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News Review Special Edition

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International Developments, November 15, 2002 - February 1, 2003

US Outlines Plans for Missile Defence, Nuclear Weapons Programmes

On February 3, the US government delivered to Congress its budget request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2004. The submissions from the Departments of Defense and Energy provide a wealth of information - summarised below - relating to US plans to manage and develop its nuclear weapons stockpile, and to develop and deploy ballistic missile defences.

Nuclear Weapons

The American nuclear weapons programme is managed by the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Of the Energy Department's $23.4 billion request, $6.4 billion is sought for the NNSA's 'Weapons Activities' budget, an increase of 9.1 percent ($532 million) over the previous year's request. According to a Department summary, one of the "highest priorities" of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, "is to certify, with the Secretary of Defense, the safety, security and reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile. President Bush's budget request will permit NNSA to continue on the Life Extension Program for active nuclear warheads in our stockpile - W87, B61, W76 and W80. The request also provides continued funding for stockpile stewardship that includes $320 million to support the manufacture of certifiable plutonium pits, the trigger in a nuclear weapon, while allowing NNSA to proceed with a conceptual design for a modern pit manufacturing facility."

In addition, as explained in the Department summary, the request seeks $467 million for "the Inertial Confinement Fusion Ignition and High Yield campaign, including the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory National Ignition facility (NIF), one of the major tools to help model and simulate nuclear explosions to ensure the safety and reliability of the stockpile. NIF achieved a major milestone in December 2002, activating the first of four of the 192 laser beams ahead of schedule." Funding is also sought for two stockpile-stewardship and weapons-development items: $751 million for the "Advanced Simulation and Computing Program to provide supercomputing platforms and simulation capabilities needed to model and understand weapon processes, components and systems"; and $265 million for the "Facilities and Infrastructure Recapitalization Program...as part of the administration's commitment to restore, rebuild and revitalize the physical infrastructure of the nuclear weapons complex."

The two most controversial aspects of the Department's nuclear stockpile programme concern the possible development of a new, 'low-yield' nuclear weapon (see above), and possible preparations to lift the US moratorium on underground nuclear testing. In a detailed breakdown of 'Budget Highlights', the Department notes that the FY '04 requests includes funding to "support preconceptual and concept definition studies and feasibility and cost studies for the Advanced Concepts Initiative, including the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator study, approved the Nuclear Weapons Council". The 'Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator' (RNEP) is the current technical designation for a possible 'bunker-busting' low-yield weapon, or 'mini-nuke'. In addition, the budget includes funding to "maintain the ability to conduct underground nuclear testing, if necessary, and begin the transition to an 18-month readiness posture", reducing the present 24-month minimum period anticipated to prepare the Nevada site for a resumption of testing.

Missile Defence

The broad direction of the US missile defence programme had been set out by President Bush in a major announcement on December 17. The President declared: "When I came to office, I made a commitment to transform America's national security strategy and defense capabilities to meet the threats of the 21st century. Today, I am pleased to announce that we will take another important step in countering these threats by beginning to field missile defense capabilities to protect the United States, as well as our friends and allies. These initial capabilities emerge from our research and development program and build on the test bed that we have been constructing. While modest, these capabilities will add to America's security and serve as a starting point for improved and expanded capabilities later, as further progress is made in researching and developing missile defense technologies and in light of changes in the threat. ... Throughout my Administration, I have made clear that the United States will take every necessary measure to protect our citizens against what is perhaps the gravest danger of all: the catastrophic harm that may result from hostile states or terrorist groups armed with weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. Missile defenses have an important role to play in this effort. The United States has moved beyond the doctrine of Cold War deterrence reflected in the 1972 ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty. At the same time we have established a positive relationship with Russia that includes partnership in counterterrorism and in other key areas of mutual concern. We have adopted a new concept of deterrence that recognizes that missile defenses will add to our ability to deter those who may contemplate attacking us with missiles. Our withdrawal from the ABM Treaty has made it possible to develop and test the full range of missile defense technologies, and to deploy defenses capable of protecting our territory and our cities."

In order to begin to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the post-ABM environment, the President continued, "I have directed the Secretary of Defense to proceed with fielding an initial set of missile defense capabilities. We plan to begin operating these initial capabilities in 2004 and 2005, and they will include ground-based interceptors, sea-based interceptors, additional Patriot (PAC-3) units, and sensors based on land, at sea, and in space."

