Pentagon moving ahead with new low-yield nuclear weapon, in the midst of the resurgent debate

File photo – Airmen of the 90th Missile Maintenance Squadron prepare a reentry system for the removal of a spectacle, Feb. 2, 2018, in the F. E. Warren Air Force Base missile complex.
(U. S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Braydon Williams)

Despite a resurgence in the debate about the rationale for adding a new low-yield nuclear weapons, the Pentagon weapons developers are maintaining the current development course for the new program. Earlier this year, DoD nuclear weapons experts completed initial design plans for several emerging low-yield sea-launched nuclear weapons intended for potential attackers to scare them off and adding new precision strike options that currently possible with the existing arsenal.

While the final attainment levels for both low-yield sea-launched nuclear cruise missiles and long-range sub-launched low-yield warhead are still in development, the Pentagon said Warrior Maven earlier this year that the process has a number of substantial new steps forward.

“The Nuclear Weapons of the Council met and approved the draft plan forward. The NWC agreed with the National Nuclear Security Administration to begin the development of scope, schedule and cost for this activity,” Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told the Warrior Maven earlier this year.

The quote of the administrations Nuclear Posture Review earlier this year, Baldanza said a new set of identified “low yield requirements” is “is currently being used as a basis for the study of the work and as the basis for the program.”

The new lower yield nuclear weapons are intended to provide command authorities with a wider range of attack options, they also have no need to potential opponents in danger in the midst of high-threat confrontations, Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Congress earlier this year.

A lot of the particular technical configurations are still to be determined, but the Pentagon planners have sketched a first outline of what these weapons, Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project, Federation of American Scientists, told the Warrior Maven.

One of the proposed options, he explained, might involve a first-of-its-kind, low-yield option in which a other warhead would be configured on existing nuclear-armed Trident II D5 submarine launched nuclear missiles. A low return is as it sounds – a smaller, more surgical and less destructive than most nuclear weapons.

“Currently, there are more than 1000 nuclear warheads in OUR arsenal have low-yield options. A yield is considered low if the 20 kt or less”, an essay by the Federation of American Scientists states.

The Trident, which is currently launched from ballistic missile submarines, carrying a W-76 thermonuclear warhead to run in a Mk-4 re-entry vehicle. The in the first place functioned in the years ‘ 80, a Cold War weapon, and has since been upgraded many times.

“The Trident can be adjusted for the “low-yield” due “to turn off or preferably replacement of the uranium canned sub-assembly, only the primary – the plutonium-trigger – explodes with the relatively limited yield of 5-6 tons,” Kristensen explained. “That’s a lot less complicated than building an entirely new nuclear warhead.”

(An essay of the “Arms Control Association” describes a canned sub-assembly and the secondary part of a nuclear explosive package consists of uranium and lithium deuteride. Plutonium is used during the primary phase)

The main advantage of this kind of weapon is that the offer of a yet-to-exist long-range low-yield sea-launched weapon. The existing Trident II D5 has a huge 100-kiloton yield, causing enormous destructive power to large swaths of territories – cities and beyond.

“We don’t have a low-yield nuclear warhead on a long-range ballistic missiles, and we have never yet,” Kristensen said.

A massively smaller 5-or-6 kt warhead on a Trident would still bring the advantage of a long-range attack, still afford smaller range, and thus less destructive attack capabilities. –Read Warrior Maven the Trident II D5 Modernisation of the Report CLICK HERE

“A low-yield Trident W76-2 warhead would be more difficult to defend against than a nuclear warhead, delivered by a bomber or a cruise missile,” Kristensen said.

The 130,000-pound Trident II D5 missile can travel to 20,000 feet per second, according to the Navy figures. The missiles cost $30 million each.

The “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” a further description of the weapon, The “Trident D5s carry three types of cargo: the 100-kiloton W76/Mk-4 of the 100 kiloton W76-1/Mk-4A, and the 455-kiloton W88/Mk-5 warhead, the highest yield and a ballistic missile warhead in the U.S. arsenal.”

This low yield nuclear rocket option seems to be to add something not present in OUR arsenal. While the emerging B-21 will be configured to fire lower yield, more precise B61 Mod 12 weapons, a sub launched nuclear weapon to bring newer ways of attack and long-range strike without having to be on or in the vicinity of the heavily defended areas from the air. The newer B61 Mod 12, Kristensen said, will lead to a greater precision than lower-yield weapons, such as the new W76-2 warhead for the Trident. — Read Warrior Maven on the Report of the Armament of the F-35 With the B-61 Mod 12 , CLICK HERE.

Also the now-in-development Air Force Long-range Stand-Off weapon, an air-launched nuclear cruise missiles, will provide additional air attack options are – especially when it comes to areas well defended by sophisticated, high-tech air defense systems, where stealth aircraft may have more trouble with the operating system.

The LRSO, which can also be launched from further stand-off ranges, is also designed for extremely high-risk areas armed with advanced air defense systems.

