Latest Warship Encounter Brings Russian Protest

Christopher P. Cavas, Defense News6:49 p.m. EDT June 28, 2016

WASHINGTON — The latest Russian-US kerfuffle at sea appears to feature a US warship making a close-in, high-speed pass on a Russian ship — but there may be more to the story than what a one-minute and two-second video shows.

The incident took place June 17 in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and involved the US destroyer Gravely and the Russian frigate Yaroslav Mudry.

In a video posted June 28 on YouTube by the Russian news agency Sputnik, the Gravely is seen coming up on the Mudry’s port, or left, side, on a roughly parallel course. The Gravely then appears to pick up even more speed and maneuver directly ahead of the Russian, pulling away and rocking the frigate with its wake.

“A US destroyer violated international and bilateral agreements by approaching a Russian ship dangerously close this month while it was following its course and didn’t violate any international law standards,” Sputnik wrote in the video’s description.

The Russian Defense Ministry, as reported by Sputnik, described the incident.

“US destroyer Gravely made a close encounter with a Russian warship in the eastern Mediterranean on June 17 at a distance of 60-70 meters [197-229 feet] on the port side and crossed the Yaroslav Mudry’s course along the bow at a dangerous distance of 180 meters [590 feet],” the ministry said.

The incident is the latest in an ongoing series of confrontational military encounters at sea and in the air, and takes place as the US has increased its naval demonstrations in the Mediterranean region.

For the first time in some years, two US Navy carrier strike groups were active at the same time in the Med. On June 2, the carrier Harry S. Truman — whose escorts included the Graveley — passed northbound through the Suez Canal and, on the following day, began combat strikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.  The Truman apparently has wrapped up combat operations and was in port at Souda Bay, Crete last weekend. US officials on Tuesday would not confirm the ship’s location, but she is believed to be preparing to return to the US at the end of a seven-month deployment.

On June 13, the Dwight D. Eisenhower strike group entered the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar at the beginning of a scheduled deployment. After a visit to Naples, Italy, aircraft from the Eisenhower began flying combat strikes against ISIS earlier today.

A US defense official said there was more to the Gravely incident than just what was seen in the video on YouTube. The entire encounter, the official said, lasted more than an hour and took place entirely in international waters.

According to the official, the Gravely was escorting the Truman while the Russian frigate was observing operations and maneuvering too close for comfort to the carrier, restricting the flattop’s freedom of maneuver.

“Gravely was operating astern of Harry S. Truman, and assessed that 777 was intentionally trying to interfere with Harry S. Truman operations,” the official said, referring to the Russian frigate’s side number.

The destroyer maneuvered to place herself between the Yaroslav Mudry and the Truman, but the Russian closed to within 315 yards, the official said.

At that distance, “the interaction was assessed as unsafe,” the official said.

“The interaction was assessed as unprofessional because 777 displayed an international signal for being restricted in her ability maneuver, but then freely maneuvered in both course and speed as Gravely changed course and speed,” the US defense official said. “This demonstrates that 777 was not restricted in their ability to maneuver.”

The official provided a detailed description of the incident:

“777 had raised day shapes “ball-diamond-ball,” which is the international signal a ship displays when restricted in her ability to maneuver, when she took position two nautical miles off Gravely’s starboard quarter.  Then, 777 repeatedly asked Gravely over VHF radio to maintain a safe distance, while 777 continued to maneuver to get closer to Gravely.

“As Gravely changed course and speed, 777 also changed course and speed. The maneuvering demonstrates that 777 was not in fact restricted in her ability to maneuver, and was thus intentionally displaying a false international signal.

“Gravely assessed that 777 was intentionally trying to interfere with Harry S. Truman operations.

“777’s closest point of approach (CPA) was approximately 315 yards to USS Gravely and five nautical miles to USS Harry S. Truman.  The CPAs were closer than previous Russian Federation Navy interactions in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea recently.”

That a maneuvering incident could grow into something more serious remains a danger, the official added.

“We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian ship maneuvers,” said the US defense official. “These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident which results in serious injury or death.”

