3 billion EMD contract to Northrop Grumman. The nationwide team will include Aerojet Rocketdyne––which will produce the system’s solid-fuel rocket motors in conjunction with newly-acquired Orbital ATK, which is now called Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems––General Dynamics, Collins Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Textron Systems, HDT Global, Bechtel, Kratos Defense and Security Solutions, Clark Construction, L3Harris, and Honeywell (Northrop Grumman 2020).

According to the Air Force’s latest milestone requirements, the Air Force must deploy 20 new GBSD missiles with legacy reentry vehicles and warheads in order to achieve Initial Operating Capability, which is scheduled in Fiscal Year 2029 (Sirota 2020). The plan is to buy 659 missiles—400 of which would be deployed, while the remainder will be used for test launches and as spares—at a price between $93.1 billion and $95.8 billion, increased from a preliminary $85 billion Pentagon estimate in 2016 (Capaccio 2020). These amounts do not include the costs for the new GBSD warhead––the W87-1––which is projected to cost up to $14.8 billion (Government Accountability Office 2020). The Air Force says the GBSD will meet existing user requirements but have the adaptability and flexibility to be upgraded through 2075 (US Air Force 2016). The new missile is expected to have a greater range than the Minuteman III, although it is unlikely that it will have enough range to target countries like China, North Korea, and Iran without overflying Russia.

The GBSD will be capable of carrying single or multiple warheads. The Air Force initially planned to equip the GBSD with life-extended versions of the existing W78 and W87 warheads. The modified W78 was known as Interoperable Warhead 1 (IW-1). But in 2018, the Air Force and National Nuclear Security Administration canceled the W78 upgrade and instead proposed a W78 Replacement Program using a W87-1 warhead. The new warhead will use a W87-like plutonium pit, “using a well-tested IHE [Insensitive High Explosive] primary design” (Energy Department 2018b). The new warhead will be incorporated into a modified version of the Mk21 reentry vehicle and be designated as the W87-1/Mk4A. In order to produce the W87-1 in time to meet the GBSD’s planned deployment schedule, the National Nuclear Security Administration has set itself an extremely ambitious production schedule that relies upon its ability to produce up to 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030. However, due to the agency’s consistent inability to meet project deadlines and its lack of a latent large-scale plutonium production capability, it is extremely unlikely that this 80-pit requirement will be met in time, meaning that W87-1 production and deployment will almost certainly be delayed (Government Accountability Office 2020; Institute for Defense Analyses 2019).

In October 2019, Lockheed Martin was awarded at $138 million contract to integrate the Mk21 reentry vehicle into the GBSD, beating out rivals Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Orbital ATK (which Northrop Grumman now owns and has been renamed to Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems) (Lockheed Martin 2019). Because the W87-1/Mk21A will be bulkier than the current W78/Mk12A, the GBSD payload section would have to be wider to accommodate multiple warheads, and Northrup Grumman’s GBSD illustration shows a missile that is different than the existing Minuteman III, with a wider upper body and payload section (Kristensen 2019b)

The Air Force faces a tight construction schedule for the deployment of the GBSD. Each Launch Facility is expected to take seven months to upgrade, while each Missile Alert Facility will take approximately 12 months. The Air Force intends to upgrade all 150 Launch Facilities and eight of 15 Missile Alert Facilities for each of the three ICBM bases; the remaining seven Missile Alert Facilities at each base will be dismantled (US Air Force 2020a). Since each Missile Alert Facility is currently responsible for a group of 10 Launch Facilities, this reduction could indicate that each Missile Alert Facility could be responsible for up to 18 or 19 Launch Facilities once the GBSD becomes operational––which could have implications for the future vulnerability of the GBSD’s command and control system (Korda 2020). Once these upgrades begin, potentially as early as 2023, the Air Force must finish converting one Launch Facility per week for nine years in order to complete deployment by 2036 (Mehta 2020). It is expected that construction and deployment will begin at F. E. Warren between 2023 and 2031, followed by Malmstrom between 2025 and 2033, and finally Minot between 2027 and 2036.

As the GBSD gets deployed, the Minuteman IIIs will be removed from their silos and temporarily stored at their respective host bases––either F. E. Warren, Malmstrom, or Minot––before being transported to Hill Air Force Base, the Utah Test and Training Range, or Camp Navajo. The rocket motors will eventually be destroyed at the Utah Test and Training Range, while non-motor components will ultimately be decommissioned at Hill Air Force Base. To that end, five new storage igloos and 11 new storage igloos will be constructed at Hill Air Force Base and Utah Test and Training Range, respectively (US Air Force 2020a). New training, storage, and maintenance facilities will also be constructed at the three ICBM bases, which will also receive upgrades to their Weapons Storage Areas. The first base to receive this upgrade is F. E. Warren, where a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Weapons Storage and Maintenance Facility (also called the Weapons Generation Facility) was held in May 2019. Substantial construction began in spring 2020 and is expected to be completed in 2022 (Kristensen 2020b; US Air Force 2019d).

Just like in 2019, the Air Force conducted four Minuteman III flight-tests in 2020. The first test took place on February 5th, when a team of airmen derived from all three ICBM bases launched a Minuteman III from Vandenberg Air Force Base to the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Western Pacific. Unlike most routine Minuteman test launches––which seek to verify fleet-wide reliability by picking a missile at random from one of the ICBM bases—this Developmental Test Launch used a spare missile from storage to assess the flight worthiness of new or replacement parts. This was the second of four scheduled launches of this kind, with the first having been conducted in February 2019 (US Strategic Command 2020d). This was also the first Minuteman test launch from Vandenberg since that base became part of the new US Space Force.

The second test took place on August 4th, when a joint team of Air Force Global Strike Command airmen and Navy sailors launched a Minuteman III remotely using the Airborne Launch Control System aboard a Navy E6-B Mercury, from Vandenberg Air Force Base to the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Western Pacific. Notably, the test missile was equipped with three reentry vehicles, despite the fact that each deployed Minuteman III is only equipped with a single reentry vehicle (US Strategic Command 2020e). The test came only five days after the Trump administration’s arms control envoy tweeted a photo of himself observing a snap exercise at Minot Air Force Base involving a Minuteman equipped with three reentry vehicles (Billingslea 2020).