Some Russian-made anti-aircraft S-400 in particular, currently make use of new digital networks and faster computer processing power designed to detect some stealth aircraft in certain scenarios. At the same time, the Air Force’s B-21 is developed with a new generation of stealth technology is intended to escape to a defense anywhere in the world.

Regardless, the sea-launched low-yield weapons would bring attack options without placing aircrews in harm’s way.

The other proposed nuclear weapons application, according to the description provided by the NPR is a shorter range sea-launched cruise missile. Nuclear cruise missile options as possible, fired from a submarine or a ship, can lead to even more precision than a Trident configured with a low yield weapon, Kristensen said. — Read Warrior Maven on the Report of the Marine Plans to Add a Nuclear Weapon to the Virginia-Class Attack Submarines CLICK HERE

A sea-launched cruise missile, can be a handful of possibilities. The Pentagon previously had a nuclear-armed Tomahawk missile, which was retired in 2011. In addition, Kristensen said that a W80-1 warhead is currently configured in the Air-Launched Cruise Missile, to be replaced by the LRSO), can be adapted to fire a Tomahawk.

A weapon of the degree of precision is often described in terms of what is called Circular Error Probable (CEP). CEP stands for the area or radius of a circle in which 50 percent of the rounds will strike, or country. Kristensen explained that a low-yield Trident II D5 can bring a CEP of about 130-180 meters, a ALCM W80-1 more precisely, hitting a CEP of 30meters. A sea-launched cruise missile, therefore, would provide even more levels of pinpoint attack, allowing for a more targeted or limited the destruction.

Some have raised the question of whether a sea-launched nuclear cruise missiles would be fired from Vertical Launch Systems on board a surface ship such as a Navy destroyer. The answer, Kristensen said, yes, but with a lot of difficulties.

“That would mean the change of a nuclear warhead and integrate it into a cruise missile. The ship or the attack submarine would have to be extended with a nuclear-certified launch control system and the communication, and the crew should be trained and certified to perform the mission,” he said.

As testify before Congress earlier this year, Defense Secretary James Mattis and other senior Pentagon leaders are explained in the NPR and the reason for the adding of a new low-yield nuclear attack weapons.

She stresses that none of these new nuclear weapons of the recommendations in the NPR requires the development of new nuclear warheads or will lead to an increase of the size of the nuclear arsenal. The NPR, DoD argues further stresses that the addition of these weapons is in line with OUR non-proliferation obligations.

“Lowering the Threshold” to Nuclear War

Mattis and other leaders seem aware that the elements of the NPR’s strategic approach reflect a certain irony or paradox; in response to questions from the legislature about whether to add a new low-yield nuclear weapons, “lowering the threshold” to nuclear war and therefore introduce new elements of danger, Mattis told Congress that the growing offensive nuclear weapons attack capability will have the opposite effect, which means that the added weapons would enhance deterrence and hence improve the prospects for peace.

The debates about these weapons are resurfacing with renewed force, as some legislators echo concerns that plans for new low-yield weapons may inspire a dangerous new nuclear arms race. In a recent appearance at American University, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., against the current low-yield weapons plan, citing the cost and risks of unwanted escalation.

At the same time, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., recently echoed Mattis’ comments to the Congress earlier this year. In a recent Washington Post OPED, Kyl writes that low-yield weapons were required to maintain balance with Russia.

This corresponds to Mattis’ remarks to lawmakers a few months ago, which argued that a new, low-yield Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile can likely press Russia to a point where they might be more inclined to negotiate compliance with the INF treaty, they have violated.

“We have an ongoing Russian violation of the INF. We want our negotiators to have something to negotiate with, because we want Russia back in line,” Mattis told lawmakers earlier this year.

In addition, Russia recently announced new nuclear cruise missile, of course, is not lost on anyone in the Pentagon.

“A nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile and the modification of a small number of the existing submarine launched ballistic missiles with low-yield option – will enhance deterrence by ensuring no single opponent under all circumstances, may perceive an advantage by a limited nuclear escalation or other strategic attack,” Gen. Paul Selva, Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters earlier this year, according to a DoD transcript.

Deterrence of Russia is a specific focus described in the NPR. While many observers see the add of low-yield weapons as an “escalate to de-escalate” type of approach, the Federation of American Scientists writes that Russia’s nuclear posture is potentially more aggressive – something that can be described as “escalate to win.”

Of the Nuclear Posture Review:

—–Russia the belief that a limited nuclear first use, including low-yield weapons, such a benefit is based in part on Moscow’s perception that the greater number and variety of non-strategic nuclear systems offer a compelling advantage in crises and at the lower levels of the conflict. The recent Russian statements on this evolving nuclear weapons doctrine seem to lower the threshold for Moscow’s first use of nuclear weapons —

— Portions of this Warrior Maven report published earlier this year, and be taken over by news relevance and the user requests —

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