Earlier this month, the movement of the US destroyer Porter into the Black Sea on June 6 prompted an unusually high level of Russian protest. The US and a number of European navies regularly send ships into the inland sea, where low-level exercises with the navies of Ukraine, Romania and Turkey are the typical activities.

Several media outlets reported that the Russian government threated some sort of unspecified response to the Porter’s visit.

“American warships do enter the Black Sea now and then,” Andrey Kelin, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s European Cooperation Department, told RIA Novosti June 10, Russia Today reported. “Certainly, this does not meet with [Russia’s] approval and will undoubtedly lead to planning response measures.”

The Porter returned to the Mediterranean after 13 days in the Black Sea.

The Porter and Gravely are Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers displacing around 9,000 tons, able to hit speeds more than 32 knots.

The Yaroslav Mudry is a Project 1154 Neustrashimiy-class frigate displacing about 4,200 tons, with a speed of about 30 knots. The ship originally wore the side number 727, but appears to have recently changed to 777.

The Marines will remove the word ‘man’ from these 19 job titles

, Marine Corps Times6:55 p.m. EDT June 27, 2016

Thousands of Marines serving throughout the infantry and in other key positions are about to get new gender-neutral job titles, but the service’s top leaders are pushing to leave the word “man” in some of its most iconic occupations.

In all, the Marine Corps plans to rename 19 of its military occupational specialties, or MOSs, as the result of a months-long review mandated by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. A service-wide message announcing the changes is expected to be published within the next few days.

The terms “rifleman” and “mortarman,” are among those that remain untouched, according to a list — obtained by Marine Corps Times on Monday — of 33 MOSs that were reviewed. And that was by careful design, said a Marine official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Names that were not changed, like rifleman, are steeped in Marine Corps history and ethos,” the official said. “Things that were changed needed to be updated to align with other MOS names.”

In most cases, the word “man” will be replaced by Marine. Those changes are as follows:

  • Basic infantry Marine.
  • Riverine assault craft Marine.
  • Light-armor vehicle Marine.
  • Reconnaissance Marine (to include three other recon-related jobs that include the word “man”).
  • Infantry assault Marine.
  • Basic field artillery Marine.
  • Field artillery fire control Marine.
  • Field artillery sensor support Marine.
  • Fire support Marine.
  • Basic engineer, construction and equipment Marine.
  • Basic tank and assault amphibious vehicle Marine.
  • Armor Marine.
  • Amphibious assault vehicle Marine.
  • Amphibious combat vehicle Marine.

The field artillery operations man MOS is expected to be changed to field artillery operations chief, since that position is typically held by a Marine in the rank of staff sergeant or above.

The anti-tank missileman MOS is the only position that will pick up the word “gunner” in place of “man.”

Others on the list — like manpower officer or vertical takeoff unmanned aerial vehicle specialist — will still include the word “man” because it’s part of a word that doesn’t describe the Marine doing the job.

In addition to the service-wide message that will address the changes, the Marine Corps plans to update its MOS manual, the official said. The full review included more than 33 MOSs, but many weren’t affected because they already include gender-neutral descriptors like “specialist” or “chief.”

Mabus directed the Marine Corps and Navy to review its job titles and descriptions in January, a month after Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that all military jobs would open to women.

“As we achieve full integration of the force … this is an opportunity to update the position titles and descriptions themselves to demonstrate through this language that women are included in these MOSs,” Mabus wrote in a January order to Commandant Gen. Robert Neller. “Please review the position titles throughout the Marine Corps and ensure that they are gender-integrated as well, removing ‘man’ from the titles.”

The Navy’s review has broadened beyond its original mission of removing the word “man” from as many as 21 job titles and rating names. That review could ax newer titles like aircrew survival equipmentman, as well as timeless ones such as corpsman and yeoman — even seaman.

As of late June, no decisions had been made. The Navy has called for a second review of the proposals, a process likely to take a few months.

The move has proved unpopular with many Marines and sailors, with several branding it political correctness run amok.

“We have reached peak crazy,” one reader commented on an earlier story by Marine Corps Times about this topic.

