How peace-loving statements relate to the modernization of the US “nuclear triad”
At the very beginning of this year, a five-power statement (Russia, the United States, China, France and Great Britain) was published to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. But at the same time, the United States intends to modernize its nuclear triad. President of the Russian section of the International Police Association, Lieutenant General, Doctor of Law, Professor, Honored Lawyer of Russia Yuri Zhdanov spoke about trends in the Pentagon's military efforts.
– I'm afraid not. Please note that this, of course, an important statement, surprisingly coincided with the publication of the RAND corporation's report “Modernization of the American Nuclear Triad.” In particular, it recalls that since the late 1950s, the United States has deployed a triad consisting of air, sea and land-based nuclear weapon delivery systems. Yes, every nuclear power has such “triads” – in varying degrees of development, combat readiness and combat capability.
But the Americans, in the same report, state with concern that after several decades, the service life of the main components of all three of their branches is approaching the end. Several nuclear modernization programs are under way, but the decision to replace the aging Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a new system called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) has catalyzed discussion of the role of nuclear weapons in the world, US national security policy, and See also the composition and cost of the US nuclear arsenal.
– It turns out that way. The White House, led by Biden, covered the main topics of nuclear policy in his March 2021 Interim National Security Strategy Guide, in which he pledged to “take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy while ensuring safety, security, and effectiveness.” our strategic deterrent to ensure that our extended deterrence commitment to our allies remains strong and credible.”
It should be noted here that over the past six decades the US has been very supportive of its triad of nuclear weapon delivery systems, including bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and nuclear submarines. Both the Obama and Trump administrations have implemented several record-breaking programs to modernize all three links of the existing triad, including the deployment of a new class of ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), a new bomber, a new nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), and a new ICBM. ballistic missile.
These nuclear modernization programs have received broad bipartisan support over the past decade. However, some members of the US Congress have expressed doubts about the cost and necessity of such initiatives, especially in light of the financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Various cost reduction options have been proposed. Most often cited as a candidate for suspension or total cancellation is the new ICBM known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD).
However, the report notes that despite changes in nuclear policy, doctrine and US technology over the past 75 years, some key aspects of US nuclear policy have remained unchanged.
“American strategists have long believed that decreasing enemy confidence in their ability to decapitate US nuclear forces reduces the incentive to launch a first strike. They have repeatedly argued that the survivability of the US nuclear force can best be ensured through the use of a combination of nuclear weapon delivery systems, each of which complements the properties of the others and compensates for any vulnerabilities or technical failures of the others.
“Don't underestimate a potential adversary—it always ends badly. The Americans themselves were convinced of this when their “air fortress”, returning from patrolling the Turkey-USSR border, crashed over Spain and lost two nuclear bombs. The crew died, the bombs, fortunately, did not explode and they were found. But the sediment remained – the Americans were no longer allowed to fly over Spain with nuclear weapons. And they suggested – let's somehow bypass.
– What has fundamentally changed? Nuclear reaction has become somehow softer? Of course, the Americans remained concerned about the growing vulnerability of their nuclear forces, which for a long time consisted almost entirely of the same bomber aircraft. The range, accuracy, and number of Soviet missile systems weakened U.S. confidence in the ability of such bombers to withstand a preemptive strike, thereby undermining fundamental principles of deterrence. And they increased the number and types of weapons in their nuclear arsenal, eventually reaching a peak of 31,255 warheads by 1969.
– It was, but not for long. Yes, the end of the Cold War foreshadowed a significant reduction in armaments, the number and types of American and our nuclear weapon delivery systems and their associated warheads. The US entered into a series of bilateral nuclear arms control agreements with the Soviet Union that limited the forces of both countries, including the elimination of all medium-range nuclear forces.
– But after the end of the Cold War, the Americans preferred to completely preserve their triad. The redundancy inherent in their triad was justified as a hedge against unforeseen technical problems, ensuring that the US retained its ability to strike even if one or more delivery systems failed. Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2021, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin noted that he was “absolutely committed to modernizing the triad.” $28 billion has been allocated for this in fiscal year 2022.