The third test took place on September 2nd, when a missile selected from Minot Air Force Base was launched from Vandenberg to the Reagan Test Site (Scully 2020).

The fourth and final test took place on October 29, when a missile selected from Minot Air Force Base was launched from Vandenberg to the Reagan Test Site (US Air Force 2020c). The test launch took place only one day after the conclusion of STRATCOM’s Global Thunder nuclear command and control exercise.

Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines

The US Navy operates a fleet of 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, of which eight operate in the Pacific from their base near Bangor, Washington, and six operate in the Atlantic from their base at Kings Bay, Georgia. Normally, 12 of the 14 submarines are considered operational, with the remaining two boats in a refueling overhaul at any given time. But because operational submarines undergo minor repairs at times, the actual number at sea at any given time is closer to eight or 10. Four or five of those are thought to be on “hard alert” in their designated patrol areas, while another four or five boats could be brought to alert status in hours or days.

Each submarine can carry up to 20 Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), a number reduced from 24 to meet the limits of the New START treaty. Since 2017, the Navy has been replacing the original Trident II D5 with a life-extended and upgraded version known as Trident II D5LE (LE stands for “life-extended”). The D5LE, which has a range of more than 12,000 km (7,456 miles), is equipped with the new Mk6 guidance system designed to “provide flexibility to support new missions” and make the missile “more accurate,” according to the Navy and Draper Laboratory (Naval Surface Warfare Center 2008; Draper Laboratory 2006). The D5LE upgrade will continue until all boats have been upgraded and will also replace existing Trident SLBMs on British ballistic missile submarines. The D5LE will also arm the new US Columbia-class and British Dreadnought-class ballistic missile submarines when they enter service. Instead of building a new ballistic missile, the Navy plans to do a second life-extension of the Trident II D5 to ensure it can operate through 2084 (Eckstein 2019).

Each Trident SLBM can carry up to eight nuclear warheads, but normally carry an average of four or five warheads, for an average load-out of approximately 90 warheads per submarine. The payload of the different missiles on a submarine are thought to vary significantly to provide maximum targeting flexibility, but all deployed submarines are thought carry the same combination. Normally, 900 to 950 warheads are deployed on the operational ballistic missile submarines, although the number can be lower due to maintenance of individual submarines. The New START data from October 2020, however, indicated there were 1,009 warheads deployed on 220 SLBM launchers, marking the first time since 2015 that the United States deployed more than 1,000 warheads on its submarines (State Department 2020a). As a result, we have increased the total number of deployed warheads in Table 1. Overall, SSBN-based warheads account for nearly 70 percent of all warheads attributed to the United States’ deployed strategic launchers under New START.

Three warhead types are deployed on SLBMs: the 90-kiloton enhanced W76-1, the 8-kiloton W76-2, and the 455-kiloton W88. The W76-1 is a refurbished version of the W76-0, which is being retired, apparently with slightly lower yield but with enhanced safety features added. The National Nuclear Security Administration announced in January 2019 that it has completed production of the W76-1 (Energy Department 2019a), a massive decade-long production of an estimated 1,600 warheads. The Mk4A reentry body that carries the W76-1 is equipped with a new arming, fuzing, and firing unit with better targeting efficiency than the old Mk4/W76 system (Kristensen, McKinzie, and Postol 2017).

The other SLBM warhead, the higher-yield W88, is currently undergoing a life-extension program that in May 2020 produced the first assembly of the W88 Alt 370 First Production Capability at the Pantex Plant––a process that addresses nuclear safety concerns and will ultimately support future life-extension options (NNSA 2020a).

In the final weeks of 2019, the Navy deployed a low-yield version of the W76-1 known as W76-2 on the USS Tennessee (SSBN-734). The W76-2 only uses the warhead fission primary to produce a yield of about 8 kilotons. The First Production Unit of the W76-2 was completed at the Pantex Plant on February 22, 2019 and reached Initial Operational Capability some time before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2019 (NNSA 2019). It is unknown exactly how many W76-2 warheads were produced; however, the NPR says it’s a “small number” (Department of Defense 2018, 54). We estimate that no more than 25 were ultimately produced, and that one or two of the 20 missiles on each SSBN will be armed with a single W76-2 warhead, while the remainder of the warhead slots will be filled with either the 90-kiloton W76-1 or the 455-kiloton W88 (Arkin and Kristensen 2020).

The United States is also planning to build a new SLBM warhead––the W93––which will be housed in the Navy’s proposed Mk7 aeroshell (reentry body). The House Appropriations Committee refused to fund the W93 program in the 2021 defense budget, and it remains unclear whether it will be included in the final budget or whether it would be championed by a potential future administration. If funded, the W93 would probably replace the W76-1 at some point in the 2040s.

The US sea-based nuclear weapons program also provides substantial support to the British nuclear deterrent. The missiles carried on the Royal Navy ballistic missile submarines are from the same pool of missiles carried on US ballistic missile submarines. The warhead uses the Mk4A reentry body and is thought be a slightly modified version of the W76-1 (Kristensen 2011b); the British government calls the Trident Holbrook (UK Ministry of Defence 2015). The Royal Navy also plans to use the new Mk7 for the replacement warhead it plans to deploy on its new Dreadnought submarines in the future. Despite a significant lobbying effort on the part of the United Kingdom––including an unprecedented letter to US Congress from the UK Minister of Defence asking it to support the W93 warhead––the program’s status is currently unsettled (Borger 2020).

Since the first deterrent patrol in 1960, US ballistic missile submarines have conducted approximately 4,180 deterrent patrols at sea. During the past 15 years, operations have changed significantly, with the annual number of deterrent patrols having declined by more than half, from 64 patrols in 1999 to 30 to 36 annual patrols in recent years. Most submarines now conduct what are called “modified alerts,” which mix deterrent patrol with exercises and occasional port visits (Kristensen 2013b). While most ballistic missile submarine patrols last around 77 days, they can be shorter—or, occasionally, can last significantly longer. In June 2014, for example, the Pennsylvania (SSBN-735) returned to its Kitsap Naval Submarine Base in Washington after a 140-day deterrent patrol, the longest patrol ever by an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine. In contrast to the Cold War years, when the overwhelming majority of deterrent patrols took place in the Atlantic Ocean, today more than 60 percent of deterrent patrols normally take place in the Pacific, reflecting increased nuclear war planning against China and North Korea (Kristensen 2018).

