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Video: Networked Army Radar Destroys 2 Maneuvering Cruise Missiles

By Peter Huessy, President of GeoStrategic Analysis, Potomac, Maryland - Senior Warrior Maven Columnist

Whenever the United States modernizes its nuclear deterrent there is considerable debate within Congress often led by outside disarmament interests and like-minded elements of academia, Hollywood, religious establishments, and the media, about whether certain aspects of that modernization are worthwhile or necessary.

This accelerated in the 1970s over how to deploy the proposed MX missile in a survivable basing mode in the face of a Soviet build-up of strategic nuclear weapons from less than over 11,000 nuclear warheads allowed under the 1972 SALT treaty.

This Soviet growing nuclear posture gave rise to concerns within the USA security community that a window of vulnerability was opening up against the United States.

Specifically, the concern was the Soviets could eliminate in a first strike all of US ICBM silos which contained the USA ballistic missiles with the highest accuracy with the capability of holding at risk the most accurate and most deadly Soviet ICBMs.

This fight accelerated with the advent of the nuclear freeze and the wholesale campaign against the Reagan administration’s strategic modernization efforts, including the changed strategy to not contain the USSR but to end the Soviet empire. The fight continued even after the collapse of the Soviet empire when Congress was facing a decision as to whether to deploy the Peacekeeper missile in a rail garrison mode and continue with a complementary small ICBM on a hard mobile launcher.

President Bush decided to unilaterally stop production and deployment after 50 Peacekeeper missiles and eliminate further development of the small ICBM. The assumption being that with the START I and START II treaties US and Soviet nuclear inventories would be so dramatically reduced including a ban on multiple warhnead land base missiles, that the 1970’s window of vulnerability would rapidly be closed, eliminating the need for mobile ICBM’s such as the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison and the small mobile ICBM.

Even during the Clinton administration, the 1994 nuclear posture review contemplated the elimination of the ICBM force, prompting then STRATCOM commander Admiral Chiles to write the Secretary of Defense, warning about what a foolish idea that would be, especially in light of comments made at the time by Congressman John Murtha, the chair of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, that ICBM funding should be eliminated and transferred to the B2 bomber. And all during this period, investment in nuclear modernization waned, excepting a modest but partial guidance and propulsion replacement program for Minuteman III adopted over considerable opposition from the anti-ICBM crowd.

With the advent of what was misnamed global war on terror, the United States continued what General Harencak described as a “holiday from history”, as across the board nuclear modernization lagged. Minuteman’s life extension would take the missile through 2030, as required by law, but the Ohio class submarine would be extended to a record 42-year life, while our strategic bombers would be limited to legacy B52s and a small B2 force of no more than 20 airplanes.

However, with the approval of the New START treaty by the United States Senate in 2010, Senator Kyle was able to secure from the administration full up support for nuclear modernization including the Triad, NC3, the nuclear infrastructure and critical work at the NNSA, or National Nuclear Security Administration. This bipartisan agreement continues today but is now being threatened primarily by disarmament groups and their allies still seeking to kill a major element of our nuclear enterprise to prove their bona fides to the funders of their various organizations in the service of a goal of reaching what is known as global zero or the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

This fantastic objective is distracting to the nuclear modernization effort--as it is meant to do—but unfortunately largely stands on a series of nonsensical misconceptions about strategic stability and in particular the requirement for and nature of the US nuclear armed ICBMs.

The context in which the fight over strategic modernization is being fought starts with an op-editorial in the New York Times by the former Secretary of Defense William Perry, the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, and former Secretary of State George Schultz. This editorial warned of escalating nuclear dangers, particularly nuclear proliferation, and called for a gradual move towards lower levels of nuclear weapons with the goal of reaching in the future a world free of nuclear weapons. This effort was being pushed by former arms negotiator Max Kampelman who argued that the US nuclear policy “ought” to be pursuing what at the time seemed impossible to achieve but was worth putting on the table.