– Americans sometimes use paramilitary terms very freely, without understanding their meaning. And this is understandable: the population of the United States is not a military nation. They fought only Indians, Mexicans, Spaniards, Cubans and each other in a sham civil war. They would have fought the Japanese in World War II for another ten years, despite Hiroshima and Nagasaki, if we had not intervened. Yes, and they entered France then, when the Soviet Army had almost finished with the Nazis. With Vietnam – David and Goliath! – they could not cope, in Iraq – still shooting, they barely managed to escape from Afghanistan, leaving everything and everyone behind. And there is also a very unfriendly Iran, North Korea, Syria… I'm leading to what – it's time to learn at least something for, albeit short, three hundred years of our statehood. At the very least, make your position clear. So that other, truly traditional states understand what these former British colonies specifically mean and want. British, so to speak, “cousins”.
“They were terrified of the emergence of a new element of the landscape in this invented “strategic landscape” – China.
According to the US intelligence community, Beijing is seeking “the fastest expansion and diversification of its nuclear arsenal in its history, intending at least double the size of their nuclear arsenals over the next decade and create a nuclear triad.”
China could have up to 700 nuclear weapons by 2027 and at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, according to Pentagon projections. Compared to Russia, China is likely to continue to have fewer nuclear weapons that could threaten the US for the foreseeable future. However, it is improving and expanding the capabilities of its intercontinental ballistic missiles. Additionally, various non-governmental analysts have recently reported that the PRC is in the process of building up to 250 or more underground silos for long-range missiles.
The Americans believe China has completed six second-generation SSBNs, each armed with 12 JL-2 SLBMs, allowing it to maintain a permanent presence at sea. It is reportedly developing an even more powerful class of submarines and SLBMs that allow it to strike the US from coastal waters, and could have up to eight SSBNs by 2030. Moreover, China publicly showed a refueling bomber in October 2019, and is reportedly developing a nuclear-capable ballistic missile that can be launched from a new aircraft.
With the recent development of an air-launched ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead and the improvement of its land and sea nuclear capabilities, China may already have its “nascent” triad.
“Like Russia, China has invested heavily in its air and missile defenses. Over the past two decades, the Chinese have built one of the world's largest arsenals of long-range missile defense systems, integrating Chinese and Russian systems such as the S-400 and S-300. Beijing is reportedly testing missile defense systems that can intercept medium-range projectiles halfway through, and is developing various anti-satellite weapons.
– No, of course not. There were disputes only about ways of modernization. Official programs for the modernization of all three links of the triad have appeared due to the deployment of a new class of SSBNs, a new bomber, a new version of the nuclear-armed ALCM and a new ICBM.
– The maritime branch of the triad now consists of 14 Ohio-class SSBNs, each capable of launching 20 Trident II D5 missiles armed with nuclear warheads. At least two submarines are undergoing overhaul and cannot be used for nuclear deterrence operations. The oldest Ohio-class boat still in service was commissioned in October 1984. The youngest – in 1997. The submarines were originally designed for 30 years of service, but were later certified for a service life of 42 years, which exceeds the service life of any previous class of Ohio boat.
The new submarines, officially known as Columbia-class, will include an electrically powered propulsion system and a nuclear reactor core for the life of the ship, to eliminate the need for refueling.
– The air branch of the American nuclear triad consists of two types of long-range heavy bombers with nuclear warheads: B-52H Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit. For some reason, it is often called the “stealth bomber”, but this did not stop the Serbs from shooting it down. Both aircraft can deliver conventional munitions in addition to their nuclear mission, and they have played a significant role in US military operations throughout the post-Cold War era.
True, both bombers, to put it mildly, are not young. Thus, the last in the B-52H series rolled off the assembly line in 1962, and it will be at least 90 years old before it is taken out of service in 2050. To ensure that it can continue to perform its diverse missions, the Air Force plans to upgrade several subsystems, such as equipping it with new engines, upgrading radar capabilities, and increasing its ability to carry conventional ammunition.
Its “little brother” B-2 was developed using technology from the 1980s and was first delivered to Whiteman Air Force Base in late 1993. It also requires periodic updates to its subsystems. The materials and processes used to maintain its stealth characteristics are costly and labor intensive, and more efficient technologies and methods have been developed since. The Air Force originally planned to purchase 132 V-2s, but ended the program in 1992 with only 21 purchased. The triad air part modernization program consists of two main areas – the AGM-181 long-range nuclear cruise missile and the B-21 Raider bomber.