“If a woman isn’t going to consider making the Navy her career because she is called a fireman or a corpsman, then I don’t think she was going to make the Navy a career period,” another reader commented on a Navy Times story. “We don’t need [people who are easily offended] like that clogging up the institutions that protect our country.”

Senior Reporter Mark D. Faram contributed to this report. 

New US Navy Aircraft Carrier Will Launch Fighters Using Electromagnetic Force

By Kris Osborn,, 16 Jun 16

Next year, the Navy plans to use electromagnetic force to launch an F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet up into the sky off of the deck of its emerging next-generation aircraft carrier next year – the USS Gerald R. Ford.

An operational launch of the Navy’s Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, will mark the first time in 60-years that a fighter has shot off of a ship without using the current steam-catapult systems, senior Navy officials have said.

The first EMALS system has been under construction for several years aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, or CVN 78, the first in class of the new carriers.

Ship integration and testing for the EMALS technology will mark a substantial milestone in a program which, until now, has largely been conducting deadload launches off of a ship and land-based flight tests at the Navy facility in Lakehurst, NJ.

Plans for the F/A-18 aboard the Ford come as Navy engineers complete testing and integration of the new electro-magnetic catapult aboard the Ford, Ensign Marc Rockwellpate told Scout Warrior in a statement.

“As part of this test phase, a total of 242 deadload launches were conducted. The EMALS system is now undergoing planned maintenance both aboard ship and at the land-based test site, in Lakehurst, New Jersey, in preparation for CVN 78 delivery.  The first launches with FA-18E/F aircraft from CVN 78 are scheduled in FY17,” he said.

The EMALS system consists of a series of transformers and rectifiers designed to convert and store electrical power through a series of motor generators before brining power to the launch motors on the catapults, Navy officials have explained.

By having an electrical pulse come down, the aircraft is pulled down to the catapult to launch; the precise weight of the aircraft can be dialed in. As the aircraft accelerates the catapult, it can reach the precise speed it needs to launch, Senior Navy officials said.

Unlike steam catapults, which use pressurized steam, a launch valve and a piston to catapult aircraft, EMALS uses a precisely determined amount of electrical energy. As a result, EMALS is designed to more smoothly launch aircraft while reducing stress and wear and tear on the airframes themselves.

On the ship, EMALS will be engineered such that any of the ship’s four catapults will be able to draw power from any one of three energy storage groups on the ship, officials said.

As the catapult troughs for the USS Ford’s EMALS system were being built and integrated with the overall system, the system’s technology has been in the process of extensive testing at a Naval Air Warfare Center facility in Lakehurst, N.J.

The ground-based EMALS catapult tests have launched EA-18G Growlers, F/A-18 Super Hornets, C-2 Greyhound planes and E2D Advanced Hawkeyes, among others. In fact, EMALS even launched an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Lakehurst, Navy officials said.

The USS Ford has been under construction in recent years at Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls.  Equipment for the EMALS system has been in development on board the ship for several years, Navy officials said.

Some of the equipment, such as the motor-generators, are lower in the ship so they had to be part of the super-lift early on, service officials explained.

Metal decking is placed over the trough on the flight deck. Cabling and linear induction motor sections have been installed on board the USS Ford.

The linear motors are engineered to help create a sequentially activated rolling magnetic field or wave able to thrust or propel aircraft forward, Navy program officials explained.

Navy officials said It is the same type of technology used in a rollercoaster designed for critical launch reliability.  An electromagnetic field turns on linear motor sequentially so as not to energize the whole field in one shot, Navy experts added.

The electromagnetic field acts on a large 22-foot long aluminum plate, he added. The aluminum plate runs in between stationary sections of 12-foot long linear motors. Electricity runs through the two sides of the motors, creating an electromagnetic wave.

Aircraft motors are kicked in and then a hydraulic piston pushes a shuttle forward. The shuttle is what connects to the aircraft launch bar, developers explained.

The EMALS system can adjust to different aircraft weights and configurations. For example, EMALS is configured such that it could launch a lighter weight aircraft, such as an unmanned aircraft system.