I asked Dr. Kissinger why he would sign such an editorial and he told me that his joining what was sometimes referenced as the “Four Horsemen of the Nuclear Apocalypse” was simply “to keep an eye on things and make sure they didn’t go off the rails”. Sometime later he and General Scowcroft would write a separate essay calling for the full modernization of the aging and less capable nuclear deterrent, all but admitting the previous essay calling for “Global Zero” had already fallen off the rails and crashed into the disarmament canyon.

Since 2010 for nearly decade United States has made significant progress in moving toward an eventual deployment of a new nuclear Triad from 2029-2042. The deployment of the B 21 bomber and its long-range strike option crew missile, the ground-based strategic deterrent or new ICBM, and the Columbia class submarine along with a D5/2 ballistic missile will and continue for another 13 years until complete, but with very little room for delay. That is why it’s clear that the objective of the arms control community is to delay one or more elements of the nuclear Strategic Triad to the point where the program fails to achieve modernization, and by doing so, as Professor von Hippel claims, “make it easier” for the Russians to similarly join with United States in eliminating their own land based ICBMs, a prospect Senator Markey believes will be achieved with the elimination of the GBSD program and eventual retirement of all ICBMs by 2050. .

Now to justify killing ICBMs critics have relied on a series of what can best be termed fairytales or to be polite misconceptions in (1) describing the US strategic balance with the Russians and Chinese, (2) the nature of strategic stability, (3) the value of ICBMs and (4) the cost of the nuclear enterprise.

The first misconception is that the United States by modernizing its nuclear deterrent is going to start an arms race.

The second fairytale is that the United States as far too many nuclear warheads than necessary as it is argued the US can sustain deterrence with a minimal force of between 300 and 600 total deployed warheads, but certainly not the 1400 now maintained in our day-to-day deterrent, or the 2200 roughly that could be deployed at higher alert rates. It is also asserted by critics that even the US military supports a unilateral reduction to 1000 warheads.

The third fairytale is that nuclear weapons are only to deter the use of nuclear weapons against the United States and can serve no other purpose. This has sometimes been described as a soleuse nuclear doctrine which often is joined by its twin bad idea that the United States should adopt a no first use nuclear doctrine. The corollary to this is also that any use of nuclear weapons against the military forces of an adversary is “war-fighting” and both immoral and destabilizing. Implicit in this argument is should the US have to use our nuclear arsenal in retaliation, we would target only cities.

The fourth fairytale is that ICBMs are on a hair trigger just seconds or minutes away from being launched by mistake by an unstable president pressured by a mistaken computer warning that a major Russian missile strike is on its way.

The fifth fairytale is relatively new and that alleges the ICBM force is only a gigantic, five-state sponge, designed solely to soak up attacking Russian warheads, as a means of deflecting a Russian attack against American cities.

The sixth fairytale is that ICBMs serve no retaliatory function and that the Russian nuclear assets including missile solos the US ICBM force holds at risk would be empty and therefore our ICBMs are superfluous for any retaliatory strike role. Parenthetically using the same logic this would also be the case with respect to our sea-based ballistic missiles and air-breathing force—any retaliatory strike would be attacking empty silos and barren airfields and subbases.

The seventh fairytale is that nuclear modernization will cost between $1.2 trillion and $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years and as such is far too expensive for the United States, requiring significant cutbacks to the planned nuclear investments. Although projecting current planned spending this year by the entire Federal government over 30 years yields a total spending of near $200 trillion by comparison.

The eighth fairytale is that if the United States were to maintain any kind of ICBM force, a MM III force with a service life extension program would be cheaper and preferable to a new ground-based strategic deterrent. In short, a cheap sponge is better than an expensive one.

Let’s examine each of these misconceptions in order.

First, the United States is not engaging in any arms race as it has not deployed a single new nuclear weapons platform since 1997 when B2 bomber production was ended. The US will not deploy a new strategic platform period of 32 years. The Russians on the other hand since just 2010 when the New START treaty was ratified, will deploy by 2025, twenty new types of nuclear weapons platforms including cruise, land based, and sea-based ballistic missiles on new submarines and bombers. To say nothing of the 2 to 5 exotic nuclear weapons programs that are not contained within the New START treaty and a minimum of 1900-2000 theater or regional nuclear weapons not under any arms control limit as well.

