Huntsville, Alabama is full today with champions of ballistic missile defense from the political, military, and industrial spheres, braving the south in August for the 2014 Space and Missile Defense Conference. So far, I haven’t heard any reports about the specific next steps for the Ground Based Midcourse (GMD) missile defense system, although from other sources, it looks like the Pentagon might be taking June 22’s successful intercept test with a little too much exuberance. Read More
August 13th, 2014
August 11th, 2014
As has happened far too often in recent years, the appropriations process in Congress is a shambles. There is no chance that any of the thirteen annual bills that fund the U.S. government will be signed into law by the end of the fiscal year on September 30th. Instead, there will be a Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds the government at the same level as the current fiscal year. The only question is how long a time period the CR will cover.
Among the many reasons that this is unfortunate are the sound decisions on nuclear weapons programs that populate the Senate version of the Fiscal Year 2015 Energy and Water Development appropriations act and its accompanying report, including well-considered funding levels, that may never become law. Read More
July 1st, 2014
The Department of Defense states that Sunday’s test was the 65th successful hit-to-kill intercept out of 81 tries since 2001 for the Ballistic Missile Defense System. This statistic includes not only the Ground Based Midcourse (GMD) missile defense system tested this weekend, but all ranges of interceptors, including the Patriot system which targets short range missiles.
Only 17 of those tests have been of the GMD system. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) will state the GMD record as 9 successes out of 17 tests, which includes tests of interceptors that were prototypes and those with both the CE-I and CE-II kill vehicles. The Pentagon also claims “four intercepts using the operationally configured interceptor since 2006.” Read More
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
May 28th, 2014
The history of the debate over missile defense is full of miscalculations about its possible benefits versus its risks and costs.
Probably much of that is due to the fact that strategic missile defense always sounds better after 30 seconds than it does after 30 minutes. Read More
April 29th, 2014
Today, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) released its long-awaited study of alternative options for disposition of excess weapons plutonium. The report confirms what I anticipated in a paper I presented in July 2013: the option of down-blending the plutonium with inert materials and emplacing it in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is feasible, has the least technical risk, and is (by far) the least expensive alternative. 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
March 25th, 2014
The communiqués issued at the previous two Nuclear Security Summits said almost nothing about the dangers of separated plutonium. That was a problem. The 2014 Nuclear Security Summit communiqué does say something about plutonium—but the world would have been better off if it had remained silent on the issue. Read More