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Blaming Russia for Starting Arms Race, US Beefs Up Its Nuclear Potential

There is a lot of ballyhoo raised in the West over Russia’s effort to boost its strategic nuclear potential while the US is cutting down. A Daily Beast report serves as a good example. It says, «While the US military has been steadily cutting the number of nukes it loads on submarines and bombers and in missile silos, Russian forces have recently been adding more». The program to upgrade the ground-based strategic offensive forces has been in focus recently to confirm the affirmation that it was Russia who started a new nuclear arms race. «America should be worried», warns the prestigious National Interest.

Indeed, Moscow is on the way to modernize its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Russia has successfully conducted its first test of an ICBM designed for the upcoming Barguzin railway-based strategic nuclear offensive system. Each train will be packed with six RS-24 Yars missiles which carry 4 huge 250 kiloton warheads each and have a range of 6,800 miles. The new railway-based missile system would be ready for deployment in early 2017.

The Sarmat is a liquid-fueled, MIRV-equipped, super-heavy ICBM being designed specifically to overcome ballistic missile defenses using a combination of decoys, a host of countermeasures and sheer speed. The missile might also be equipped with new hypersonic glide vehicles to complicate interception.

In its turn, the US upgrades or develops plans to upgrade all legs of its strategic triad. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 President Obama has requested $9.2 billion to fund nuclear weapons activities in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the U.S. nuclear stockpile and production complex, a 4.3 percent increase over the FY 2016 appropriation. The agency projects more than $300 billion in spending on nuclear weapons programs over the next 25 years. 

The US Air Force is modernizing the Minuteman-III missiles, replacing and upgrading their rocket motors, guidance systems, and other components, so that they can remain in the force through 2030. The service released a new ICBM solicitation in July. It plans to build a new weapons system to replace the long-serving Minuteman under a program called the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). Three defense contractors - Northrop, Boeing и Lockheed Martin – have been preselected on the way to submit the bids. Other companies also have plenty of opportunities for subcontracting.

In keeping with the NEW START Treaty, the Air Force plans to field 400 new missiles designed to replace the aging Minuteman-IIIs. According to Frank Kendall, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, the US Defense Department plans to buy 642 GBSD missiles for roughly $66.4 million each to support a deployed force of 400 weapons and to budget at least $1.25 billion annually from 2036 to 2040. The goal is to deliver the first batch of new missiles by 2029.

The program is expected to cost $62 billion from 2015 through fiscal year 2044, the Congressional Research Service reported. Work on replacing the system is scheduled to begin by the end of fiscal year 2017, with completion by 2020 at the cost of $60 million. The Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office pegs the price tag higher roughly $85 billion.

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), this new system would increase the accuracy of the ICBM force and allow the missiles to destroy hardened targets with a single warhead. The new ICBMs will be deployed roughly within the same geographical expanse in which the current weapons are stationed. In total, dispersed areas across three different sites span 33,600 miles, including missiles in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Minot, North Dakota and Great Falls, Montana.

The US strategic nuclear potential is expected to include roughly 400 deployed ICBMs, 60 nuclear-capable strategic bombers and 240 submarine-launched ballistic missiles for total of 700 launch vehicles under the New START Treaty with Russia.

The treaty goes into effect on February 5, 2018 with nuclear weapons remaining to be the cornerstone of US security.

According to the New START, Russia and the United States each must reduce numbers of strategic missiles by 50 percent and reduce their total number of warheads by 75 percent to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads on no more than 700 deployed ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and nuclear-capable bombers. In addition, each side is limited to no more than 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and nuclear-capable bombers. The parties keep their arsenals at these levels until 2021.

The New START stipulates that the parties may agree to extend the treaty for a period of no more than five years.

It should be noted that the US has always enjoyed significant advantage in sea-based nuclear forces. Together, the Ohio-class submarines carry approximately 50 % of US strategic nuclear warheads. The Navy has been constantly upgrading its Trident missiles. Additionally, a new submarine, the SSBN(X), which will replace the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, is undergoing development and is expected to cost about $140 billion to develop, according to the Defense Department.

The B-2 strategic bomber, a relatively new system, is being upgraded, as is the B-52H bomber. The Air Force is also planning a new strategic bomber, the B-21, and a new nuclear-capable cruise missile, known as the Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO) to replace the existing Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). The LRSO will launched from all bombers in the US fleet — the B-52, B-1, B-2 and the future B-21.

As one can see, the existing US nuclear delivery systems are undergoing continual upgrade, including complete rebuilds of the Minuteman-III ICBM and Trident-II SLBM.

With the New START in place, the parity will be largely maintained. Moscow considers the US BMD as a threat that provokes Russia into intensifying efforts to upgrade the existing delivery systems and bring into service new ones capable of overcoming BMD defenses no matter how sophisticated they could become in future.

With Donald Trump elected president, there have been no statements regarding the new administration’s stance on arms control, including the future of New START Treaty. With only 4 years left till it expires, the problem acquires a new urgency.

Having become president-elect, Donald Trump inherited the responsibility for the future of arms control. Although the topic has hardly gotten the attention it deserves so far, the problem cannot be let slide or be put under the rug. The president will have to make final decisions. With great impatience, the world is waiting for the first statements regarding the position of his administration on one of the most important issues of our time.

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