Finally, China is reportedly modernizing every element of its strategic triad for delivering nuclear warheads (submarine-launched ballistic missiles, ground-based ballistic missiles, and weapons launched from big bombers), upgrades which include the production of two new ICBMs, a new ballistic missile submarine, and a new bomber.
In fact, China’s estimated arsenal of 240 nuclear warheads may actually be much greater than believed given that it has built a 5,000 mile network of tunnels that many analysts say conceals the true buildup of its nuclear arsenal, with reports that China may have stashed 1,000 to 3,500 nuclear devices inside the vast underground system.
So, given all that, it wasn’t surprising that Congressional Republicans have vowed to block the Obama administration from slashing the US nuclear arsenal, views expressed most recently in a letter sent to President Obama by 34 Republicans from the House Armed Services Committee.
In that letter, the lawmakers urged the president to “cease” pursuing the nuclear reductions, especially given “the growth in quantity and quality of nuclear weapons capabilities” in Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and, “perhaps soon the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Moreover, the lawmakers noted in the letter the Obama administration’s failure to fully support the $85 billion US nuclear weapons modernization program it had committed to as part of the effort to secure Senate ratification of New START in 2010.
Specifically, the president’s proposed 2013 defense budget not only cuts 15 percent from the nuclear modernization program, but it also calls for a two-year delay in the development of a new generation of nuclear carrying ballistic missile submarines.
The necessity of upgrading and modernizing America’s nuclear forces stems directly from the fact that the United States has not built a nuclear warhead in years; has old nuclear delivery systems; and is plagued by an aging and shrinking nuclear workforce.
Since America has not built a nuclear warhead since the Cold War, it has chosen instead to upgrade existing warheads with new technology. As such, those weapons, heavily modified from their original designs, are untested to ensure accuracy. That has led the Defense Science Board (DSB) to report that the United States faces “great dangers in the reliability of the guidance, re-entry systems, and propulsion of its ICBM force.” To make matters worse, America’s nuclear delivery platforms are some of the oldest in the world. For example, the average age of US nuclear delivery platforms is 50 years for the B-52H bomber; 41 years for the Minuteman III; 28 years for the Ohio-class submarine; 21 years for the Trident II D-5 SLBM; and 14 years for the B-2 bomber.
Finally, the nuclear workforce charged with developing, operating, and maintaining America’s nuclear arsenal is shrinking. According to DSB reports an aging workforce has created a “critical skills gap” as the “number of individuals working on the various programs continues to decline and the people with these skill sets are not being replaced.”
As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once observed, “to be blunt, there is absolutely no way we can maintain a credible deterrent and reduce the number of weapons in our stockpile without either resorting to testing or pursuing a modernization program.”
Of course, the actions by the Obama administration to defang America’s nuclear arsenal is really not too surprising given President Obama’s desire for a “nuclear zero” policy, one he first announced in Prague in 2009.
Yet, as Republican lawmakers asked the president in their recent letter to him, “Surely you believe that blind ideology cannot drive a matter as US nuclear forces over reality.”
Given the direction his administration is headed, apparently it can.
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