Second, the deterrent strategy adopted by the United States is not excessive to our deterrent strategy. The scope of the deterrent is dictated by the President of the United States not the United States military, nor strategic command, nor the US Air Force. That strategy seeks to hold at risk major Russian nuclear and military capabilities. As Rich Mies, John Harvey and Frank Miller explained in a recent memo, the United States does not target Russian cities—doing so would be immoral and an ineffective deterrent strategy. On a day-to-day basis United States keeps on alert less than 1000 warheads with its entire bomber force off alert. And as John Harvey has explained no unilateral reduction to 1000 total deployed warheads has been endorsed by the US military, and any such reduction if pursued would require similar verifiable reductions by the Russians. And certainly, such reductions if taken by eliminating ICBMs would not be endorsed by the US military let alone agreed to by the US Senate.

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Third our adversaries do not have a no first use or sole use nuclear doctrine. China and Russia both think of nuclear weapons as key coercive diplomatic tools. Russia in particular has adopted an escalate to win strategy which Brad Roberts of LLNL has laid out in some detail in an extraordinary publication “Theories of Victory: Red and Blue”. The idea that nuclear weapons should be solely to deter the use of other nuclear weapons was not US policy for the entire period of the Cold War. The very notion of extended deterrence and our nuclear umbrella over NATO reserved for the United States the credible option of using nuclear weapons to repel a Soviet conventional invasion of Western Europe, where the conventional balance was radically against that of the United States and its NATO allies. Our extended deterrent in Asia also rests on the assumption that United States nuclear capability can be used to weigh in against a potentially major conventional attack against Taiwan or South Korea . This option has been critical in maintaining the security and safety of our allies. Which parenthetically is one of the reasons these allies strongly oppose the adoption of a “No First Use” policy which was considered but rejected by the Obama administration.

Related to no first use is the false charge that ICBMs are “on a hair trigger” alert. This characterization flows from the 1979 and1980 false warnings of a Soviet SLBM and ICBM missile attack. Some have characterized the false attack warning as having triggered serious consideration by US command authorities, including the President, of launching our ballistic missiles without confirming a Soviet attack was in fact underway.

In a little known 1980 SASC report by Senator Gary Hart and Senator Barry Goldwater, brought to my attention by Ambassador Ron Lehman, the two “false warnings” were examined in detail. No radar or satellite determined that any Soviet launch was underway. The system determined that the false message was due to a malfunctioning computer chip and was dealt with in a matter of minutes. As Admiral Mies told me recently any missile launch from Russia would immediately call for a threat conference of senior military and civilian leaders to determine the nature of and consequences of any such missile launch. In the 70 years of the nuclear age no such threat conference has ever been convened. Never, not once.

In fact, US ICBMs and SLBMs have been on alert a combined 72 million minutes since 1958 and 1962, respectively, and not once has the President of United States ever ordered the launch of any of these missiles.

In short, in 1979 and 1980, there was no chance of a US accidental launch because of a false attack warning. The system in question was given a technological fix to where any suchfuture warning can no longer occur.

The fifth and sixth fairytale is that the United States ICBM force is just one giant sponge design to soak up a thousand Russian warheads otherwise targeted on American cities. The problem with this claim is that never has any US nuclear commander, military or civilian, ever described our nuclear forces let alone our ICBMs as being a giant sponge. This is a clever but wholly owned invention of opponents of US ICBMs.

The biggest mistake ICBM critics make is that they assume Russian strategy is to launch an all-out attack against the United States with its ICBMs should Russia decide to use any nuclear weapons in a crisis or conflict. As Paul Nitze once told me, such a scenario assumes the Soviets would immediately adopt the Armageddon option in a crisis with the US. This then leads to the mistaken idea that there will be no Russian warheads left in their silos or on their bomber bases or submarine bases to attack in a retaliatory mode.

