A newly released independent review of the Department of Defense (DOD) nuclear enterprise by two retired military leaders, Air Force General Larry D. Welch and Navy Admiral John C. Harvey, Jr., concludes—to no one’s surprise—that there are many problems. The review, which was completed in June but released just last week, was prompted by a series of embarrassing incidents over the past year or so including ICBM launch officers caught cheating on exams, a general relieved of command after drunkenness and inappropriate behavior on a trip to Russia, and the deputy chief of the U.S. Strategic Command removed from his post after passing counterfeit gambling chips at a local casino. Read More
November 21st, 2014
June 27th, 2014
The United States last week finished removing the last MIRV (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle) from its Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); these missiles will now each carry a single warhead. The move was the fulfillment of a promise the Obama administration made in its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which stated that it would “enhance the stability of the nuclear balance by reducing the incentives for either side to strike first.” Read More
June 16th, 2014
In response to the recent string of bad news for the ICBM force, the Air Force has announced that it will make a number of changes to try to alleviate some of the morale problems that have been plaguing the force. The commander in charge of ICBM forces will be upgraded from a three star general to a four star, in keeping with equivalent commanders of other branches in the service; missileers will be eligible for new bonuses and incentive pay; a service medal for launch officers will be instituted; new ROTC scholarships for missile duty have been added, with ten already awarded; and more mid-level command personnel will be added, along with improved training for missile launch officers. Read More
June 2nd, 2014
U.S. ICBM forces were recently in the news again, and, as too often seems to be the case lately, the news was not good. In the past year, stories have come out about missile launch officers cheating on exams and taking drugs, a commander removed after drinking and inappropriate behavior on a trip to Russia, and another for passing counterfeit gambling chips. The latest report concerns an Air Force security team at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana (also the home of the cheating scandal and drug investigation) that last summer failed an exercise designed to test its ability to respond to the simulated capture of an ICBM silo. While the failure was reported at the time of the exercise, it was not clear that this was because of a security problem. Now more details have come out about what actually happened. Read More
April 14th, 2014
The March/April issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has an article (unfortunately behind a paywall) about the enormous stockpiles of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) the United States still retains for weapons purposes, co-authored by GSP Program Director Lisbeth Gronlund and myself. The article is based on chapter 6 of UCS’s recent report, Making Smart Security Choices, and concludes that the United States should immediately declare much more of this material excess and dispose of it in ways that minimize the risk that it could be stolen by terrorists and used to make a nuclear weapon. Read More
February 28th, 2014
With the FY14 Omnibus Appropriations bill finally passed in January, and a new budget proposal for FY15 coming up next week, now is a good time to take a look at where the FY14 chips have fallen, and what the approaching budget cycle may hold for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Our previous post covered weapons programs, while this installment will look at the agency’s funding for nonproliferation programs.
February 27th, 2014
On January 16th, two weeks after the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2014 began, Congress passed the FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Act that will fund government operations through September 30, 2014. That action finally freed the government from a series of short-term funding measures and, it is hoped, will pave the way for a more normal budget process for FY 2015. This massive bill lumps together all eleven annual appropriations bills to cover funding for every federal agency, including the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). With the administration scheduled to put out its budget proposal for FY 2015 next week, we can now see where the FY 2014 chips have fallen, and get some idea of what the future may hold. Read More
November 18th, 2013
Congressional Response to the NNSA’s Budget: Part 2
The second in a two-part series on the nuclear weapons budget. Click here for Part 1.
The Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel project at the Savannah River site—part of an agreement with Russia to dispose of excess plutonium extracted from dismantled nuclear weapons—saw a significant drop in funding in the NNSA’s FY14 budget request. The $503 million request for fissile materials disposition, of which MOX is a part, was down $219 million, about 30 percent, from FY13. Within this, funding for construction of a MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) dropped from $438 million to $320 million. The NNSA says this is because it wants to slow the MOX program while the administration conducts an assessment of alternative plutonium disposition strategies. We understand that the assessment has been completed and is in the hands of DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, but it is unclear if they will announce the results soon or wait until the release of the FY15 budget before they reveal any conclusions.
The program is certainly ripe for reevaluation. Read More
November 14th, 2013
More than two decades after the end of the cold war, the threat of nuclear weapons has largely faded from public consciousness. The generation now coming of age grew up with nightmares of terrorists rather than Soviet missiles.
Recently, however, many Americans have been hearing about these weapons again. Read More
October 10th, 2013
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT, also known as the Limited Test Ban Treaty or LTBT), on October 10th, 1963. The treaty was the first arms control agreement of the nuclear age, outlawing the explosive testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in space, and underwater. Despite early plans to call for a ban on all explosive nuclear weapons testing, in the end the treaty did not cover underground explosions, and as a result hundreds of such tests were conducted over the following decades. Read More