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June 2, 2022
Shannon Bugos

Congress Endorses New Nuclear Weapon

January/February 2024
By Shannon Bugos

Congress authorized $260 million for a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) for fiscal year 2024, despite the Biden administration’s clear desire not to pursue the weapon’s development.

U.S. representatives, from left, Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.), Laurel Lee (R-Fla.), and Mike Collins (R-Ga.), attend the House and Senate conference committee markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024 on Capitol Hill on Nov. 29. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)The administration did not request any funding for the nuclear SLCM in 2023 or 2024 because it assessed that the weapon has only “marginal utility” and would “impede investment in other priorities.” (See ACT, May and November 2023.) But for the second consecutive year, Congress overrode the Pentagon’s decision due to a majority of lawmakers viewing the SLCM as critical in the current nuclear environment.

The fiscal year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizes $190 million for the missile and $70 million for its associated warhead.

The topline NDAA came in at $874 billion, a 3 percent increase from the 2023 NDAA. The grand total for national defense, which includes additional national discretionary defense spending that falls outside of the NDAA, is $886 billion.

The Senate passed the NDAA in an 87-13 vote on Dec. 13, followed by the House in a 310-118 vote on Dec. 14. President Joe Biden signed the NDAA into law on Dec. 23.

On Dec. 8, Congress unveiled the final version of the NDAA, which resolved differences between the respective House and Senate versions of the legislation passed in June.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) lambasted the final version of the NDAA because it no longer included an amendment that would have expanded the law compensating people who were exposed to radiation due to U.S. nuclear testing and production, known as downwinders, to additional states, extended the law for 19 years, and added coverage to uranium workers and Missouri communities harmed by discarded Manhattan Project nuclear waste.

Hawley was one of six Republican senators who voted against the NDAA’s final passage. The amendment’s exclusion is “a betrayal of the tens of thousands of Americans made sick by their government’s nuclear waste who have relied on this program for life-saving help,” Hawley said on Dec. 8, referring to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). With this amendment, Hawley’s state of Missouri, along with Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, and Guam, would have been added to RECA, which currently covers people who resided in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah during the years when nuclear testing took place.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), a co-sponsor of the amendment, told The Hill on Dec. 8, “We cannot turn a blind eye to those who sacrificed for our national security.”

Overall, Congress fulfilled the Biden administration’s 2024 budget requests for nuclear weapons-related programs and activities, with some adjustments.

Lawmakers authorized $4.3 billion for continued research and development and initial procurement of the new Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system, which reflects a slight decrease of 0.2 percent from the request. The Air Force aims to purchase a total of about 650 Sentinel ICBMs and deploy 400 of them to replace Minuteman III ICBMs.

Bloomberg reported on Dec. 14 that the Air Force may have to assess whether the Sentinel project should be canceled as a result of major unexpected cost increases. One estimate suggests that the project may cost as much as 50 percent more than its projected $96 billion.

The Pentagon on Oct. 30 awarded Lockheed Martin a nearly $1 billion sole-source contract to provide a new reentry vehicle to carry the W87-1 warhead for the Sentinel system by 2039.

The Air Force conducted a routine test of an unarmed Minuteman III on Nov. 1, but the test culminated in intentional destruction of the test ICBM over the Pacific Ocean due to an unspecified “anomaly” during the launch.

For the Air Force, Congress also authorized $5.3 billion for R&D and construction of the B-21 Raider dual-capable strategic bomber and $958 million, a $20 million decrease from the request, for the new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile, known as the Long-Range Standoff Weapons (LRSO) system. Over the coming years, the Air Force plans to buy a total of about 100 bombers and 1,000 missiles.

The B-21 bomber, unveiled a year ago, had its highly anticipated first flight test on Nov. 10 in California.

For the Navy, Congress authorized $6.1 billion for R&D and procurement of what ultimately will be a fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, a $10 million increase from the request. As planned, this will allow for the purchase of one submarine in 2024, the second submarine of the fleet.