The Russian strategy however is not to launch an all-out Armageddon type attack because that would be an act of mutual suicide. The US would in all likelihood respond with massive nuclear force-- both countries would be destroyed.

The US ICBM force in fact holds at risk the range of Russian nuclear forces in particular it’s remaining ICBM force which is it’s reserve nuclear strike force. Given the United States ability to hold at risk the entire range of Russian nuclear forces, the only choices we want to give the Russian leadership in a crisis or conventional conflict is either to initiate Armageddon and thus commit suicide, or keep their nuclear weapons holstered. Again, as Paul Nitze put it, we want Moscow to decide every day, “Not today, Comrade.”

Furthermore, the United States ICBM force of single warheads is an unattractive target. And as every Air Force Chief of Staff has declared it is a highly stabilizing force critical to deterrence. And its high accuracy and prompt capability holds at risk the very Russian forces that we cannot allow to remain in a sanctuary where they would be free to attack the United States and its allies. Now Mr. Putin has obviously realized the option of initiating Armageddon or leaving nuclear weapons unused doesn’t allow Russia a useful nuclear option. That is the basis for the Putin adoption of an “escalate to win strategy” where the very limited use of nuclear weapons is planned as a game of nuclear chicken. Where NATO or US forces in the Pacific stand down, and the US decides not to defend our allies in the face of Russian armed aggression. Here, the value of a single warhead ICBM is obvious. As Fed Ex once said, “when it absolutely, positively has to be there…”

Seventh, what about the nuclear budget? Over the next 30 years, modernization will cost somewhere around $400 billion with the additional 2/3rds of the nuclear modernization effort providing for the sustainment of our legacy systems. Today, for example,the entire budget for the B-21, GBSD, and Columbia class submarine, including the D5/2 missile and bomber cruise missiles or LRSO comes to a whopping $8.5 billion annually, even counting 100% of the B-21 bomber costs as logically fitting under the nuclear enterprise costs.

The CBO trick combined sustainment with modernization, included 100% of the conventional bomber costs, assumed a 3% cost growth, and estimated costs over 30 years. CBO thus got the bumper sticker they wanted—nuclear modernization will cost over $1 trillion. For reference purposes, the projected total Federal spending for both FY21 and FY22 is north of $6-7 trillion, with an annual deficit in the vicinity of $ trillion. Over 30 years such spending would reach $200 trillion. Or 500 times the entire cost of nuclear modernization. And eliminating GBSD from today’s budget—or cutting $1 billion which is what Senator Markey proposes—would reduce the projected FY22 budget deficit by 1/2800th of 1%.

Is a MM III service life extension program significantly cheaper than a more capable, and more sustainable, GBSD? What are the facts? General Ray, the Commander of the Global Strike Command, put a final nail in the coffin of MM III is cheaper thesis. The straight skinny is that GBSD is $38 billion cheaper.

Now despite MM III being difficult to sustain, it remains an extraordinary capable force having now lasted over half a century. And it will continue to provide critical deterrent value through 2030 when it will be replaced. However, sustaining the MM force beyond current plans simply is not viable. There is also no industrial base from which to secure the work necessary to extend the life of the Minuteman missile, assuming such anextension is possible. Here facts are definitely stubborn things. Any kind of service life extension program even if possible would have had to begin in 2014-2015 which obviously has not been done. The law does require Minuteman to remain in force through 2030 but the last SLEP that extended MM III for 20 years meets that requirement and is consistent with the planned IOC for GBSD of around 2029.