A Defense Department press release (December 17) elaborated on the 'modest' nature of the first deployments:

"The initial set of capabilities planned for 2004-2005 will include:

  • Up to 20 ground-based interceptors capable of intercepting and destroying intercontinental ballistic missiles during the midcourse phase of flight located at Ft. Greely, Alaska (16 interceptors) and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California (4 interceptors);
  • Up to 20 sea-based interceptors employed on existing Aegis ships to intercept ballistic missiles in the first few minutes after they are launched, during the boost and ascent phases of flight;
  • Deployment of air-transportable Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) systems to intercept short and medium range ballistic missiles;
  • Land, sea and space-based sensors, including existing early warning satellites, an upgraded radar now located at Shemya, Alaska, a new sea-based X-band radar, upgraded existing early warning radars in the United Kingdom and Greenland and use of radars and other sensors now on Aegis cruisers and destroyers.

These initial capabilities may be improved through additional measures, such as:

  • Additional ground-and-sea based interceptors and PAC-3 units;
  • The Theater High Altitude Area Defense system to intercept short and medium range missiles at high altitude;
  • Availability of the developmental Airborne Laser aircraft that will use directed energy to destroy a ballistic missile in the boost phase;
  • A common family of boost-phase and midcourse interceptors for land and sea basing;
  • Enhanced radars and other sensor capabilities; and
  • Development and testing of space-based defenses, specifically space-based kinetic energy (hit to kill) interceptors and advanced target tracking satellites."

The Russian government - which last year lost a long, hard-fought campaign hard to dissuade the Bush administration from abandoning the ABM Treaty - reacted to the announcement with resigned disappointment. In the words of a December 18 Foreign Ministry statement: "Moscow is following with regret the step-up of US attempts to create a so-called global missile defense. Now, after its political decision to deploy by 2004 several strategic interceptors with 'support' from space, the realization of these plans has entered a destabilizing new phase. In this connection the Russian side continues to adhere to the assessments which were given by us after the United States' unilateral withdrawal from the cornerstone disarmament ABM Treaty of 1972. Consigning its principles to oblivion may lead only to a weakening of strategic stability, to a senseless new arms race in the world, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and their missile delivery means, and to the diversion of resources from combating the real challenges and threats of today - above all, international terrorism. As is known, within the framework of the molding of a fundamentally new relations of strategic partnership, the leaders of Russia and the United States adopted in their latest summit meetings a different - positive - program for further deep nuclear arms reductions and for combating terrorism and the spread of WMDs. It is important that in this program of joint actions a noticeable role belongs to our cooperation in...non-strategic missile defense...[including] cooperation, both bilateral and multilateral, within the framework of the Russia-NATO Council. Moscow counts on the United States to pay priority attention to the realization of precisely this strategic partnership program agreed upon at the highest level and to enlist its friends and partners in it, not in a destabilizing race in strategic defensive arms (including in space)."

Since the demise of the ABM Treaty, much domestic criticism of the administration's missile defence programme now concentrates less on broad political issues of strategic stability and more on doubts over both the likely technical effectiveness of the envisaged systems and the likely financial burden of their development.

Less than a week before the President's statement, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced that the latest test of a crucial missile-interceptor system had been a failure. A December 11 MDA press release declared that, earlier that day, the Agency "was not able to complete a test involving the planned intercept of a long-range ballistic missile target over the central Pacific Ocean when the exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) interceptor and the booster rocket failed to separate, preventing the EKV from engaging the target warhead in space." The press release continued; "This test was conducted in support of research and development efforts for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program...[and] was the final planned test involving the use of the interceptor's booster rocket that has been serving as a surrogate booster system and used for all GMD tests since 1999. ... The surrogate booster is used for the developmental flight test program only, and is not intended for further use in the GMD test program or for a future operational GMD system. Two new booster designs are currently in development and will undergo flight testing beginning next spring. One or both of the new boosters will be used by the GMD program in all future intercept tests beginning late next year."

Writing in the Detroit News on December 28, Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, warned that "even ardent proponents of a national missile defense should not support deployment of an untested, unproven system. The United States may eventually succeed in developing a national missile defense system that will actually work against real world threats, but we have not done so yet. According to the Pentagon, the national missile defense system to be deployed in 2004 requires a new booster rocket that has never been tested against any target." Levin continued: "The 2004 system would rely on a radar in Alaska built in the 1970s that was never designed for missile defense, that has no capability to differentiate the target warhead from decoys, that has never been tested against a long-range ballistic missile, and that the administration never plans to test against a long-range missile. No part of the system has been tested against realistic targets, and there are no plans to test the integrated system as a whole before it is deployed."

One of the few senior Democrats to back the White House plan was Senator Joseph Lieberman, who argued on December 18 that "some kind of missile defense system - even a rudimentary one - is better than no system at all." Lieberman cautioned, however, that "the administration's plan is so limited at this point that it should not lull anyone into a false sense of security."

