Home » Aviation » New Russia-Focused Nuclear Review Calls for More Sub, Ship-Launched Missiles

New Russia-Focused Nuclear Review Calls for More Sub, Ship-Launched Missiles

An unarmed Trident II D5 missile launches from the Ohio-class fleet ballistic-missile submarine USS Maryland (SSBN 738) off the coast of Florida on Aug. 31, 2016. US Navy photo.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Pentagon released a muscular new nuclear review on Friday, doubling down on Obama-era efforts to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal while launching initiatives officials say are designed to deter Russia, China, North Korea and Iran from going nuclear.“We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be,” Defense Secretary James Mattis said in an introduction to the document. The plan, which places Russia at the top of the country’s potential adversaries — mentioning the country 127 times in the 74-page paper, while North Korea received 49 mentions — also calls for new nuclear cruise missiles.

In the short term, the strategy unveiled plans for a new nuclear sea-launched cruise missile, and a lower-yield nuclear warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was launched during an operational test in 2013. US Air Force Photo

Officials said the new submarine-launched ballistic missiles could be procured relatively quickly by using existing warheads and turning them into low-yield weapons, which would also help keep costs down. For the Navy, this would mean they could “just take that warhead and make sure they can qualify” on a submarine Robert Soofer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, told reporters.

The document also confirms that initial research has begun on a ground-launched intermediate missile system that if fielded, would violate the 30-year-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia. The research remains within the bounds of the treaty, Pentagon officials said, and is meant to counter years of Russian violations of the pact which prohibits missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km.

Ohio-class guided missile submarine USS Michigan (SSGN-727) heads out to sea in 2012, US Navy Photo

“We need to demonstrate to the Russians that we’re serious about them coming back into compliance with INF and that perhaps they need to be reminded why they signed the INF treaty in the first place,” Greg Weaver, the Joint Staff’s deputy director of strategic capabilities told reporters.

One staffer on Capitol Hill who is familiar with the administration’s thinking added to USNI News that “the ultimate goal is to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF treaty. Right now they think it’s in their national interests and they can get away with it. And they’re right. So they’re going to need some incentives.”

A draft of the new Pentagon strategy was leaked to the Huffington Post earlier this month, causing an outcry from critics who said the new cruise and ballistic missiles lower the threshold for how and when the United States might use nuclear weapons in the future.

Speaking with reporters at the Pentagon on Friday, John Rood, the Pentagon’s new policy chief, pushed back, insisting that policymakers would consider using nuclear weapons “only in extreme circumstances to defend vital American interests,” which he said is exactly the sentiments expressed in the 2010 Obama nuclear strategy.

“There is no lowering of the nuclear threshold…there is nothing in this approach that would lower the nuclear threshold,” Rood said.

The plan also calls for conventional U.S. forces to begin training with nuclear forces in a series of exercises in order to better coordinate efforts. “U.S. forces will strengthen their ability to integrate nuclear and non-nuclear military operations to deter limited nuclear escalation and non nuclear strategic attacks,” it says. “Combatant Commands will plan, organize, train, and exercise for this mission.”

In a statement Friday, the Union of Concerned Scientists were highly critical of the increased integration of conventional and non-conventional forces, saying the new policy “deliberately blurs the line between nuclear and conventional forces and eliminates a clear nuclear fire break.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a test-fire of a strategic submarine underwater ballistic missile in 2015. KCNA Photo

On North Korea, the paper builds on the months of warnings issued by president Trump and his deputies to the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un. The paper cautions that “there is no scenario in which the Kim regime could employ nuclear weapons and survive.”

The plan received a mixed reception on Capitol Hill, where House Armed Services Committee member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) criticized the document, saying it “will undermine our defense posture, and further aggravate our national security budgeting difficulties.” The Trump administration has fully embraced an Obama-era plan to modernize the country’s nuclear triad — land, air and sea-launched nuclear missiles — which is expected to cost at least $1.2 trillion over the next three decades, before the Trump add-ons.

Smith was also critical of the price tag, saying Congress “is currently unable to fund the existing, unrealistic $1.2 trillion plan” and the Trump administration is adding to the budget pressures by adding new capabilities.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the committee, countered that the costs are sustainable, and “are already broadly supported in Congress and by the American people. Like other national security programs, they depend on adequate and reliable funding from Congress. The NPR is a sober reminder of how important delivering that funding is to America’s security.”

  • PolicyWonk

    On North Korea, the paper builds on the months of warnings issued by president Trump and his deputies to the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un. The paper cautions that “there is no scenario in which the Kim regime could employ nuclear weapons and survive.”
    There is also no scenario that says we can give him a proverbial “bloody nose” and not have him react using nuclear weapons, thereby potentially killing millions of S. Koreans (or Japanese, etc.), and causing a bloody war before N. Korea is eventually defeated.

    • DaSaint

      Exactly. Why they keep presuming that Kim intends to survive is beyond me.

      We encountered folks who do what they do with no intent to survive before. That was WW2 (Kamikazes), that was 9/11.

      How soon we forget.