This is particularly useful because the amount of thrust needed to launch an aircraft depends upon a range of interwoven factors to include size, shape and weight of the aircraft, wind speed on the carrier deck and the speed of the aircraft carrier in the water, Navy program managers said.

EMALs is engineered to support current and future air-wing configurations; it is designed to accommodate a future air wing that requires higher energy launches.

The USS Ford is able to generate 13,800 volts of electrical power, more than three times the 4,160 volts that a Nimitz-class carrier generates, Navy engineers have explained.

The EMALS system is also engineered to work in tandem with the USS Ford’s new Advanced Arresting Gear, or AAG. Unlike the existing hydraulic system used on current aircraft carriers, AAG is a mechanical electrical system with a cable that spins a water twister.

Similar to EMALS, the AAG is also designed to reduce stress on the airframe during the landing process.

Navy’s “Klingon Bird of Prey” Passes Key Tests: LCS Trimaram

on June 15, 2016 at 4:24 PM

The strangest-looking ship in the Navy is conducting two crucial tests. A broad, triple-hulled “trimaran” design likened to a villain’s vessel from Star Trek, theIndependence-class Littoral Combat Ship completed its Initial Operational Test & Evaluation on June 3rd. What’s more, the Navy Sea Systems Command announced yesterday, the USSCoronado (LCS 4) wrapped up IOT&E with its second successful test-firing of SeaRAM, a self-defense system designed to shoot down enemy drones and cruise missiles.

Just days later, sister ship USS Jackson (LCS 6) completed the first of three “full ship shock trials” June 10th, with live explosives going off underwater near the ship. Both shooting down incoming missiles and riding out explosions are critical capabilities for relatively small and inexpensive ships often derided as too fragile to take a hit.

USS Jackson (LCS 6) rides out a nearby explosion during its full-ship shock trials.

So completing these tests is a significant step for the more obscure of the two LCS variants. The Independence ships have been overshadowed by the better-known Freedomclass. (The Freedom-class ship Fort Worth, LCS-3, completed IOT&E back in 2014). WhileFreedom-class LCS have conducteddeployments to Singapore — and suffered high-profile problems like hull cracks andbreakdowns at sea — the Independence ships have largely stuck to home waters, serving as test platforms for the minesweeping equipmentand other “mission modules” that will go on both types.

Indeed, it’s easy to forget that the Littoral Combat Ship is really two distinct designs, each making half of the production run. Odd-numbered ships, starting with LCS-1 Freedom, are built by Lockheed Martin and Wisconsin’s Marinette Marine. Their steel hull and aluminum superstructure that look like a conventional warship’s, albeit with touches inspired by an Italian racing yacht to help it reach high speeds. Even-numbered ships, starting with LCS-2Independence, are built at Austal’s Gulf Coast shipyard. Evolved from Australian high-speed ferries, they’re all-aluminum and they look weird.

LCS-2, USS Independence, followed by LCS-1, USS Freedom, showing the different designs.

“When that thing comes in port, everyone says, ‘What the hell is that?’” Work once said. “It looks like the Klingon Bird of Prey.”

Work has backed the LCS since his time as Navy undersecretary. Back then, he argued that the Navy needed to build both variants because of the different strengths of each design:

  • The sporty Freedoms would be ideal for the tight confines of the Persian Gulf, Work said, where they could nimbly play cat-and-mouse with swarms of Iranian fast attack boats. The Freedom‘s traditional hull also makes it easy to launch and recover inflatable boats — for boarding actions or security sweeps — and unmanned craft off the stern ramp. Finally, Freedom‘s steel hull is also more damage-resistant than theIndependence‘s aluminum.
  • The Independence is much higher off the water, so it must launch and recover subordinate craft with a crane, a much more awkward arrangement. But it’s also much broader, giving it a larger flight deck for helicopters and drones, plus more room for mission equipment, supplies, and fuel below. Work suggested these traits might make the trimarans better suited for the vast reaches of the Pacific.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has also insisted on buying both versions, although his argument has focused on cost. The rival shipyards slashed their prices when the Navy threatened to “downselect” to one, and as long as each yard knows it’s not the Navy’s only option, they’ll keep their bids low. While it’s more logistically efficient to maintain and supply a fleet of identical ships rather than multiple types, the Navy acknowledges, they’re buying so many LCS of each variant that they’ll still get economies of scale.