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Ballistic missile submarines normally do not visit foreign ports during patrols, but there are exceptions. Over a four-year period in the late 1970s and early 1980s, US submarines routinely conducted port visits to South Korea (Kristensen 2011a). Occasional visits to Europe, the Caribbean, and Pacific ports continued during the 1980s and 1990s. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, the Navy has started to conduct one or two foreign port visits per year. A visit to Scotland in 2015 appeared to be a warning to Russia and was described as a US Navy plan to make ballistic missile submarines more visible (Melia 2015). A highly publicized visit to Guam in 2016—the first visit to the island by a ballistic missile submarine since 1988—was a clear warning to North Korea. Visits continued in 2017, 2018, and 2019 to Scotland, Alaska, and Guam.

Design of the next generation of ballistic missile submarines, known as the Columbia-class, is well under way. This new class is scheduled to begin replacing the current Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines in the late 2020s. The Columbia class will be 2,000 tons heavier than the Ohio-class and will be equipped with 16 missile tubes rather than 20. The Columbia program, which is expected to account for approximately one-fifth of the Navy’s entire shipbuilding program during the mid-2020s to mid-2030s, is projected to cost $109.8 billion (Congressional Research Service 2020, 8). The lead boat in a new class is generally budgeted at a significantly higher amount than the rest of the boats, as it is longstanding Navy practice to incorporate the entire fleet’s design detail and non-recurring engineering costs into the cost of the lead boat. As a result, the Navy’s fiscal 2021 budget submission estimates the procurement cost of the first Columbia-class SSBN – the USS Columbia (SSBN-826) – at approximately $14.4 billion, followed by $9.3 billion for the second boat (Congressional Research Service 2020, 9). A $5.1 billion development contract was awarded to General Dynamics Electric Boat in September 2017, and construction of the first boat began on October 1, 2020––the first day of fiscal 2021. It is possible, however, that certain elements of construction will be delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as the Columbia Program Officer noted in June 2020 that missile tube production had already been delayed by “about a couple of months” due to the pandemic (Eckstein 2020). General Dynamics expects to receive $75 billion in revenue over the life span of the Columbia-class project (Medici 2017).

After years of development, construction of the first of 12 Columbia-class SSBNs will begin in 2021, with first deterrent patrol scheduled for 2031. (Image: US Navy).

The Columbia-class submarines are expected to be significantly quieter than the current Ohio-class fleet, due to the introduction of an electric-drive propulsion train that will turn each boat’s propellor with an electric motor––instead of louder mechanical gears. Additionally, the components of an electric-drive propulsion train can be distributed around the boat, increasing the system’s resilience and lowering the chances that a single weapon could disable the entire drive system (Congressional Research Service 2000, 20). The Navy has never built a nuclear-powered submarine with electric-drive propulsion before, which could ultimately create technical delays for a program that is already on a very tight production schedule (Congressional Research Service 2020, 19).

In October 2019, the Columbia program manager noted in a presentation that final ship arrangements for the new class of submarines had been completed on September 6, apparently a year ahead of schedule (Bartolomei 2019). The Navy’s revised schedule now indicates that the Ohio-class boats will begin going offline in fiscal 2027, around the same time that the first Columbia-class boat is scheduled to be delivered in October 2027. Sea trials are expected to last approximately three years, and the first Columbia deterrence patrol is scheduled for 2031 (Congressional Research Service 2020, 8). The Columbia deliveries will coincide with the Ohio-class boats being taken out of service, and the Navy projects that they will go from 14 boats to 13 in 2027, 12 in 2029, 11 in 2030, and 10 in 2037, before eventually climbing back to 11 in 2041 and the full complement of 12 boats in 2042 (US Navy 2019; Rucker 2019). The lead boat of the new Columbia-class submarine fleet will be designated the USS Columbia (SSBN-826), and the second boat will be designated the USS Wisconsin (SSBN-827). The rest of the Columbia-class submarine fleet has not yet been named (US Navy 2020a).

Compared with the previous year’s five test launches, only two Trident II D5LEs were test-launched in 2020. The tests took place on February 12 and 16 from the USS Maine (SSBN-741). The first launch was part of a Demonstration and Shakedown Operation (DASO-30) designed to test both the system and the crew’s readiness for operational deployment, and the second was intended to gather additional data on the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy. These launches marked the 177th and 178th successful test launches of the Trident II system since its introduction into the US arsenal in 1989 (US Navy 2020b; US Navy 2020c).

Demonstration and Shakedown Operations are conducted after an ballistic missile submarine completes its Engineering Refueling Overhaul (ERO)––a multi-year operation that takes place around the 20-year point for each boat. The overhaul consists of extensive structural repairs and the refueling of the boat’s nuclear reactor, and results in a 20-year life extension for each boomer. The Navy first completed the USS Ohio’s (SSBN-726) ERO in December 2005, and has since completed 16 additional overhauls, completing the USS Wyoming’s (SSBN-742) ERO in October 2020 (Department of Defense Inspector General 2018; Naval Sea Systems Command 2020). It is expected that the USS Wyoming will undergo a Demonstration and Shakedown Operation (DASO-31) next year. The final ballistic missile submarine to undergo an ERO is the USS Louisiana (SSBN-743), which began the overhaul process in August 2019 and is expected to be completed in late 2021 or early 2022 (Farley 2019). The Columbia-class SSBNs will not require nuclear refueling; as a result, their midlife maintenance operations will take significantly less time than their Ohio-class counterparts (Congressional Research Service 2020, 5).

Strategic bombers

The US Air Force currently operates a fleet of 20 B-2A bombers (all of which are nuclear-capable) and 87 B-52H bombers (46 of which are nuclear-capable). A third strategic bomber, the B-1, is not nuclear-capable. Of these bombers, we estimate that approximately 60 (18 B-2As and 42 B-52Hs) are assigned nuclear missions under US nuclear war plans, although the number of operational bombers is lower. The New START data from March 2019 counted 50 deployed nuclear bombers (12 B-2As and 38 B-52Hs) (State Department 2020a). The bombers are organized into nine bomb squadrons in five bomb wings at three bases: Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. The new B-21 bomber program will result in an increase in the number of nuclear bomber bases.