The Air Force decided to keep the B-52 in service for at least another 30 years. In addition, the Air Force plans to replace the B-2 bomber with the B-21 Raider. Because the B-21 is considered a highly classified program, there is limited public information about its design and capabilities. Like the B-2, the new B-21 bomber will play both a nuclear and a conventional role. The first flight of this aircraft should take place in mid-2022. The Air Force has officially pledged to purchase 100 of these bombers.
– This is the most curious thing. The land part of the triad consists of 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. Missiles are placed in underground launchers – mines. There are currently 450 bunkers in total, divided equally between three Air Force bases: Malmstrom AFB, Montana; Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota; and FE Warren AFB, Wyoming, whose missile field extends into the neighboring states of Nebraska and Colorado.
Each Minuteman III base is assigned to one of three squadrons, each responsible for five dispersed underground launch control centers (LCCs) capable of monitoring and sending launch commands to all 50 missile silos in that squadron. Missiles are constantly on alert and can be launched within minutes of receiving an order.
Let me remind you that Minuteman III missiles were put into service in 1970 to replace 550 of the 1000 old Minuteman missiles. At the time, the Minuteman III represented a significant technical advance in ICBM capabilities. Unlike the Minuteman II and Titan II, which were armed with only a single warhead, the Minuteman III could carry up to three multiple-drop independently targetable missiles (MIRVs), increasing the number of Soviet targets the US could keep under threat. In the mid-1980s, 50 Minuteman III missile silos at FE Warren AFB were converted for use in the new Peacekeeper ICBM, each of which could carry up to ten warheads.
– This is logical, any weapon, including nuclear, must be improved and updated. There is a GBSD program to create a new missile system, the first test flight is predicted for December 2023.
The Air Force plans to deliver the first GBSD unit “as soon as possible and reach initial operational readiness in fiscal year 2029.” The new ICBMs will be housed in the same silos currently used for Minuteman III missiles, so the GBSD program also involves significant upgrades to existing infrastructure. The GBSD is scheduled to be fully operational by 2036.
– There is no fundamental breakthrough, if we compare, say, a TNT charge with a nuclear one, a piston aircraft with a jet, a “conventional” missile with a hypersonic one. It's just that Minuteman missiles are outdated both physically and morally, they themselves began to collapse and pose a threat to personnel. Three fatal accidents are known. The new missiles will be more advanced, equipped with modern computer stuffing, even artificial intelligence, protection against cyber threats. But there is no revolutionary breakthrough, I repeat. The point of this whole thing is not to extend the life of old, battered systems any longer. Cheaper to buy new ones. Well, it's like replacing a used car. It's all about money.
By the way, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the operation, maintenance and modernization of intercontinental ballistic missiles from 2021 to 2030 will cost 82 billion dollars.
– Such disputes are ongoing in the United States. Someone suggests, for example, spending more money on conventional armed forces. A small group of scientists and non-governmental organizations have proposed to reduce or completely abandon their ground-based delivery systems and move to a “dyad” consisting of bombers and SSBNs.
Proponents of this approach argue that sea-launched weapons provide similar or superior capabilities at a lower cost than land-based systems, while avoiding the “use it or lose it” constraint they claim is inherent in vulnerable silo-launched missiles.
But they are objected that US heavy bombers are not on alert at all, and the US in everyday life primarily relies on sea and land-based branches.
Like, if ICBMs were eliminated, the triad would be forced to rely solely on SSBNs, risking that a technical malfunction, cyberattack, or other failure could leave the United States vulnerable for days, if not longer, while it tries to bring its bombers into combat readiness.
Do intercontinental ballistic missiles pose a particular risk of accidental launch? Yes, they do.
This was recognized even by former US Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright. They advocated the complete destruction of intercontinental ballistic missiles. They are afraid of making erroneous decisions by responsible persons due to incomplete or inaccurate information. The president will only have a few minutes to decipher the ambiguous and potentially misleading signs of an impending attack and decide whether to launch the missiles. Space-based missile warning and communications systems, which may be vulnerable to cyber or kinetic attacks, increase the risk of technical failure or human error. Therefore, wrong decisions can be made. Moreover, an accidental launch can also occur. But the missiles are on high alert. And once launched, they can no longer be withdrawn.
– Exactly the same conclusion was made in the RAND report: calling for the prevention of nuclear war, the United States and its allies must modernize their nuclear forces. In their opinion, only this can be a guarantor of preventing the use of nuclear weapons.