Both Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and his predecessor Chuck Hagel, however, have ordered the Navy to buy fewer Littoral Combat Ships and select just one shipyard to buildthe upgraded “frigate” version. So while both Austal and Marinette are preparing frigate designs, based on their existing ships, by 2019 the Navy will have to choose between the conventional hull and the Bird of Prey.

LCS-2, USS Independence

After Three-Carrier Swap, USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN-75) Preps for the Yards

By Meghann Myers, Navy Times, 8 Jun 16

ABOARD THE CARRIER GEORGE WASHINGTON, OFF THE NORTH CAROLINA COAST – A year ago, the carrier Theodore Roosevelt took off for a nine-month deployment to the Middle East. Now, 1,700 members of its crew are back in Norfolk aboard this flattop, which came back from seven years in Japan in January, part of an unprecedented swap that sent TR to San Diego and the carrier Ronald Reagan to Japan.

It had been a very long year, crew members told Navy Times during a short underway in April, and many of them were looking forward to the down time as the carrier prepared to start its mid-life refueling in the fall.  “From my standpoint, I try to be as hard-charging as possible when we’re operational,” Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class (SW/AW/IDW) Alejandro Lazo said. “Going into the yards, for the air department, is like a much-needed vacation.”

The three-carrier swap began in March 2015 with TR’s deployment from Norfolk to 5th Fleet. That summer, Reagan made the move from San Diego to Yokosuka, Japan, swapping much of their crews while the commanding officers stayed with the ships.

GW then headed to San Diego, where Roosevelt was completing its deployment and homeport shift to the West Coast. GW then swapped a chunk of its crew again, with TR, before heading down around South America and to Norfolk.

In the end, most sailors ended up staying in their original homeports, unless they volunteered to move or were due for new orders.  The transition wasn’t necessarily welcome, Electrician’s Mate (Nuclear) 1st Class (SW) Justin Burk told Navy Times, who moved his wife to Norfolk before GW left Japan.  “The deployment around South America was really long,” he said. “It was really hard throwing her to Virginia and having her on her own.”  But he reports to electrician’s mate ‘A’ school to be an instructor in July, so he was due to come back stateside anyway, he added.

While sailors and their families are settling in, GW leadership is gearing up for the multi-year availability at Newport News Shipbuilding.  “Our focus will shift from the warfighting mentality to maintenance,” training officer Lt. Cmdr. Shaina Hogan said. “Our ship is old. Let’s pause on the big mission and take care of her.”  Hogan’s focus will be taking care of her sailors in the professional sense, making sure that they stay proficient in their jobs while they spend the next few years out of the deployment cycle.  That includes sending some of them on temporary active duty to other ships to work on qualifications, she said, and if they can swing it, sending them on deployment.

“We also intend on letting a lot of sailors focus on college and other off-duty schools,” she said.

Staying on track – Many of the crew are preparing for their first experience in the yards, but some who transferred from TR are doing back-to-back periods, as that carrier came out of its refueling and complex overhaul in late 2013.  “Coming back from the yards is kind of a difficult time, because you’re not doing your job for a long time,” said Master-at-Arms 2nd Class (SW) Nichole Lowery. “As far as this time, I already know what to expect.”

To keep the crew focused and out of trouble for the next few years, Command Master Chief (SW/AW/NAC/IDW) James Tocorzic said he’s focusing on “sailorization” programs – like sponsoring, petty officer associations and Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions – during his first experience with an overhaul.  “We’ve got to find a way to keep people positively engaged in their professional and personal growth, and not to let that shipyard mentality – where they feel like they’re not part of the Navy – creep in,” he said.

