Tactical nuclear battle
Obama administration national-security officials are gearing up to battle Congress over $65 million that a House subcommittee cut from the fiscal 2010 budget and that had been slated toward upgrading the oldest tactical nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal.
The administration requested the money for a study about upgrading the B61, an aircraft-delivered tactical nuclear bomb that both the Pentagon and the Energy Department say is needed to defend Europe as part of what the military calls “extended deterrence.”
The matter is urgent for the Pentagon because the study is needed now to meet a 2017 deadline for outfitting the bomb on the new F-35 jet. Current F-16 jets that carry B61s will be phased out of service in eight years.
The B61 is dropped by bombers and has a parachute in the tail to slow its descent and allow detonation above the ground.
The B61 money was cut by the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development. Subcommittee Vice Chairman Ed Pastor, Arizona Democrat, said in a June 23 statement that the B61 money was zeroed out because the administration “has yet to meet the requirement for nuclear strategy, stockpile and complex plans that we first directed in fiscal year 2008.”
The Senate version of the energy bill contains the B61 money, and differences between the two versions will be worked out in a House-Senate conference in the coming weeks.
The White House issued a policy statement July 14 on the cut, stating that the funding elimination would cancel the B61 upgrade for needed “end-of-life components.”
“Without refurbishment of these components, the sustainment of the B61 bomb family, a key component of our deterrence strategy, will be in jeopardy,” the statement said.
The administration is set to lobby House subcommittee members to restore the funds. A letter is planned from Thomas P. D’Agostino, head of the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, and U.S. Strategic Command commander Gen. Kevin P. Chilton.
The two leaders are expected to tell House members that fixing the B61, the oldest weapon in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, is urgently needed.
A recent blue-ribbon commission of experts found major problems with the entire U.S. nuclear stockpile, specifically the triggering packages and electronics of older nuclear weapons, including some, like the B61, that were built in the 1960s.
According to a Senate aide, the B61 funding cut was pressed by staff members on the subcommittee without close supervision by the chairman, Rep. Peter J. Visclosky, Indiana Democrat, who is under investigation by federal authorities investigating lobbying by the PMA Group.
Because of the investigation, Mr. Visclosky is not working on the fiscal 2010 bill and turned over subcommittee leadership on that issue to the vice chairman, Mr. Pastor.
House Appropriations Committee spokesman Ellis Brachman said Mr. Visclosky recused himself because “he did not want [the investigation] to get in the way of this year’s business.” Mr. Pastor was fully versed on the issues in the bill, including the B61 money, Mr. Brachman said.
“This is a long-standing position of the subcommittee that we would like to see the administration finalize its plans for the nation’s nuclear strategy and stockpile,” Mr. Brachman said.
Strategic Command spokeswoman Maj. Regina Winchester said Gen. Chilton is prepared to go to Capitol Hill this month to lobby for the B61 money, along with Mr. D’Agostino. “The B61 is the oldest weapon in the nuclear weapons stockpile and requires urgent upgrades to remain in service, incorporate modern safety and security features, and increase long-term confidence in weapon reliability,” she said,
The bomb’s life extension “is essential to provide our NATO allies with a visible sign of our extended deterrent commitment and to maintain a credible strategic air-delivered nuclear deterrent capability,” she noted.
Briefing slides from Strategic Command show that the B61 upgrade would increase reliability by improving arming, fuzing and firing. They also show that the parachute in the bomb’s tail would be eliminated to provide “safe separation from the aircraft” while creating space for more reliability, safety and security features.
• See the briefing slides on the B61 upgrade by clicking here.
The slides also show that the bomb’s interface would be adjusted to fit it under the F-35 “to meet NATO requirements.”
Also, four of the five deployed B61 versions would be combined into one, called B61 LEP, for life extension program.
“Today’s requirements can’t be fully implemented in current weapons,” one slide states. “Most lack space needed to add required reliability, safety and security features.”
The B61 also could be used by the military to target deeply buried structures, such as underground nuclear facilities in North Korea or Iran. A 2002 Pentagon nuclear review stated that the military has a very limited ground-penetration capability and that its only earth-penetrating nuclear weapon is the B61 Mod 11, an unguided gravity bomb.
While details of how the bomb would be upgraded are closely held, the upgrade likely would include adding a guidance kit like those used to convert conventional gravity bombs into precision guided munitions.
Maj. Winchester, the Strategic Command spokeswoman, said there are no plans to convert B61s into penetrating nuclear bombs. “Neither STRATCOM nor DoD is pursuing any nuclear penetrator capabilities,” she said.
The Pentagon several years ago tried to develop a penetrating nuclear bomb to deter rogue states or terrorists from building nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in bunkers. Congress blocked the program.
China’s anti-carrier missiles
China is moving ahead with development of an aircraft-carrier-killing ballistic missile that is likely the first step in a major new Chinese strategic missile program, according to a forthcoming report by Mark A. Stokes, a retired Air Force officer and former Pentagon China specialist.
The report provides new details on efforts by the Chinese military to convert DF-21 medium-range ballistic missiles into aircraft-carrier-killing weapons, viewed by the Pentagon to be key asymmetric warfare weapons in Beijing’s military buildup.
