February 11, 2016
trillion-dollar nuclear attack, and it’s targeting American taxpayers.
knows the precise price tag for modernizing the triad,
but a 13-figure sum isn’t an unreasonable prediction. A costly overhaul is
necessary, the Congressional
Budget Office reported, because our warhead-delivery platforms are getting
rusty: “The first Minuteman III ICBMs entered service in 1970, the first Ohio class [submarine] was commissioned
in 1981, the first B-52H bombers were built in the early 1960s, and the B-2
bomber first flew in 1989.”
and bureaucrats have known for a long time that new systems were needed, but
very little money has been set aside. Preferring to buy fighters, choppers,
ground vehicles, and conventional munitions for the fool’s errand of pacifying
and democratizing the Middle East, the military-industrial-congressional
complex has neglected nuclear deterrence. The policy of procrastination is
finally being addressed -- but in predictably expensive and inept ways.
hundred and fifty Minuteman
IIIs are deployed at three bases across the northern plains. (Sounds like a
lot, but in the 1960s, the Air Force wanted 10,000
missiles.) The Pentagon has chosen to procure a new ICBM rather than extend the
life of the Minuteman. Allowing for spares and testing, well over 600
next-generation missiles will be bought. Fixed silos are the standard today, but
mobile launchers are under consideration for at least some of the new ICBMs.
The Long Range Strike
Bomber (LRSB) is an ambitious program to replace the conventional and nuclear
missions of the B-1, B-2, and B-52. Last fall, Northrop Grumman beat
a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team for the contract, which will probably involve 80
to 100 units. The bomber is slated to carry a new cruise missile as well as a
refurbished version of the B-61, an old-school
bomb that relies on gravity.
the Navy’s plan is to replace its current subs with the SSBN-X
fleet. The u-boats will have impressively enhanced powers, including
electric-drive propulsion, and no need to journey back to port for refueling.
Construction of the first sub is set to begin in 2021, with an optimistic
initial-deployment date of 2027.
life-cycle cost for these weapons is anyone’s guess. But decades of “schedule
slippage” and hideous cost overruns on far simpler systems do not inspire
confidence in the DOD’s ability to build a modernized nuclear deterrent with
minimal collateral damage to taxpayers. The triad, many now believe, should go,
because an a-bomb architecture that was cobbled together in the days of Buck Turgidson makes
no sense in the 21st century.
new paper for the Center for American Progress, Lawrence J. Korb and Adam
Mount argue that ICBMs “are of little relevance to strategic stability today.
They are increasingly unlikely ever to be used and do little to help the most
pressing extended-deterrence problems that the United States faces today. These
considerations have already shrunk the size of the ICBM force to less than half
of its Cold War peak, and officials expect to make further reductions in the
coming years.” The defense wonks recommend skipping the new ICBM, at least for
now, in exchange for making “the investments necessary to refurbish the
Minuteman missiles in their existing silos.”
H. Friedman, Christopher Preble, and Matt Fay, in a 2013
Cato Institute paper, went much further. They favored nothing less than a
full phasing-out of ICBMs, despite the inevitable enmity of “legislators
representing constituencies where Minuteman missiles are based and … the
various communities that provide ICBM-related technologies or service.”
the LRSB, Korb and Mount pose the pesky question of “why a penetrating bomber
requires a standoff capability.” In other words, a new cruise missile, to be
fired from afar, “is an expensive redundancy that is unlikely ever to be used.”
Friedman, Preble, and Fay, advocating all-but-invulnerable submarines alone for
deterrence, noted that “Air Force leaders acknowledge … that the new bomber’s
cost could lead to its cancellation, which is one reason that they proposed
building it initially without the capability to deliver nuclear weapons.”
scary bombs are an absolute must for any country that claims to make the
protection of citizens its top priority. So nukes are necessary, and it’s
ludicrous to believe that they’ll vanish in our -- or our grandchildren’s --
much is too much? Outside the triad’s community of ideological and
paycheck-based supporters, it’s becoming clear that a massive empire of
warhead-delivery tools is unnecessary and unaffordable. There’s a reasonable
middle ground between disarmament dreamers and hysterical threat-inflators.
Let’s find it.
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
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