The Army does not have a nuclear weapons program, but has been developing a conventional, ground-launched midrange missile, a capability previously prohibited under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which ended in 2019 after the United States withdrew from the agreement. This capability, known as the Typhon system, features modified Standard Missile-6 and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Congress authorized the requested $170 million for the purchase of 58 new Block V Tomahawk missiles, as well as $32 million for continued R&D.

Although the Pentagon handles nuclear weapons delivery systems, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) maintains and develops the nuclear warheads.

The NNSA asked in October to amend its 2024 budget request to account for its unanticipated decision to develop an additional variant of the B61 nuclear gravity bomb. (See ACT, December 2023.) Congress granted the request for $52 million for developmental engineering activities for the new variant, the B61-13.

The Pentagon hopes that the B61-13 variant will help catalyze the retirement process of the B83 megaton gravity bomb, which some lawmakers have resisted, believing the B83 to be necessary to target hard and deeply buried targets.

Congress authorized the NNSA requests for the B61-12 gravity bomb, the W87-1 ICBM warhead, the W80 LRSO warhead, and the new controversial W93 submarine-launched ballistic missile programs at $450 million, $1.1 billion, $1 billion, and $390 million, respectively. Lawmakers authorized the requested $1.8 billion for plutonium-pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a $142 million increase to a total of $1.1 billion for plutonium-pit production at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

In addition, Congress authorized the Biden administration’s request for $351 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which endeavors to counter threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as the coronavirus.

Although the NDAA provides the approval for federal defense spending, no money actually can be spent until Congress also passes and the president signs the relevant defense and energy and water appropriations legislation. So far, no appropriations legislation has reached the president’s desk.

Congress authorized $260 million for a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile for fiscal year 2024, despite the Biden administration’s clear desire not to pursue the weapon’s development.

Congress Eliminates ARRW System Funding

January/February 2024
By Shannon Bugos

As anticipated, Congress discontinued funding for the U.S. Air Force flagship hypersonic weapons program, the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW).

After a string of testing failures since 2021 and the cancellation of ARRW system procurement earlier this year, Congress zeroed out the Biden administration’s request for $150 million for the hypersonic boost-glide system in the fiscal year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act. (See ACT, May and November 2023.)

The Air Force intends to shift its focus instead to its Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile program, for which Congress authorized the requested $382 million.

Congress also reduced the procurement budget for the Navy’s hypersonic boost-glide system, Conventional Prompt Strike, by 33 percent as the full requested amount of $341 million was “early to need,” according to budget documents. Lawmakers ultimately authorized $256 million for procurement and $901 million for continued research and development.

The other Navy hypersonic weapons program, the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare Increment II, was authorized at $92 million, a relatively slight decrease of 4 percent from the request.

Meanwhile, Congress authorized the requested $944 million for continued R&D and $157 million for procurement of the Army Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) system, known as Dark Eagle, despite recent testing setbacks. Less than 10 days after a canceled LRHW test, the Army acknowledged that it would not meet the 2023 deployment goal.


The move to discontinue the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon was expected after a string of testing failures. 

Russian Weapons Transfer Said Complete

January/February 2024

Russia completed the transfer of some of its tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus in October, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko disclosed on Dec. 25.

The tactical nuclear warheads were delivered “a long time ago,” Lukashenko said while attending an economic meeting in St. Petersburg, according to Tass, the Russian news agency. “At the beginning of October. Everything is in its place and in good condition.” Russia and Belarus first struck the deal to transfer Russian tactical nuclear weapons in June 2022 and formalized it in May 2023. Belarus said that it finished retrofitting about 10 Russian-made Su-25 fighter jets in service with its air force for the warheads in August 2022 and completed training Belarusian crews for the nuclear mission in April 2023. (See ACT, May 2023.)

The transfer of Russian tactical nuclear weapons began in the June-July time frame, according to the two countries. Lukashenko gave no details about how many weapons were transferred or where exactly they were deployed, The Associated Press reported.

Although Belarus will host the weapons, Russia has said that Russian President Vladimir Putin will retain control over their potential use.—SHANNON BUGOS

Russian Weapons Transfer Said Complete

U.S. to Develop Unanticipated New Nuclear Bomb

December 2023
By Shannon Bugos

The U.S. Defense Department unexpectedly announced its intention to develop an additional variant of the B61 nuclear gravity bomb, to be known as the B61-13.