Each B-2 can carry up to 16 nuclear bombs (the B61-7, B61-11, and B83-1 gravity bombs), and each B-52H can carry up to 20 air-launched cruise missiles (the AGM-86B). B-52H bombers are no longer assigned gravity bombs (Kristensen 2017b). An estimated 850 nuclear weapons, including 528 air-launched cruise missiles, are assigned to the bombers, but only about 300 weapons are thought to be deployed at bomber bases. The remaining 550 bomber weapons are thought to be in central storage at the large Kirtland Underground Munitions Maintenance and Storage Complex outside Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The United States is modernizing its nuclear bomber force by upgrading nuclear command and control capabilities on existing bombers; developing improved nuclear weapons (the B61-12 and the long-range standoff missile); and designing a new heavy bomber, the B-21 Raider.

Upgrades to the nuclear command and control systems that the bombers use to plan and conduct nuclear strikes include the Global Aircrew Strategic Network Terminal (Global ASNT)—a new high-altitude electromagnetic pulse–hardened network of fixed and mobile nuclear command and control terminals that provides wing command posts, task forces, munitions support squadrons, and mobile support teams with survivable ground-based communications to receive launch orders and disseminate them to bomber, tanker, and reconnaissance air crews. First delivery of the Global Aircrew Strategic Network Terminals was expected in May 2020, although it is unclear if this has since been completed (US Air Force 2018).

Another command-and-control upgrade involves a program known as Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals (FAB-T), which replaces existing terminals designed to communicate with the MILSTAR satellite constellation. These new, extremely high frequency terminals are designed to communicate with several satellite constellations, including Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites. FAB-T will provide protected high–data rate communication for nuclear and conventional forces, to include what is officially called Presidential National Voice Conferencing. According to the Air Force (US Air Force 2019b), “FAB-T will provide this new, highly secure, state-of-the-art capability for [Department of Defense] platforms to include strategic platforms and airborne/ground command posts via MILSTAR, [Advanced Extremely High Frequency], and Enhanced Polar System (EPS) satellites. FAB-T terminals will also support the critical command and control … of the MILSTAR, [Advanced Extremely High Frequency], and EPS satellite constellations.”

The heavy bombers are also being upgraded with improved nuclear weapons. This effort includes development of the first guided, standoff nuclear gravity bomb, known as the B61-12, which is intended to replace all existing gravity bombs. The bomb will use a modified version of the warhead used in the current B61-4 gravity bomb. B61-12 integration drop tests have already been conducted from the B-2 bomber (and several tactical fighter jets). Approximately 480 B61-12 bombs, which appear to have earth-penetration capability (Kristensen and McKinzie 2016), are expected to cost a total of roughly $10 billion. The first production unit was initially scheduled for March 2020; however, in September 2019 a National Nuclear Security Administration official confirmed that both the B61-12 and the upgraded W88 warhead for the Trident II SLBM will likely face delays during production due to concerns over the longevity of its commercial off-the-shelf subcomponents (Gould and Mehta 2019). The First Production Unit (FPU) prototype of the B61-12 was completed on August 25, 2020 at the Pantex Plant (NNSA 2020b). The first real FPU is expected to roll off the production line in late 2021.

The Air Force is also developing a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile known as the long-range standoff (LRSO) missile. It will replace the AGM-86B air-launched cruise missile in 2030 and carry the W80-4 warhead, a modified version of the W80-1 used in the current air-launched cruise missile. In February 2019, the Nuclear Weapons Council authorized the Development Engineering phase (Phase 6.3) for the W80-4. The Production Engineering stage (Phase 6.4) is planned for December 2021 (Energy Department 2019b). A solicitation invitation to defense contractors in 2015 listed three potential options for the LRSO engine: First, a derivative subsonic engine that improves on current engine technology by up to 5 percent; second, an advanced subsonic engine that improves on current technology by 15 percent to 20 percent; and third, a supersonic engine (US Air Force 2015). In August 2017, the Air Force awarded 5-year contracts of $900 million each to Lockheed Martin and Raytheon to develop design options for the missile. After reviewing the designs, the Air Force in December 2019 cleared the two companies to continue development of the missile (Sirota 2019). The Air Force originally planned to down-select to a single contractor in fiscal 2022 during the awarding of the Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract; however, in April 2020, the Air Force selected Raytheon as the prime contractor for the LRSO (US Air Force 2020b). This was a relatively surprising move, as selecting a single-source contractor at this early stage could ultimately result in higher program costs.

In March 2019, the Air Force awarded Boeing a $250 million contract to integrate the future LRSO capability onto the B-52Hs, a process that is expected to be completed by the beginning of 2025 (Hughes 2019). Development and production are projected to reach at least $4.6 billion for the missile (US Air Force 2019a) with another $10 billion for the warhead (Energy Department 2018a).

The missile itself is expected to be entirely new, with significantly improved military capabilities compared with the air-launched cruise missile, including longer range, greater accuracy, and enhanced stealth (Young 2016). This violates the White House pledge from 2010 (White House 2010) that the “United States will not … pursue … new capabilities for nuclear weapons,”  though the NPR from 2018 did away with such constraints.

Supporters of the LRSO argue that a nuclear cruise missile is needed to enable bombers to strike targets from well outside the range of the modern and future air-defense systems of potential adversaries, and to provide US leaders with flexible strike options in limited regional scenarios. However, critics argue that conventional cruise missiles, such as the extended-range version of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, can currently provide standoff strike capability, and that other nuclear weapons would be sufficient to hold the targets at risk. In fact, the conventional extended-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM-ER) is now an integral part of STRATCOM’s annual strategic exercises.

Unlike the current air-launched cruise missile, which is only carried by the B-52H bomber, the long-range standoff missile will be integrated on both the B-52H and new B-21 bombers (Kristensen 2013c). Warhead production is scheduled from 2025 through 2031. The Air Force plans to buy 1,000 missiles (Reif 2015), but there will only be enough warheads for about half of those. The excess missiles are intended to be used as spares and for test flights over the course of the weapon’s 30-year service life. Moreover, several hundred of the existing air-launched cruise missiles were converted to conventional missiles (AGM-86C/D) and the US Air Force Global Strike Command has previously indicated that it intends to develop a conventional version of the LRSO (Wilson 2015).