Though leaders at every level are concentrating on keeping their sailors proficient, the other piece of getting through a yard period is keeping everyone out of trouble with more free time on their hands.  That would be important for any transition, Tocorzic said, but he is particularly concerned because his crew has been through so much upheaval in the past year.  “When you do a swap of this magnitude, those things are going to drop off,” he said. “We identify that. I know it’s taken place.”

The CMC is dealing with a mash-up of sailors, who are trying to meld the established workflow and routines from two carriers into one crew.  “The legacy GW sailors – it’s probably more difficult for them, because they’re the stakeholders for George Washington, and then suddenly two-thirds of the people they know are gone,” he said.  On the other side, the cohort of TR sailors checked in all at once.  “For any sailor, when they PCS from one command to another, there’s an anxiety – there’s an unknown,” Tocorzic said. “So now you have to take that and multiply it by 1,700 sailors that came over with me from the Theodore Roosevelt.”

Rather than make them all go to their individual departments to check in, the command’s leadership tried to make things more personal and convenient.  “We set it up with tables in the hangar bay, so the sailors who transferred over only have to make one stop,” he said, and at the end of check-in, Tocorzic and executive officer Capt. Kenneth Strong were there to shake sailors’ hands and give them their GW ball caps.

Tocorzic also took on GW’s CSADD program, which was top-rated.  “It’s a group of sailors between 18 to 25 years old – which are the ones that always concerns me – not necessarily as a disciplinary thing, because those are the future leaders,” he said.  His hope is that with enough mentorship and training opportunities, his sailors will stay busy and productive.

He also has a pet project, inspired by a recent data call that included answers from female sailors on why they choose to stay in or leave the Navy.

“I’m looking at trying to start something up with our female senior officers and enlisted,” he said. “I want to try to find a way – and this is all in my head right now – to show our junior female sailors that you can manage a family and be a professional sailor at the same time.”  Statistically, women in the Navy get out at twice the rate of men, particularly before they reach senior ranks. The classic answer, Tocorzic said, is that they’re getting out to devote more time to their marriages and children, but he wants to encourage them to reconsider staying in.  “You don’t have to stop that professional growth to go start a family,” he said. “You can do both.”

Analysis: It’s Time for a Reexamination of Nuclear Weapons Requirements

The $350 billion price tag for modernizing the United States’ nuclear arsenal has been a topic of endless debate in Washington. The funds would be spent over the coming decade to bring the nation’s nuclear triad up to date — the bombers, the submarines, the ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and the warheads.

Little to no discussion has focused on the larger issue of how many weapons and what technologies are needed to support the nation’s strategic nuclear deterrence, analysts said. The Obama administration for a time was interested in pushing that conversation to the fore, but clashes with Congress over federal spending and the passage of the Budget Control Act in 2011 completely shifted the course of the nuclear weapons debate.

“Now the discussion is that we can’t afford the weapons,” said Amy Woolf, nuclear weapons policy specialist at the Congressional Research Service. “The conversation of requirements, roles and missions was replaced by a budget conversation,” she said in a presentation at an Arms Control Association conference. Woolf said her views are her own and was not speaking on behalf of CRS.

Obama, like other U.S. presidents before him, talked about how the world would be better off with fewer atomic weapons. In a 2009 speech in Prague, he called for “concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.” The soaring rhetoric later gave way to the political realities of a hostile U.S. Congress and a defiant Russia.

If there were any serious plans to engage in an arms control debate, they were permanently sidelined when Congress passed the BCA, said Woolf. Even though nuclear weapons make up just 5 percent of the defense budget, the spending cuts imposed by Congress set off a scramble at the Pentagon to identify programs that may have to be delayed or terminated. The costs associated with the nuclear triad became a bone of contention, as Pentagon officials and lawmakers warned about the financial burden this places on the Defense Department at a time when the military is trying to modernize its aging conventional weapon systems.

The next administration may want to turn the attention back to requirements, Woolf said. “If you continue the discussion to be about the cost, there will not be any progress in nuclear reductions.”