Technicians test load a new nuclear-capable B61-12 gravity bomb for the B-2 Spirit bomber at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, in 2022. The U.S. Defense Department unexpectedly announced on October 27 its intention to develop a new variant of the B61 weapons system, to be called the B61-13. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Devan Halstead)“Today’s announcement is reflective of a changing security environment and growing threats from potential adversaries,” said John Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy, in an Oct. 27 statement. “The United States has a responsibility to continue to assess and field the capabilities we need to credibly deter and, if necessary, respond to strategic attacks, and assure our allies.”

The Pentagon acknowledged its hope that the B61-13 variant would help catalyze the stagnant retirement process of the B83 megaton gravity bomb.

“The B61-13 will provide the President with additional options against certain harder and large-area military targets, even while the department works to retire legacy systems such as the B83-1,” according to a Pentagon fact sheet.

Members of Congress have strongly resisted retiring the B83, claiming the largest bomb in the U.S. nuclear arsenal at 1.2 megatons is necessary to target hard and deeply buried targets. (See ACT, November 2023.) The Trump administration contributed to this resistance with the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, which called for retaining the B83 bomb, rather than proceeding with its planned retirement. (See ACT, March 2018.)

But the Biden administration aims to follow through on the retirement of the B83. The megaton-class bomb is “of increasingly limited utility, and retiring it does not change the hard and deeply buried target set,” Plumb told Congress last year.

“The case for the B61-13 is strange,” assessed the Federation of American Scientists in an Oct. 27 blog post. “For the past 13 years, the sales pitch for the expensive B61-12 has been that it would replace all other nuclear gravity bombs,” as well as “cover all gravity missions with less collateral damage than large-yield bombs.”

The B61-13 would be deliverable by modern aircraft and have a maximum yield similar to the 360-kiloton B61-7 variant, a massive increase when compared to the most recent 50-kiloton B61-12. The B61-12 is scheduled for initial deployment this year, replacing the 100 B61-3/4 bombs believed to be stationed across Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey under the NATO nuclear sharing mission.

The Defense Department emphasized that the B61-13 would not increase the overall size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. “The number of B61-12s to be produced will be lowered by the same amount as the number of B61-13s produced,” according to the Pentagon fact sheet.

In an Oct. 24 letter to Congress, the Energy Department officially requested to amend its fiscal year 2024 budget request to cover development engineering activities for the B61-13.

Whether the request will be granted remains to be seen because Congress has yet to pass the necessary legislation to fund any department for all of fiscal year 2024.

The Defense Department unexpectedly announced plans to develop a new variant of the B61 nuclear gravity bomb.

Russia Mulls U.S. Arms Control Proposal

December 2023
By Shannon Bugos

Russia said it will consider and respond to the formal written arms control proposal from the United States, which announced the proposal in June but did not transmit it until September.

A Russian RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is shown in Moscow during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in May. Russia says it is considering a U.S. proposal for new nuclear arms control negotiations. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)The Wall Street Journal first reported on Nov. 1 that Washington sent Moscow a proposal in September. A senior Biden administration official told the newspaper that the United States awaits a response but hopes to initiate “a conversation on what a framework after New START could look like,” referring to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expiring in 2026.

The proposal reflected U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s speech in June at the Arms Control Association annual meeting and “added additional details,” Pranay Vaddi, senior director for arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation at the U.S. National Security Council, told the Russian newspaper Kommersant on Nov. 3. (See ACT, July/August 2023.)

“Russia has not responded to it, but [Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei] Ryabkov said Russian authorities are working on a response,” Vaddi added.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has expressed skepticism that Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control talks would occur. “Dialogue is unequivocally necessary,” he said on Nov. 8. “But so far, the actual situation has not changed in any way.” Moscow repeatedly has stated that, as a precursor to any nuclear arms control talks, Washington must first withdraw support from Ukraine. (See ACT, April 2023.)

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have boasted about having what they called a superior Russian nuclear arsenal. No one “in their right mind would consider using nuclear weapons against Russia,” Putin said on Oct. 5.