But given the deployment of several new long-range conventional cruise missiles and the development of even more advanced versions, it remains to be seen if the Air Force can persuade Congress to also pay for a conventional version of the LRSO. Indeed, the Air Force has replaced the AGM-86C/D conventional air-launched cruise missile with the extended-range conventional Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile. If Congress will not pay for conventional LRSOs, it can probably be assumed that the plan to buy 1,000 missiles can be reduced by several hundred.

Development of the new B-21 Raider next-generation heavy bomber continues at Northrop Grumman, with the preliminary design review receiving approval in early 2017 and the first test vehicle currently in production. The B-21 is scheduled to make its first flight no earlier than 2022 from its production facility in Palmdale, California, to Edwards Air Force Base (Wolfe 2020). The B-21 is expected to enter service in the mid-2020s to gradually replace the B-1B and B-2 bombers during the 2030s, and it is expected that the Air Force will procure at least 145 of the new bombers at an estimated cost of $550 million per plane to increase the total bomber force from 175 to 220 aircraft (Tirpak 2020).

The B-21 bomber program will expand the number of US nuclear bomber bases. (Image: US Air Force).

The Air Force announced in March 2019 that the B-21 bombers will first be deployed at Ellsworth Air Force Base (South Dakota), followed by Whiteman Air Force Base (Missouri) and Dyess Air Force Base (Texas) “as they become available” (US Air Force 2019c). The upgrade of the non-nuclear B-1 bases to the nuclear B-21 bomber will increase the number of bomber bases with nuclear weapons storage facilities from two bases today (Minot AFB and Whiteman AFB) to five bases by the 2030s (Barksdale AFB will also regain nuclear storage capability) (Kristensen 2020d). Further details about the B-21 program, including updated cost estimates, are still shrouded in secrecy; however, like all previous bomber programs, the costs will most likely increase.

The B-21 is very similar in design to the B-2 but is expected to be slightly smaller and have a reduced weapons capability. The B-21 will be capable of delivering both the B61-12 guided nuclear gravity bomb and the LRSO, as well as a wide range of non-nuclear weapons, including the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff cruise missile.

Nonstrategic nuclear weapons

 The United States has one type of nonstrategic nuclear weapon in its stockpile, the B61 gravity bomb. The weapon exists in two modifications: the B61-3 and the B61-4. A third version, the B61-10, was retired in September 2016. Approximately 230 tactical B61 bombs of all versions remain in the stockpile. About 100 of these (versions -3 and -4) are thought to be deployed at six bases in five European countries: Aviano and Ghedi in Italy; Büchel in Germany; Incirlik in Turkey; Kleine Brogel in Belgium; and Volkel in the Netherlands. This number has declined since 2009 partly due to reduction of operational storage capacity at Aviano and Incirlik (Kristensen 2015, 2019c). The remaining 130 B61s stored in the United States are for backup and potential use by US fighter-bombers in support of allies outside Europe, including northeast Asia.

The Belgian, Dutch, German, and Italian air forces are assigned nuclear strike missions with US nuclear weapons. Under normal circumstances, the nuclear weapons are kept under the control of US Air Force personnel; their use in war must be authorized by the US president. The Belgian and Dutch air forces currently use the F-16 aircraft for the nuclear missions, although both countries are in the process of obtaining the F-35A to eventually replace their F-16s. The Italian Air Force uses the PA-200 Tornado for the nuclear mission but is in the process of acquiring the F-35A. Like the Tornados, the nuclear F-35As will be based at Ghedi Air Base, which is currently being upgraded. Germany officially rejected the F-35A in early 2019 and is instead planning on purchasing Eurofighter Typhoons as well as F-18 Super Hornets, which reportedly have easier nuclear certification processes (NTV 2020). However, a formal decision on Germany’s aircraft procurement will not be made until at least 2022 (Zeitvogel 2020).

At least until 2010, Turkey was still using F-16s for the nuclear mission, although it is possible that the mission has since been mothballed. In 2019, the Trump administration also halted delivery of F-35As to Turkey––some of which were intended to be used in the nuclear mission––because of its plans to acquire the Russian S-400 air-defense system (DeYoung, Fahim, and Demirjian 2019). Concerns were raised about the security of the nuclear weapons at the Incirlik base during the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee for Europe stated in September 2020 that “our presence, quite honestly, in Turkey is certainly threatened,” and further noted that “we don’t know what’s going to happen to Incirlik” (Gehrke 2020). Despite rumors in late 2017 that the weapons had been “quietly removed” (Hammond 2017), reports in 2019 that US officials had reviewed emergency nuclear weapons evacuation plans (Sanger 2019) indicated that that there were still weapons present at the base. The numbers appear to have been reduced, however, from up to 50 to approximately 20. If the United States decided to withdraw the remaining nuclear weapons from Incirlik, it could probably do so with a single C-17 transport aircraft from the 4th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington—the only unit in the Air Force that is qualified to airlift nuclear weapons.

NATO states that do not host nuclear weapons can still participate in the nuclear mission as part of conventional supporting operations, known as SNOWCAT (Support Nuclear Operations With Conventional Air Tactics).

NATO is working on a broad modernization of the nuclear posture in Europe that involves upgrading bombs, aircraft, and the weapons storage system. The B61-12 is estimated to be 12 feet long, weighing approximately 825 pounds, and is designed to be air-launched in either ballistic or gravity drop modes (Baker 2020). The B61-12 will be deployed to Europe beginning in 2022–2024, at which point the older B61-3 and B61-4 bombs will be returned to the United States. The B61-12 will use the nuclear explosive package of the B61-4, which has a maximum yield of approximately 50 kilotons and several lower-yield options, but it will be equipped with a guided tail kit to increase accuracy and standoff capability, which will allow strike planners to select lower yields for existing targets to reduce collateral damage. The increased accuracy will give the tactical bombs in Europe the same military capability as strategic bombs in the United States. Although the B61-12 has not been designed as a designated earth-penetrator, it does appear to have some limited earth-penetration capability, which increases its ability to hold at risk underground targets (Kristensen and Matthew 2016).