Now why did the USAF use a 60-year window to compare the relative costs of alternative ICBM options? That was the directive from OSD. And to keep an ICBM in the force beyond 2050, a GBSD type system is the only alternative—although aMM III SLEP is not viable now, we will assume for argument sake the Markey MM SLEP alternative to 2050 is viable. Still, even using Markey’s assumptions, the GBSD actually would be more capable, easier to sustain and cheaper, a Trifecta of good news for the GBSD. GBSD would also last through 2075, while a MM SLEP would at best last 20 more years. On an annual investment, going forward with a GBSD is a modest additional $1.5 billion a year while to do a MM III SLEP to 2050 would cost you an additional $2.7 billion a year, nearly double the cost of a new highly capable easily sustained and necessary GBSD. If sustained over the longer term, a GBSD would need a modest $17 billion SLEP at the 30-year lifetime point, while an aging MM III would have to be completely replaced most probably with a new GBSD-type system, while both alternatives will also require the warheads to be life-extended and a new NC3 system created.

It is true the Markey proposal is to kill the GBSD and go forward with a Minuteman SLEP to 2050 and then eliminate all ICBMs. This same proposal alleges a MM SLEP would be $28 billion less than GBSD. The problem is the proposal did not include research, development, test, and analysis that would be required to go forward with a MM SLEP. And Markey assumes only the GBSD needed a new NC3 and warhead life extension. In fact, as General Ray has now established, the GBSD program if examined over its lifetime, is at least $700 million a year cheaper than a MM III SLEP alternative, or a total of $38 billion less costly. Even in DC with trillion dollar budgets becoming commonplace, that is real money.

Two final points need to be made on examining the impact of eliminating the ICBM force from the US nuclear arsenal.

First United States would be left with—at most--10 discrete nuclear targets that if destroyed would put the United States out of the nuclear business. This includes 5-7 submarines at sea, 3 bomber bases and two submarine bases. As former USAF Chief of Staff and SAC Commander General Larry Welch warned many years ago, our submarines at sea could be attritted over time without the US knowing what country initiated the attacks. This was the very scenario that Senator John Warner said was his number one worry when he was Secretary of the Navy—and that was when the US had 1000 ICBMs.

A country like North Korea for example could get into the nuclear attack business by being able to hold it risk nearly the entirety of the US Nuclear Deterrent. Why would we want to encourage such a development?

Second, opponents of ICBMs have claimed we need not worry because if we wanted to keep 1490 long range missile warheads in our inventory, we could take 400 D-5 compatible warheads---the equivalent of 400 MM III warheads—and add them to each of the sixteen D5/2 missiles aboard the new Columbia class submarines each capable of carrying a maximum of eight warheads.

But that means our 16 missile 12 Columbia class boats each with a maximum of eight warheads would have a near zero-upload capability or hedge capability. If you fully loaded the Columbia class submarines you would get 1536 warheads, or just 46 warheads above the New START limits. This gives the US essentially a zero-hedge capability—vs the 1500 we have today—compared to the Russian upload or hedge capability in the many thousands of nuclear warheads, even upwards of 4000-6000 strategic warheads.

In conclusion, GBSD fits the strategic security needs of US across the board and turns out to be a very good deal:

✓ --Highly survivable as all adversary attack options putting our ICBMs at risk are not credible;

✓ --Markedly stabilizing and not on hair trigger;’

✓ --Less costly to acquire and sustain by $38 billion;

✓ --More capable as required by deterrent strategy; and

✓ --Cheaper per deployed and on-alert warhead than any other element of the Triad.

[I highly recommend (1) the recent analyses of the NIPP and their occasional papers examining many of these issues and misconceptions, the (2) Micthell Institute/Huessy seminar series on nuclear deterrence; and the (3) ANWA series of events. Particularly good has been the work of NIPP”s Mathew Costlow on ICBMs, and that of NIPP’s Keith Payne, David Trachtenberg and Michaela Dodge on the action/reaction theory of arms racing.]

Peter R. HuessyMr. Huessy is the President of Geostrategic Analysis, a Potomac, Maryland-based defense and national security consulting business, and Director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute, a Senior Fellow at ICAS, a senior consultant with Ravenna Associates, and previously for 22 years Senior Defense Consultant with the National Defense University Foundation at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.He is and has been a Guest Lecturer at the School of Advanced International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, at the Institute of World Politics, at the University of Maryland, at the Joint Military Intelligence School, at the Naval Academy and at the National War College.