A month later, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev touted that, “[f]or the first time in the history of the existence of nuclear weapons, our country is ahead of its competitors in the [nuclear] domain.”

Russia launched its annual nuclear exercise, known as Grom, on Oct. 25, but it proved relatively scaled down compared to exercises in previous years.

“Putin led a training exercise that involved the forces and resources of the ground, sea, and air components of Russia’s nuclear deterrence forces,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

“The exercise included practical launches of ballistic and cruise missiles,” it added.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that this year’s exercise involved “delivering a massive nuclear strike by strategic offensive forces in response to an enemy nuclear strike.”

Meanwhile, NATO held its annual exercise for 10 days beginning Oct. 16. Known as Steadfast Noon, the exercise included the participation of 13 allied countries and more than 60 aircraft taking part in training flights over Italy, Croatia, and the Mediterranean Sea.

“The exercise involves fighter aircraft capable of carrying nuclear warheads, but does not involve any live bombs,” the alliance said in a statement on Oct. 13. “The exercise is not linked to current world events and the bulk of the training is held at least 1,000 kilometers from Russia’s borders.”

After the exercises ended, Shoigu warned of “the threat of a direct military clash between nuclear powers,” laying blame on the United States for its “steady escalation” of conflict and its destruction of “the foundations of international security and strategic stability,” including arms control agreements.

Russia said it will respond to the formal written U.S. arms control proposal, which was announced in June but was not transmitted until September.

Russia Withdraws Ratification of Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

In an unprecedented move, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially rescinded Russia’s ratification of the treaty banning nuclear test explosions anywhere in the world Nov. 2. Russia’s ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ( CTBT ) and the U.S. failure to ratify the treaty “created an imbalance” between the two countries, “which is unacceptable in the current international situation,” said the Kremlin in a statement that day. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded that “Russia’s action will only serve to set back confidence in the international arms control regime...

Congress Aims to Fund Nuclear Weapon Opposed by Biden

November 2023
By Shannon Bugos

For the second consecutive year, Congress is poised to fund the development of a new U.S. nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) despite the Biden administration’s effort to end the controversial program.

Senator Deb Fischer (D-Neb.) and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) are among the lawmakers opposing the Biden administration in arguing that the low-yield nuclear sea-launched cruise missile “fills the gap” in the U.S. tactical nuclear arsenal. (Photo from the Office of Senator Deb Fischer)Since Congress staved off a government shutdown with a continuing resolution in September, the House and Senate have continued to iron out differences in their respective versions of the fiscal year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House version allocates $260 million and the Senate $265 million for the development of the missile and its associated warhead, suggesting that the final version likely will reflect something similar.

The Biden administration did not request any funding for the SLCM in 2024. (See ACT, May 2023.) The missile “has marginal utility and would impede investment in other priorities,” the White House said in a policy statement in July. “The [United States] has sufficient current and planned capabilities for deterring an adversary’s limited nuclear use through conventional and nuclear armaments.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, similarly has emphasized that the program would walk “us down a path of spending enormous amounts of money on a capability that we don’t really need,” according to a June 21 article in Defense News.

But other lawmakers view the SLCM as essential to U.S. national security. “The nuclear threat environment is changing rapidly,” stated Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), chair of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, in defense of the SLCM in the same Defense News story. “We must adjust our nuclear posture.”

Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Angus King (I-Maine) argued in an op-ed in The Washington Post in September that the low-yield nuclear SLCM “fills th[e] gap” in the U.S. tactical nuclear arsenal and “can be a critical part of maintaining the credible deterrent that has protected us all these years.”

In 2023 the Biden administration also did not request funds for the nuclear SLCM, although Congress ultimately authorized a total of $45 million for the development of the missile and its warhead. (See ACT, January/February 2023.)

Another Biden administration policy decision that the House and Senate have pushed back on is the retirement of the megaton B83 gravity bomb fleet by limiting funds until the completion of a related report mandated in 2023. The B83 fleet was slated for retirement until the Trump administration indefinitely postponed it in 2019, and now the Biden administration aims to resume the initial retirement plans. (See ACT, April 2019.)