The U.S. nuclear modernization plan as it stands today will not break the Pentagon, said Andrew Weber, who served as assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs during the Obama administration. These expenses could reasonably be absorbed with some minor adjustments to quantities and schedules, he said at the Arms Control Association conference.

But Weber said Obama in his final months in office has an opportunity to leave his mark by slowing down or terminating the more destabilizing portions of the nuclear modernization program such as a new cruise missile.

“Our deterrence is on a good path,” he said. Under Obama, the “neglect of the previous decade has been reversed.”

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration is producing an upgraded W76-1 warhead to be deployed on Navy submarines, to replace the Cold War era W76-0. The new warhead is in full production and will be finished by 2019. “The heart of our deterrence, the sea leg, will be in very good shape,” said Weber.

The NNSA also is refurbishing the W88 warhead for sea launched ballistic missiles, and making significant upgrades to command and control systems, Weber said.

The Pentagon is on a path to start buying the new B-21 stealth bomber and a modern submarine to replace the Ohio class. There are still questions about how many are needed, but the programs are funded, and the Pentagon may have to make some tradeoffs to fit them under the spending limits set by Congress. “Do we need 60 bombers, 100 bombers?” Weber asked. “That’s a discussion worth having.” If the Pentagon had bought 60 B-2s in the 1990s — instead of truncating the program at 21 — the Air Force would have been able to retire the B-52 and the nuclear-tipped cruise missile known as ALCM. In hindsight, Weber said, it may have been wiser to build more B-2s as the START II force structure calls for 60 nuclear capable bombers.

Weber has joined former Defense Secretary Bill Perry as a vocal opponent of the ALCM and its planned replacement — known as the long-range strike option, or LRSO — a weapon that they argue is unnecessary for deterrence and more likely than any other to set off a nuclear Armageddon.

Perry warned that newer weapons that have lower yields and higher accuracies create “dangerous assumptions.” There is a growing risk of nuclear escalation, Perry said in a recent interview with Vice News. “The danger of nuclear catastrophe is bigger now than during the Cold War and the public is blissfully unaware.”

Ending the LRSO program would be “low hanging fruit” in the nuclear requirements debate, said Weber. Nuclear-armed cruise missiles are destabilizing and viewed around the world as disasters waiting to happen, he added.

Once the B-21 starts replacing B-52 bombers in about 15 years, the ALCM would be taken out of the inventory as it only flies on the B-52. If the LRSO is produced, the United States would have a penetrating nuclear missile combined with a penetrating bomber, Weber said. “It’s more than we need, frankly.” If Obama allows the LRSO to reach milestone A in the Pentagon procurement process and become a program of record, it will be “very hard to stop,” he said. “The president should put a one-year delay on the program and leave it for the next administration to consider in the next nuclear posture review.”

There are other options to fill the LRSO standoff delivery mission, Weber said. The new B61-12 gravity bomb “gives our air leg a formidable part of the deterrent without replacing the ALCM,” said Weber. He cautioned that this would not be a “disarmament step, but investing in what we need to have a sustainable air leg.” The B61-12 has a smaller warhead but has guidance electronics to target more accurately. “This is accuracy our nuclear bombs have never had,” Weber said.

The president should cancel the LRSO program and work with other countries on a treaty to prohibit nuclear-armed cruse missiles, said Weber. The Pentagon’s mission would not be affected, he suggested, because the Air Force is procuring a conventional air-launched standoff cruise missile called JASSM ER.

The Obama administration is “trying to determine what capabilities we have to maintain in the stockpile and delivery systems so we can maintain a credible deterrence that can sustain itself in the coming decades,” said the president’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes in remarks at the Arms Control Association conference.

“We are looking at ways to reduce the risk of an inadvertent catastrophe,” Rhodes said. But he acknowledged that a treaty to ban nuclear-armed cruise missiles would be difficult, as those weapons are the ones “other nuclear states are least inclined to accept restrictions.”

Weber said Obama or his successor could retire weapons nobody talks about, like the B83 gravity bomb. “It has a yield of over one megaton. It has no legitimate use today,” he said. And keeping the aging bombs around costs $30 million to $40 million a year. Over time “it adds up to real money,” said Weber. “We don’t need nuclear weapons in the megaton plus range of yield.”