The report identifies numerous Chinese military and technical writings that show the development of anti-ship ballistic missiles is well advanced.
It states that China is ready to conduct a flight test, perhaps timed to future elections in Taiwan.
Mr. Stokes is director of the Project 2049 Institute, an Asia policy research group in Arlington that will release the report, “China’s Evolving Conventional Strategic Strike Capability,” in the next several days.
Disclosure of the report comes as China’s state-run newspaper Global Times reported Wednesday that the Chinese military on Oct. 1, during a parade marking the 60th anniversary of the communist government, will showcase for the first time five types of missiles, including nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, conventional cruise missiles and medium-range and short-range conventional missiles.
U.S. intelligence agencies for the past several years have been closely monitoring China’s northern port of Dalian, where past anti-ship missile tests were carried out, for the first flight test of the new ASBM.
The new conventionally armed ballistic missile test, if successful, is expected to be strategically comparable to Beijing’s January 2007 anti-satellite missile test.
The report by Mr. Stokes states that fielding the anti-ship missile “could alter the strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.”
The current missile being developed, the DF-21, has a range of about 1,500 miles, enough to threaten and deter U.S. aircraft-carrier strike groups that would be used by the Pentagon to defend Taiwan from a mainland attack or to respond to other conflicts in Asia.
The new missiles are expected to fly in the upper atmosphere or near space and thus “negate” current U.S. Navy-based missile defenses, the report says.
Beyond Asia, the report states that using missiles to hit ships as sea is the first step in China’s plan for conventional long-range attack capability across the globe.
The U.S. military is developing a similar capability called prompt global strike that would enable commanders to hit targets anywhere in the world in less than an hour. The Pentagon also is conducting research on long-range anti-ship missiles.
The report states that a review of Chinese military writings reveals that anti-ship ballistic missiles are part of a “phased approach for development of a conventional global strike capability by 2025.”
The phases include extending the targeting range of precision guided conventional warhead missiles from 1,240 by 2010 to 1,860 miles in 2015, up to 5,000 miles by 2020, and globewide missile capabilities by 2025 using a hypersonic cruise vehicle.
The missile programs include maneuvering re-entry vehicles and warheads with on-board sensors that are accurate enough to attack ships in the ocean moving at up to 35 knots at sea.
For targeting and tracking, China is developing a comprehensive system of space, ground and sea radar and sensors, including a “near-space” vehicle that would be deployed out of range of most surface-to-air missiles.
In addition to using it during a conflict over Taiwan, China also could use its long-range missiles in any conflict in the South China Sea or in response to threats to close sea lanes used to transport oil to China.
“China’s success in fielding a regional and global precision-strike capability could extend the threat envelope to military facilities in Hawaii, and perhaps even space-related and other military facilities in the continental United States that are likely to be involved in a Taiwan-related contingency,” Mr. Stoke said.
U.S. allies in Asia rely on aircraft-carrier strike groups, which are outfitted with both strike aircraft and long-range cruise missiles, to maintain security.
China’s ability to attack the carriers will undermine stability by preventing carriers from moving within 1,500 miles of China, the report says.
The report mentions a new Chinese missile threat that is a an advanced hybrid ballistic missile that skims the Earth’s atmosphere and then converts to an air-breathing cruise missile before reaching the target.
Richard Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said China is rapidly developing the space surveillance and navigation system for its long-range missiles.
“This threat deserves very serious consideration, as it would clearly, if true, necessitate a major new American initiative in the area of missile defenses,” Mr. Fisher said.
Jeffrey Lewis, a strategic analyst at the New America Foundation, said the Chinese military seems very interested in conventionally armed ballistic missiles “largely, I suspect, out of a desire to increase the service’s profile and autonomy.”
Mr. Lewis, however, has been wrong in the past in his assessment of Chinese military developments. He stated on his blog in July 2005 that the Pentagon had “no evidence” for published claims China was working on a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile.
A year and half later, in January 2007, China conducted its first successful test of a direct-ascent ASAT missile after several failures.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong did not address the new missile directly.
“As a peace-loving country that pursues the national defense policy of self-defense nature, China’s military modernization, including its navy building, is solely for self-defense,” Mr. Wang said in an e-mail.
The Pentagon has rejected a demand by China to halt air and naval surveillance of the country.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said the recent demand made by Chinese officials at a meeting in Beijing under the auspices of the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement was rejected.
“We have given the PRC that position numerous times, most recently at the MMCA,” Mr. Morrell told Inside the Ring.
He went on to state: “Without commenting on intelligence operations that may or may not be taking place, I can say that the U.S. Navy operates in international waters all over the world, including off the coast of China. We are perfectly within our rights to do so, just as the Chinese or any other navy would be. Such missions should not be viewed as a security or economic threat to anyone.”
China’s Defense Ministry issued a statement last week blaming U.S. air and sea surveillance for “military confrontations between the two sides.”
“The way to resolve China-U.S. maritime incidents is for the U.S. to change its surveillance and survey operations policies against China, decrease and eventually stop such operations,” the statement after the two-day military meeting said.