An F-35A carries out a test drop of a B61-12 guided nuclear bomb over Nevada in August 2020. The B61-12 will replace all US strategic and tactical nuclear gravity bombs and also be supplied to NATO allies. (Image: US National Nuclear Security Administration).

In March 2020, the F-15E became the first aircraft to be certified to operate the B61-12, after completing the last in a series of six compatibility tests at Nellis Air Force Base and the Tonopah Test Range (Baker 2020). In addition to the F-15E, integration of the B61-12 on B-2, F-16, and PA-200 aircraft is well under way, and the F-35A—with its incoming Block 4 software patch— is expected to become nuclear-certified with the B61-12 in 2024–2026. The Block 4 software will be patched into existing F-35As in six-month increments, starting in 2023 (Roblin 2019).

NATO is life-extending the Weapons Storage Security System––which involves upgrading command and control, as well as security––at the six active bases (Aviano, Büchel, Ghedi, Kleine Brogel, Incirlik, and Volkel) and one training base (Ramstein).

In addition to the modernization of weapons, aircraft, and bases, NATO also appears to be increasing the profile of the dual-capable aircraft posture. In October 2020, for example, at the start of the Steadfast Noon nuclear deterrence exercise, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands. Stoltenberg said that the exercise, which included over 50 aircraft, was “an important test for the Alliance’s nuclear deterrent” (NATO 2020b). Likewise, in June 2020, the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base conducted the first “Elephant Walk” ever to display all aircraft in a single visual show of force of its capability to “deter and defeat any adversary who threatens U.S. or NATO interests” (US Air Force 2020d).

Having reached 50 ratifications in October 2020, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will officially enter into force on January 22, 2021. It is unclear whether the treaty will have an effect on the status of NATO’s nuclear posture––and specifically the forward-deployment of US nuclear weapons on European NATO territory––however, public opinion in Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands is firmly opposed to hosting US nuclear weapons (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons 2018). To that end, some host country parliaments have already taken actions that challenge the future of US nuclear weapons on their soil; in January 2020, a motion to “draw up, as soon as possible, a roadmap aiming at the withdrawal of nuclear weapons on Belgian territory” was narrowly defeated 74–66 in the Belgian parliament (Galindo 2020). It is possible that the entry-into-force of the TPNW could prompt similar resolutions to be debated and voted upon in other nuclear hosting nations, which explains why the United States tried in vain to persuade other countries to withdraw their ratifications, only a week before the TPNW reached 50 ratifications (Lederer 2020).

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review has recommended rapid development of a nuclear nonstrategic submarine-launched cruise missile to recreate a capability to deploy such a weapon in support of NATO (and Pacific) allies. A previous cruise missile was retired in 2011. The new weapon would likely be intended for deployment on attack submarines. It is doubtful that the incoming Biden administration will continue the project.

Emergence of the Beast with Four Horns: Daniel 8

Emergence of a new bloc

Jai Kumar DhiraniJanuary 11, 2021

The world is transforming at a very fast pace. New alliances and partnerships are being established to serve respective national interests. The era of an interdependent world, joint development, common prosperity and win-win cooperation is on the rise.

In this scenario, a new alliance could be built between three powerful Muslim nations, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, along with two Eastern giants namely China and Russia. The evidence of this bloc is trilateral cooperation in the form of the Istanbul, Tehran and Islamabad (ITI) Train project which is going to be multilateral soon, with the inclusion of China and Russia.

The said project was launched in 2009 under the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO)—a 10-member Asian trade bloc. However, the rail route has so far only been used for test journeys. But in the 10th meeting of ECO Transport and Communications Ministers Meeting which was held in Istanbul, it was confirmed by the Turkish Transport Minister, Adil Karaismailoğlu that the decision has been taken mutually to resume regular operations soon.

The railway line intends to greatly reduce the transit route of the goods from Istanbul to Islamabad. A journey of 6500-km (Pakistan: 1990 km, Iran: 2600 km & Turkey: 1950 km) on the tracks takes eleven and a half days to complete and a train can have 20 containers—of 40 feet each—attached to it. In comparison to the traditional seaway, transporting goods from European countries to Pakistan took almost 45 days. The route has also caught the attention of the United Nations and has been recognised as an international corridor between the three countries.

It will boost the trade volume of these countries. As the contemporary bilateral trade between Pakistan and Iran stood at USD293.18 million; the volume of Pakistan’s export to Iran is USD32.29 and Pakistan’s import from Iran is USD260.89 million. Whereas, the ongoing trade between Turkey and Pakistan is approximately USD804 million; with the volume of Pakistan exports to Turkey, USD295.73 Million. The completion of this project would give Pakistan a leverage to curb its trade deficit with these countries and boost its exports by encouraging small and medium enterprises (SMEs). In addition to it, the project would not only tremendously benefit these three countries but other countries like Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as well.

It is expected that these three countries would expand their ITI train service by enhancing cooperation with China’s grand project, namely the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). As Nikkei Asia quoted, according to a Pakistani government official, the ITI railroad will connect to China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region through Pakistan’s ML-1 railway line. It is believed that China would not lose an opportunity to benefit from this project by only relying on the revival of its ancient silk route. It is not wrong to say that Russia could join it too in the nearby future to get the opportunity to access warm water to boost its trade to the Middle-Eastern and African market.

After the global financial crisis of 2008, China emerged as a rising power. It paved the way for the strengthening of China and Russia cooperation. In 2016, the bilateral partnership transformed to trilateral partnership between China, Pakistan and Russia. In the years later, the trilateral partnership included several other states—Turkey and Iran. Organisations such as Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) are becoming crucial as they are playing a pivotal role in promoting multilateralism and increased engagement in terms of economic and security in the region.

The alliance would be a great disaster for the US policy in the Middle East and Asia, as the countries of the emerging bloc have their own uniqueness. For instance, Iran has strategic and security influence in the Middle East, with natural resources, ancient civilisation and cultures that are a glorious part of world civilisation. Central Asian countries have religious and cultural ties with Iran—and Iran has emerged as a regional power. Despite various economic blockades and attacks by COVID, Iran not only has strong military power but it is selling a large quantity of oil to several countries, including Japan and China.

China’s economic progress, its veto power in the United Nations and global influence has almost achieved parity with the United States. The process of integrating economic development with the rest of the world has made the country one of the world’s superpowers.

