STRATCOM: U.S. Not in a Nuclear Arms Race

By Allyson Versprille
Photo Credit: Navy, Air Force

Contrary to what some observers have claimed, the United States is not in a nuclear arms race with Russia, said Adm. Cecil Haney, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command.

Despite destabilizing acts by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his signing of a new national security strategy containing anti-Western sentiment, the United States continues to make strides to achieve goals set forth in the “Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms,” or New START Treaty, Haney said.

The treaty is a nuclear arms reduction agreement between the United States and Russia. It was invoked in February 2011 and the countries must meet the agreed upon limits by February 2018.

“The United States has reduced its stockpile by 85 percent relative to its Cold War peak,” Haney said during a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We are retaining and modernizing only those systems needed to sustain a stable and effective deterrent capability.”

Given continued funding and authority, the nation is on track to achieve New START limits of 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed delivery systems by 2018, he said. “That is not what I would define as an arms race.”

To date, the U.S. Air Force has eliminated all non-operational intercontinental ballistic missile silos and is in the process of placing 50 ICBMs into non-deployed status, he noted. Additionally, all intercontinental missiles have been “deMIRVed,” which means reducing the number of warheads on each missile to one. MIRV stands for multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle.

The Air Force has also eliminated its non-operational B-52 G-series heavy bombers and is transitioning 42 B-52 H-series to conventional-only bomber missions, Haney said.

At the same time, the Navy is converting four launch tubes on each of its Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines to non-nuclear roles, which will remove 56 launch tubes from accountability under the treaty, he said.

“The benefit of New START is that it engenders stability by maintaining rough equivalency in size and capability and, more importantly, transparency via inspections,” Haney said. “Furthermore, it helps assure our non-nuclear allies [that] they do not require their own nuclear deterrent capabilities.”

However, while this reduction is taking place, the United States needs to ensure its warheads are “safe, secure, effective and ready” in order to convince adversaries like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran that “they cannot escalate their way out of a failed conflict,” Haney stressed.

To achieve that end, the nation must invest in modernizing and sustaining all three legs of the nuclear triad — bombers, missiles and nuclear submarines, he said. “Our intercontinental ballistic missiles, our B-52 bombers and [our] Ohio-class submarines were designed and fielded in the ‘60s, the ‘70s and the ‘80s,” he said. Those nuclear delivery systems will need to be replaced in the 2025 to 2030 timeframe, he noted. “We are out of time. Sustainment is a must. Recapitalization is a requirement.”

Effective and ready nuclear deterrents are increasingly important in today’s complex strategic environment, Haney said.

Russia has declared — and at times demonstrated — its ability to escalate, “conducting destabilizing actions associated with Syria, Ukraine and Crimea while also violating the INF Treaty — Intermediate[-Range] Nuclear Forces Treaty — and other international accords and norms,” he said.

At the same time, “China continues to make significant military investments in their nuclear and conventional capabilities,” he said. The country is reengineering its long-range ballistic missiles to carry multiple nuclear warheads. It recently conducted its sixth successful test of a hypersonic glide vehicle, and last September the nation showcased several missiles, including the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, to demonstrate its advancements, Haney said.

The United States also has to worry about continued threats from North Korea, he said. “Under Kim Jong-un, North Korea continues to heighten tensions by coupling provocative statements and actions with advancements in strategic capabilities, claims of miniaturized warheads, and more recently, claims of a successful hydrogen bomb test and developments in road-mobile and submarine-launched ballistic missile technologies.”

Iran continues to pose challenges despite recent diplomatic successes. The United States must continue to keep a vigilant eye on Iran, and monitor the country’s involvement in the Middle East and any shifts in its nuclear weapon ambitions, Haney said.

Topics: Ballistics, International

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