The House passed its NDAA on July 14, and the Senate passed its version on July 27. The September continuing resolution will keep the government open through Nov. 17.

In addition to reconciling their respective versions of the NDAA, the two chambers are working to pass 12 appropriations bills. Although the NDAA authorizes funding, the defense and energy and water appropriations bills allow actual spending on nuclear weapons-related programs and activities.

Some lawmakers argue that the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile “fills the gap” in the U.S. tactical nuclear arsenal.

UK May Host U.S. Nuclear Weapons Again

October 2023
By Shannon Bugos

The United Kingdom may host U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory for the first time since their complete withdrawal 15 years ago, a move that Russia stated would escalate already high nuclear tensions in Europe.

If the United States redeploys nuclear weapons to the United Kingdom for the first time in 15 years, they would be in addition to the 225 nuclear warheads that the UK has available for its submarine-launched ballistic missiles such as the Trident ballistic missile on this Vanguard class submarine. (Photo by Thomas McDonald courtesy of the UK Ministry of Defence)U.S. Air Force budget documents for fiscal year 2024 revealed plans for the construction of a dormitory at Royal Air Force Lakenheath that will be needed to handle “the influx of airmen due to the arrival of the potential Surety mission,” according to an analysis by Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists on Aug. 28. The United States often employs the term “surety” when referring to the safety and security of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova denounced the potential move on Sept. 5, saying that “[i]f this step is ever taken, we will view it as escalation, as a step that would take things in a direction that is quite opposite to addressing the pressing issue of pulling all nuclear weapons out of European countries.” Meanwhile, Russia purportedly has been transferring tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus.

The UK nuclear arsenal consists of an estimated 225 nuclear warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The U.S. nuclear weapons that potentially are headed for the UK most likely would be B61-12 gravity bombs.

Currently, the United States is believed to deploy an estimated 100 B61gravity bombs across five other European countries—Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey—under the NATO nuclear sharing mission. Washington withdrew an estimated 110 B61 bombs from Lakenheath in 2008.

A spokesperson for the UK Defense Ministry told The Guardian on Aug. 29 that “it remains a long-standing UK and NATO policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons at a given location.”

Kristensen and Korda offered a possible explanation for what looks like the return of U.S. nuclear weapons to the UK, suggesting that perhaps “the United States is currently preparing the infrastructure at RAF Lakenheath to allow the base to potentially receive nuclear weapons in the future or in the midst of a crisis, without necessarily having already decided to permanently station them there or increase the number of weapons currently stored in Europe.”

Marion Messmer of Chatham House in the UK suggested another interpretation. “There has also been a fairly sensitive discussion since the coup attempt in Turkey in 2016, and the long-running civil war in Syria, over whether the nuclear weapons which are assumed to be stationed in Turkey are safe there,” she told Arms Control Today on Sept. 19. “So, another potential explanation for this investment in Lakenheath might be that when the nuclear weapons are next going to be serviced, they won’t be replaced in Turkey, and will instead be stationed in the UK.”

Plans call for the dormitory construction to begin in June 2024 and finish in February 2026. The 2024 budget allotted $50 million for the project. Meanwhile, NATO is overseeing infrastructure and security upgrades at nuclear weapons storage sites in Europe, including Lakenheath, according to 2023 budget documents.

The activities at Lakenheath coincide with the anticipated arrival in Europe this year of new B61-12 bombs, which are replacing the B61-3/4 bombs, and amid the phased delivery of the nuclear-capable F-35A Lightning II jets to a U.S. Air Force squadron stationed at the UK base. The first aircraft of a planned 24 arrived in December 2021.

Russia said the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom for the first time in 15 years would escalate tensions.

Three Months Later, Still No U.S. Arms Control Proposal to Russia

The United States has yet to send a formal written arms control proposal to Russia, three months after U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan first outlined the Biden administration’s strategy and suggested arms control talks in a June address. “We discussed [Sullivan’s speech] verbally several times at various levels,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov acknowledged in a Sept. 6 interview with Kommersant . But Moscow has yet to receive the proposal “on paper,” he added, ascribing it to the “extremely sporadic and unsystematic” approach to arms control by the Biden...


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