On January 7, the Global Security Newswire reported that the MDA had decided to cancel the next two planned tests - Integrated Flight Tests (IFT) 11 and 12 - for the GMD interceptor. The newswire quoted MDA spokesperson Lt. Col Richard Lehner as stating that the next test - originally designated IFT 13 - is now scheduled to occur in "the fall of 2003". According to Lehner: "We won't be flying IFT-11 or OFT-12 since we want to concentrate on the booster this year". The spokesperson predicted, though, that the GMD "missiles will probably go into [operational service in] silos in the late summer of '04".

The Pentagon's FY '04 budget request seeks $7.7 billion for missile defence spending. According to a February 3 Defense Department summary, the funding will allow the MDA "to continue research, development and testing of an evolutionary missile defense program focusing on an initial capability in 2004 and 2005 and expanding that capability over time through additional measures and technology infusion." The summary claims that the deployment of 10 ground-based GMD interceptors in 2004 will "provide initial modest capability against North Korean missiles", while the deployment of 10 additional GMD interceptors - together with "20 sea-based interceptors; land, sea and space sensors; and command and control upgrades" - in 2005 will "add modest capability against Middle East threats." Separate from the $7.7 billion MDA request, the budget seeks $739 million for the "Patriot Advanced Capability-3 program, including procurement of 108 PAC-3 systems to protect against cruise missile and tactical ballistic missile attack."

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on February 5, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld staunchly defended the 'rolling deployment', or 'spiral development', approach as a fine example of the kind of prudent risk-taking required in the Pentagon as a whole:

"Our approach is to start with the basics, simpler items, and roll out early models faster - and then add capabilities to the basic system as they become available. This is what the private sector does - companies bring a new car or aircraft on line, for example, and then update it over a period of years with new designs and technologies. We intend to do the same. Take, for example, our approach to ballistic missile defense. Instead of taking a decade or more to develop someone's vision of a 'perfect' shield, we have instead decided to develop and put in place a rudimentary system by 2004 - one which should make us somewhat safer than we are now - and then build on that foundation with increasingly effective capabilities as the technologies mature."

The total US defence budget request is $379.9 billion (excluding the costs of any war in Iraq or other combat operations), an increase of $15.3 billion over FY '03 funding. The defence budget is projected by the Pentagon to rise to $483.6 billion in FY '09. Currently, according to Secretary Rumsfeld's February 5 testimony, the Department spends an average of $42 million each hour.

Note: on January 24, Inside the Pentagon reported that US Strategic Command had been designated as the "global integrator" of the US missile defence effort. In October 2002, US Space Command was incorporated into Strategic Command, the traditional operators of the strategic offensive nuclear programme. The report quotes a January 7 document from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noting that Strategic Command will hence assume "responsibility for developing desired characteristics and capabilities for missile defense and all support for missile defense... This includes responsibility for sensors, communications, and planning; and for coordinating with the regional combatant commanders and the Missile Defense Agency as appropriate."

Related material on Acronym website:

Reports: MDA plans for first flight of missile defense interceptor late next year, Defense Daily, November 4; Missile defense test conducted, US Department of Defense Press Release NO. 628-02, December 11; US plans - booster spoils GMD test, Global Security Newswire, December 11; British plans - Defense Ministry calls for deploying interceptors in Europe, Global Security Newswire, December 11; Statement by the President, The White House, December 17; Missile defense operations announcement, US Department of Defense Press Release No. 642-02, December 17; Missile defense to start in 2004, Washington Post, December 18; Regarding step-up of US attempts to create a 'global missile defense', Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 2603-18-12-2002, December 18; Lieberman applauds Bush missile defense plan, calls for more money, InsideDefense.com, December 18; Untested missile defense setup poses risks, Detroit News, December 28; Pentagon plans no intercept testing until autumn, Global Security Newswire, January 7; Stratcom given role of global integrator for missile defense, Inside the Pentagon, January 24; Fiscal 2004 Department of Defense budget release, US Department of Defense News Release, No.044-03, February 3; Pentagon seeks $380 billion to fund transformation for 21st Century, Washington File, February 3; Secretary of Energy unveils DOE '04 Budget, US Department of Energy Press Release PR-03-027, February 3; Remarks by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, 2004 DOE Budget Submission, Forrestal Building, Washington, DC, February 3, 2003, US Department of Energy website, http://www.energy.gov; FY 2004 Budget Request, released February 3, US Department of Energy website; Remarks as prepared for delivery by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, House Armed Services Committee, February 5, 2003, US Department of Defense transcript; Fiscal Year (FY) 2004/FY 2005 Biennial Budget Estimates Submission, US Missile Defense Agency Press Release, February 3003, released February 9.

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