  • Pete Novick

    In 1991, President George H.W. Bush unilaterally removed all non-strategic nuclear weapons, (NSNWs), as part of the Presidential Nuclear Initiative, (PNI), which included removing and destroying some 2,100 short range ballistic missiles and artillery shells, (from places like Germany and South Korea), removing all tactical nuclear weapons on US Navy surface ships and attack submarines, and de-alerting US bombers.

    1991 saw Congress pass the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act, (aka Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Act).

    Also, recall the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991, and was replaced by the Russian Federation.

    Nunn-Lugar ranks as one of the finest foreign policy achievements in the history of the United States. Both the PNI and Nunn-Lugar enjoyed great bipartisan support in Congress. The world is a much safer place as a result.

    Blurring the lines between the tactical nuclear weapons and strategic nuclear weapons, as this policy shift surely does, is not a wise course of action.

    If you served aboard attack submarines or aboard surface combatants during the Cold War, then this doesn’t have to be explained to you.

    The rest of you…well, pay attention.

    • kye154

      Remember this all too well. You are right about Nunn-Lugar, and you are also right about blurring the lines between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. Doing this policy shift will only add to the exasperations of North Korea. and cause Russia and China to proliferate their nuclear programs in kind, making it very likely for a nuclear war, when push comes to shove.

      • Marauder 2048

        I’m sure the Ukrainians are now thrilled they gave up their nukes under Nunn-Lugar. And of course the Russians walked away from it and it’s now dead.

        Depressed trajectory SLBMs were the original counter to the SS-20s. Nobody thought that was a problematic blurring of the lines. Certainly no more so than tactical weapons on strategic bombers.

    • NavySubNuke

      The trouble is that while you were busy burying your head in the sand and patting yourself on the back about the PNI’s and Nunn-Lugar the world changed again. The PNI’s tried to get Russia to do the right thing by unilaterally doing it ourselves – they failed. Nunn-Lugar worked for a while too but those days are over.
      Instead we have Putin openly violating the INF treaty and expanding the thousands of tactical nuclear weapons Russia already has. Continuing to ignore this reality – continuing to bury our head in the sand and believe the world is still the safe and secure place it was in 1995 when Russia was on their knees begging for cash – makes nuclear war more likely not less.
      That is why you have pro-Russian troll like Kye upvoting you by the way.

    • Rabbit

      Too few of us remember the horrific drain on man-hours and procedural crap that accompanied being a ‘nuclear capable’ surface ship, I’m afraid. The rigors of the Personal Reliability Program are going to come to a shock to a lot of folks, should this come to pass. Remember, if the platform is capable of launching nuclear weapons the crew must behave as if there are nukes on board as long as the ship is operational, even if the magazine is empty.

  • kye154

    Back in the 1930’s, Marine Corps General Smedley Butler once said: “War is a Racket”. Harry Truman agreed with that too, and tried to cut the military waste and fat, and Dwight Eisenhower warned us about the dangers of the Military-Industrial complex. But, like a lot of other things, America has the notoriety for procrastinating, and things didn’t change, and now the military is out of control. Now America’s got $20 trillion dollar debt, and has to sacrifice upkeep of its infrastructures to pay for the military, as well as being unable to provide universal health care or attend to the overall welfare of its people, (like good paying employment, eliminating poverty, etc.), and now they are talking about increasing our nuclear capability? Sounds very much like what that 3rd world nation of North Korea has been doing all along. Really, what’s the difference? Why is it America has always had a long history of warfare?

  • NavySubNuke

    Primarily we need them to deter great power war – as they have successfully done since 1945. It is actually the longest period of peace between great powers in recorded human history with the exception of the Roman Empire when there were no other great powers.
    Nuclear weapons are directly responsible for the peaceful world we enjoy today and have saved countless millions of lives and trillions of tax dollars. The reason the cold war stayed cold and we haven’t had to fight WWIII or WWIV yet is because of nuclear weapons.

    • Mic

      B.S. We do not need Nukes ! We need unity . Trump had stated over and over that there was no reason we (The USA) and Russia could not set aside our past differences and get along . Then the Media stepped in with Russia collusion and more ‘fake news’ . Send the nuklear tech , all of it , to the sun , and start over with thorium , or better yet scaler (free) energy .

      • NavySubNuke

        LOL. Oh yeah – look how well that sort of brainless nonsense has worked throughout history.
        Remember when England made a deal with Germany for “peace in our time?”

        • muzzleloader

          How is it that any article about nuclear weapons brings out every new age looney on the net?

        • Chesapeakeguy

          I’m wondering if some of these names and monikers on here are the same person? I’ve seen that before. LOL..

          • El Kabong

            Notice Duaney has been conspicuously absent lately?

          • NavySubNuke

            I do wonder where the bathtub admiral has gone off to. I haven’t seen him since he told me I needed a civics lesson for daring to disagree when he swore up and down that the shutdown was the fault of republicans because all it takes is 50 votes in the senate to approve the budget since it couldn’t be filibustered.

          • El Kabong

            I suspect he was finally banned.

          • Chesapeakeguy

            My bet is he is ‘monitoring’ the discussions, and I would not be surprised in the least if he is somewhere on the USNI discussion boards under another name, or names.