Pakistan is a Muslim country with nuclear power but a strong enough military as well. Therefore, Pakistan has a special value in the Muslim world. Pakistan is a regional hub for the economy and defence due to its significant geographical location. China is the centre of Iran and Pakistan is the centre of this tri-power.

Turkey, in recent years, has emerged with a powerful military, economy and a regional economic hub due to its connectivity of Eurasia through the Bosphorus as well as gaining strong hold in the Muslim world, as it looks to be confronting Saudi Arabia for the title of the leadership of Muslim world.

Russia, with veto power in the UNSC and a strong military, along with the label of a nuclear weapon state, is gaining utmost influence in almost all corners of the world. Its strength is undeniable.

This alliance would help Pakistan to gain the utmost economic benefits from the emerging eastern giants as well as energy-rich Muslim countries to quench the thirst of its energy and economic needs. This is the time to move its bishops and knights perfectly.

Jai Kumar Dhirani

Trump thought of martial law in US

‘Trump thought of martial law in US’

National

News Report

January 10, 2021

WASHINGTON: Former US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that President Trump wanted to impose martial law in the country.“Throughout his tenure, but especially since losing the election…

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WASHINGTON: Former US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that President Trump wanted to impose martial law in the country.

“Throughout his tenure, but especially since losing the election in November, President Trump has proven himself dangerously erratic and volatile, talking with advisers about invoking the Insurrection Act and declaring martial law to rerun the election, and provoking his supporters into that shameless scene we saw at the Capitol this week,” he said.

Along with every other living former secretary of defense, from both Republican and Democratic administrations, Hagel felt alarmed enough about Trump’s behaviour to recently sign a letter calling for a peaceful transition of power to the incoming Biden administration, and insisting that the US military has no role in determining the outcome of US elections.

Those critical hours on the afternoon of Jan 6, 2021, when senior political and military officials tacitly acknowledged with their actions that the chain of command had been broken at the top, reveal the great peril the nation still finds itself in from an increasingly erratic and borderline delusional commander in chief. It is reminiscent of the final days of another unstable president — Richard Nixon — when Defense Secretary James Schlesinger instructed uniformed military leaders to check with him before executing any direct orders from the commander in chief involving nuclear weapons.

“In light of the storming of the Capitol building by Trump supporters, enough doubt has now been cast on the competence and fitness of the president that I’m sure the question is being asked whether a ‘Schlesinger’-type check is necessary,” retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of US Central Command, told a foreign media outlet. “Before they execute any order that comes directly from President Trump in the next 13 days, the Joint Chiefs chairman and combatant commanders will first want legal verification that it is a lawful order, because they can disobey an illegal order.”

Donald Trump’s parting gift to the world will be war with Iran: Revelation 16

Donald Trump’s parting gift to the world? It may be war with Iran

Daniel Ellsberg

President Trump’s incitement of criminal mob violence and occupation of the Capitol makes clear there is no limitation whatever on the abuse of power he may commit in the next two weeks he remains in office. Outrageous as his incendiary performance was on Wednesday, I fear he may incite something far more dangerous in the next few days: his long-desired war with Iran.

Fears mount that Trump’s final 13 days in office pose a security threat

Could he possibly be so delusional as to imagine that such a war would be in the interests of the nation or region or even his own short-term interests? His behavior and evident state of mind this week and over the last two months answers that question.

The dispatch this week of B-52’s nonstop round-trip from North Dakota to the Iranian coast – the fourth such flight in seven weeks, one at year’s end – along with his build-up of US forces in the area, is a warning not only to Iran but to us.

In mid-November, as these flights began, the president had to be dissuaded at the highest levels from directing an unprovoked attack on Iran nuclear facilities. But an attack “provoked” by Iran (or by militias in Iraq aligned with Iran) was not ruled out.

US military and intelligence agencies have frequently, as in Vietnam and Iraq, provided presidents with false information that offered pretexts to attack our perceived adversaries. Or they’ve suggested covert actions that could provoke the adversaries to some response that justifies a US “retaliation”.

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, in November was probably intended to be such a provocation. If so, it has failed so far, as did the assassination exactly a year ago of General Suleimani.

But time is now short to generate an exchange of violent actions and reactions that will serve to block resumption of the Iran nuclear deal by the incoming Biden administration: a pre-eminent goal not only of Donald Trump but of the allies he has helped bring together in recent months, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Evidently it would take more than individual murders to induce Iran to risk responses justifying a large-scale air attack before Trump leaves office. But US military and covert planning staffs are up to the task of attempting to meet that challenge, on schedule.

I was a participant-observer of such planning myself, with respect to Vietnam half a century ago. On 3 September 1964 – just a month after I had become special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, John T McNaughton – a memo came across my desk in the Pentagon written by my boss. He was recommending actions “likely at some point to provoke a military DRV [North Vietnam] response … likely to provide good grounds for us to escalate if we wished”.

Such actions “that would tend deliberately to provoke a DRV reaction” (sic), as spelled out five days later by McNaughton’s counterpart at the state department, the assistant secretary of state William Bundy, might include “running US naval patrols increasingly close to the North Vietnamese coast” – ie running them within the 12-mile coastal waters the North Vietnamese claimed: as close to the beach as necessary, to get a response that might justify what McNaughton called “a full-fledged squeeze on North Vietnam [a progressively all-out bombing campaign]”, which would follow “especially if a US ship were sunk”.

I have little doubt that such contingency planning, directed by the Oval Office, for provoking, if necessary, an excuse for attacking Iran while this administration is still in office exists right now, in safes and computers in the Pentagon, CIA and the White House. That means there are officials in those agencies – perhaps one sitting at my old desk in the Pentagon – who have seen on their secure computer screens highly classified recommendations exactly like the McNaughton and Bundy memos that came across my desk in September 1964.

I regret I did not copy and convey those memos to the foreign relations committee in 1964, rather than five years later

I will always regret that I did not copy and convey those memos – along with many other files in the top-secret safe in my office at that time, all giving the lie to the president’s false campaign promises that same fall that “we seek no wider war” – to Senator Fulbright’s foreign relations committee in September 1964 rather than five years later in 1969, or to the press in 1971. A war’s worth of lives might have been saved.