The ICBM piece of the force would be relatively easy to streamline, he said. “We’ve already done the work. We know we can retire a wing, go down to 300 without having to impact our nuclear deterrent.” Like other decisions related to nuclear forces, this one would a political hard sell, but not impossible. “I would close the wing at Minot Air Force Base” in North Dakota, he said. That would not require closing the base because B-52s in active service are stationed there.

One of two warheads in the ICBM could be eliminated, Weber added. The W87 is in “good shape,” and an argument could be made to not replace the W78.

Woolf said these are tough calls in a deeply divided government and in the face of an aggressive Russia. Nonetheless, the nuclear debate can’t be solely about the cost, she said. The nuclear forces have to be modernized even if that requires some compromises over other Pentagon programs. “In the nuclear program, things are getting old. Old stuff will introduce risk. Upgrading 30-year old missiles is costly,” she said. “If you delay, you introduce risk. We don’t structure nuclear forces according to budget arithmetic. Maintaining deterrence requirements is the key.”

If the verdict is that the current nuclear program is unaffordable, then the president should revisit the requirements, and then change the budget, Woolf said.

Defense analyst Evan Montgomery, of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the world is now in the midst of a “second nuclear age,” one that is arguably more complex and potentially more volatile than the bipolar U.S.–Soviet struggle of the Cold War. In a recent CSBA study, Montgomery explained: “Not only does the United States still need to worry about maintaining strategic stability with a nuclear peer, albeit one possessing far fewer weapons than it did in the past, but it must also manage a number of other existing and emerging challenges: the proliferation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems to fragile nations, the expansion of nuclear arsenals by minor powers and aspiring major powers, and the pursuit of capabilities that are lowering the barriers to nuclear use and eroding the ‘firebreak’ between conventional and nuclear conflict.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that from 2015 to 2024, the administration’s plans for nuclear forces would cost $348 billion. Of that, $299 billion would be budgeted by the Defense and Energy Departments for strategic nuclear delivery systems and weapons ($160 billion), tactical nuclear delivery systems and weapons ($8 billion), nuclear weapons laboratories and their supporting activities ($79 billion) and nuclear-related command, control, communications, and early-warning systems ($52 billion). The remaining $49 billion is for additional costs that would be incurred over the coming decade if the growth rates for the nuclear program’s costs are similar to the average growth rates for similar programs in the past.

CBO said the costs of nuclear forces represent roughly 5 percent to 6 percent of the total costs of the administration’s plans for national defense for the next 10 years.

Like Obama, the next president will face a tough balancing act. The world appears to not want to denuclearize, according to the latest data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “While the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world continues to decline, none of the nuclear weapon-possessing states are prepared to give up their nuclear arsenals for the foreseeable future,” said a new SIPRI report.

Nine states — the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — possess approximately 4,120 operationally deployed nuclear weapons. If all nuclear warheads are counted, these states combined have a total of approximately 15,395 nuclear weapons.

The United States and Russia account for more than 93 percent of all nuclear weapons. “Despite the implementation of the bilateral Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START) since 2011, the pace of their reductions remains slow,” the report said. Both the United States and Russia have extensive nuclear modernization programs under way. “The ambitious U.S. modernization plan presented by the Obama administration is in stark contrast to President Barack Obama’s pledge to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and the role they play in U.S. national security strategy,” said SIPRI analyst Hans Kristensen.

The report said China appears to be gradually increasing its nuclear forces, India and Pakistan are both expanding their stockpiles and missile delivery capabilities. North Korea is estimated to have enough fissile material for approximately 10 nuclear warheads.

“Despite the ongoing reduction in the number of weapons, the prospects for genuine progress towards nuclear disarmament remain gloomy,” said Shannon Kile, head of the SIPRI nuclear weapons project. “All the nuclear weapon-possessing states continue to prioritize nuclear deterrence as the cornerstone of their national security strategies.”

Photo: Defense Dept.

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