          • El Kabong

            Agreed. Once he figures out how to sign up again, the LCS cheerleader will be easy to spot.

        • Mic

          So u beleive that Russia is The Enemy , who would like nothing more than to cause harm here , or what ? Unity is no option ? Do u agree with the USA WARWITHOUTEND ? Lol , haphukinha ! NukeSub , I think the world would benefit if u move to Fukushima Prefecture . And I would keep the name . The people there would love that as much as I do .

          • NavySubNuke

            Can you say that again in English? I’m not sure I followed all of that rambling nonsense.

          • Mic

            Point is : Russia is at war with who ? And USA ? America has been the agressor in every war anywhere near Russia since before 9/11 . America has been at war nearly continuously with one country or another since our civil war . Falling in with the mind set that Russia is the Big Evil , only proves that u have been and still ‘R’ brainwashed by the controlling elite . I have since awoken from the original brainwashing , so I have hope for everyone else who has not yet seen the lies perpetuated by the media and those who seek to keep us at war .

          • NavySubNuke

            You do realize Russia invaded both Georgia and Ukraine right? So your “America has been the agressor in every war anywhere near Russia since before 9/11” garbage is completely false.
            “America has been at war nearly continuously with one country or another since our civil war”
            This is also false – we’ve been nearly continuously at war with one country or another since our founding. Check out the barbary pirate wars, the quasi war with france, and the war of 1812 just to name a few.
            “Falling in with the mind set that Russia is the Big Evil , only proves that u have been and still ‘R’ brainwashed by the controlling elite”
            LOL – big words from a guy who doesn’t know anything about history or current events.
            “I have since awoken from the original brainwashing , so I have hope for everyone else who has not yet seen the lies perpetuated by the media and those who seek to keep us at war ”
            **Pats MIC on the head** sure you have sweetie. Nice old Uncle Putin just wants to give everyone lollipops and hugs. Now run along and color some more – the adults are having a conversation.

          • Mic

            ‘Nuke ,
            I never said I was a historian . U r obviously much less ignorant than I . That does not make u accurate . False flag campaigns from U.K. , US France , Israel (axis of evil) to name a few , Military presence justified by lies , illeagle occupation of sovern countries by the ‘AofE’ is enough for me to realize that if those countries that r being attacked to do support each other , they will b picked off one by one and puppet leaders/governments installed like Egypt , Lybia , Iraq . TPTB r working very hard to topple Yemen , Syria and soon to b Iran . Who would b next ?
            And as far as adults ,
            Do u mean egotistical , know it all , MEN , with enough Evil in their hearts to justify the banging of war drums for their own personal gain ?
            I still have hope for u .
            Everyone comes to their realizations in their own time .

      • [rabh

        While Russia already has weapon system nuclear sub that deliver 100 megaton Nuclear bomb on U.S. coastline. We are falling behind.

    • AmPatriotSmith

      I agree with you about that. By curbing our nuclear program or conventional program will not stop the Russians or China from curbing theirs.

  • NavySubNuke

    Come on you honestly expect us to believe that an “energy healer” actually makes enough money to pay income tax?
    Let’s try to be serious here.

  • D. Jones

    Concern noted.

  • Real sailor

    It’s time for the American people to put our collective foot down and DEMAND Congress put a stop to Paty Winter’s forum stupidmongering. Maybe it’s time for Congress to arrest those corrupt Fleet Admirals, like Paty Winters, that are bringing this forum to the brink of stupidity, just so that he can pad his own post’s importance with my forum participation.

  • Ed L

    Because we didn’t use the nuclear option on the Soviet Union, England, France in 46, China and North Korea in 49

  • NavySubNuke

    LOL. A little over-sensitive there? No worries – I know you snake oil salesman have to defend your turf aggressively.
    But thank you for not continuing the charade of you actually paying income taxes — doesn’t it feel nice to be honest once in a while?

  • James Bowen

    I don’t understand why they would want to lower the yield of SLBM warheads.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    “just take that warhead and make sure they can qualify”

    It’s amazing how easy things will be if you use the word “just” somewhere in the sales pitch. LOL. I read that on these boards where someone will say “let’s JUST make a frigate out of the LCS”, as if JUST snapping one’s fingers will result in that. (And I’m not picking on the LCS or its advocates with that. Substitute the term LCS with ‘Osprey’, ‘Hornet’, ‘Lightning’, ‘NSC’, etc., and you’ll often see the same kinds of things).

    But seriously here, I find it curious that the ‘leak’ was provided to the Huffington Post. Which ‘side’ benefits from that? Plenty can be read into it. I think some refresher training on nukes will help our forces. Another concern is that no nuke weapon has actually been tested since the early 90s. Recent ‘treaties’ with the Russians resulted in them being able to upgrade and increase and modernize their forces while we had to cut significant numbers of weapons for ‘parity’s’ sake. There’s plenty on the nuke weapon front that has to be addressed. I think the emphasis on Russia is more political theater than anything, in that they appear to be the LAST of our potential enemies who we have to worry about using them. They are not suicidal.