Current documents or digital files that contemplate provoking or “retaliating to” Iranian actions covertly provoked by us should not remain secret another moment from the US Congress and the American public, lest we be presented with a disastrous fait accompli before January 20, instigating a war potentially worse than Vietnam plus all the wars of the Middle East combined. It is neither too late for such plans to be carried out by this deranged president nor for an informed public and Congress to block him from doing so.

I am urging courageous whistleblowing today, this week, not months or years from now, after bombs have begun falling. It could be the most patriotic act of a lifetime.

Daniel Ellsberg was the whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers, which revealed the US government had lied to the American public about the Vietnam war

The Threat of the Russian and Chinese Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

Benjamin Brimelow

Jan 10, 2021, 4:45 PM

In August, China launched two ballistic missiles that, according to a Chinese military expert, hit a moving target ship in the South China Sea thousands of miles from their launch sites.

If true, the test — which came a month after the US deployed two carrier strike groups to the region and a day after a US U-2 spy plane observed a Chinese navy live-fire drill — is the first known demonstration of China’s long-range anti-ship ballistic missiles against a moving target.

“We are doing this because of their provocation,” Wang Xiangsui, a former Chinese colonel and professor at Beijing’s Beihang University, reportedly said in reference to the deployments, calling the test “a warning to the US.”

Not to be outdone, the Russian navy conducted its third test launch of the Zircon hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile in the White Sea in December. Launched from a frigate, the missile reached a speed of Mach 8 before hitting a “coastal target” more than 200 miles away.

The tests are just the latest indication that American aircraft carriers, long viewed as kings of the seas, may soon face a real threat to their existence.

High-priority targets

Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and other US Navy ships during a passing exercise with the Indian navy in 2012. US Navy Photo

America’s carriers have always been among the biggest targets for rivals. While the Soviets publicly lambasted carriers as “the oppressor of national liberation movements,” they recognized them as a dominant weapon platform.

This was especially the case after they realized US carrier air wings included aircraft carrying nuclear payloads.

Declassified CIA documents reveal that by the 1980s, the Soviets rarely criticized carriers in internal discussions and even praised them for providing “high combat stability.” One document from 1979 stated that carriers would be “the highest priority in anti-ship attacks” in potential war scenarios, with amphibious assault ships probably close behind.

Plans to deal with carriers were based almost entirely on anti-ship cruise missiles fired from submarines, bombers, and surface ships — ideally all at once. To that end, the Soviet navy emphasized cruise missile technology and missile-carrying capacity on all of its vessels — even on its own aircraft carriers.

Soviet navy Kiev-class aircraft carrier Minsk, February 9, 1983. US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Glenn Lindsey

Soviet navy Tu-16, Tu-95, and Tu-22 bombers were the primary aerial delivery systems. Cruisers of the Kynda, Kresta, Slava, and nuclear-powered Kirov classes were the primary surface delivery platforms.

A host of nuclear-powered and diesel-electric submarines, like the Oscar II- and Juliett-class, would fire those missiles from underwater and on the surface.

But even this may not have been enough. US carrier defenses and air wings were deemed so strong by the Soviets that as many as 100 bombers would be sent to attack one carrier, with losses expected to be as high as 50%. Soviet pilots weren’t even given detailed flight paths for their return.

It was also feared that the missiles could be shot down or intercepted, so the Soviets concluded that many had to be armed with nuclear warheads.

Waning carrier dominance

USS Nimitz departs Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, June 8, 2020. US Navy/MCS 2nd Class Natalie M. Byers

With the Cold War over and the Soviet Union gone, American carrier dominance seemed more than assured. Those carriers have played key roles in conflicts the US has been involved in since the 1990s.

But the post-Cold War order is slowly being challenged — mainly by China’s meteoric rise in military power, which has implications for the carrier’s dominance.

American carriers are among Beijing’s biggest concerns. Their presence helped deter an invasion of Taiwan in the 1950s, and in 1996 two carrier battlegroups embarrassed China by operating freely around Taiwan during a period of heightened tensions, forcing Beijing to recognize US military power.

Since then, China has invested heavily in anti-carrier capabilities. It first bought a slew of weapons from Russia, including Su-30MKK multirole fighters, 12 Kilo-class attack submarines, and four Sovremenny-class guided-missile destroyers.

DF-26 ballistic missiles pass Tiananmen Gate in Beijing during a military parade for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, September 3, 2015. Andy Wong/Pool via REUTERS

But missiles have been China’s main focus. It has amassed one of the world’s largest and most advanced missile arsenals, 95% of which falls outside the limits of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which prohibited the US and Russia from having missiles with ranges between 310 miles and 3,100 miles. The US recently withdrew from the treaty, and China was never party to it.

The two missiles tested in August were variants of the DF-21 and DF-26, which have ranges up to 1,300 and 2,400 miles respectively.

Flying higher, faster, and farther than Soviet cruise missiles, China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles could overwhelm the anti-missile defenses of a carrier and its escorts, and force the carrier to stay far enough away to render its air wing useless.

A US Defense Department report released this year stated that China’s missile development was one area in which Beijing has “achieved parity with — or even exceeded — the United States.”

New threats

A Zircon hypersonic cruise missile is launched from the Russian frigate Admiral Groshkov, in the White Sea north of Russia, October 7, 2020. Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

Hypersonic missiles are another serious threat.

Able to fly at speeds over Mach 5 (over 3,800 mph), hypersonic missiles are too fast for anti-missile defenses to respond effectively. They can also change direction mid-flight, making it virtually impossible to intercept them.

China has two hypersonic weapons in service: the DF-17, and the DF-100. Russia has a number of hypersonic weapons in development, with the Zircon the most promising. Russian officials have said they hope to be able to arm all new ships in the Russian navy with hypersonic weapons.

British officials have already voiced concern about the threat that Russian hypersonic weapons could pose to their carrier.

“Hypersonic missiles are virtually unstoppable,” a senior British naval source told The Daily Mirror. “With no method of protecting themselves against missiles like the Zircon the carrier would have to stay out of range, hundreds of miles out at sea.”

“Its planes would be useless and the whole basis of a carrier task force would be redundant,” the source said.

The true capabilities of Russia’s and China’s new anti-carrier weapons are still unknown, but recent tests prove that US Navy carriers may not enjoy unquestioned dominance for much longer.