The United States is building a new $ 100 billion nuclear missile based on a set of flawed and outdated assumptions, a new report from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) will say.
The report, to be released next week, will argue that planned ground-based strategic deterrence (GBSD) is being driven by intense lobbying from industry and politicians from states that will benefit the most economically, rather than a clear assessment of the purpose of the new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
“It is becoming increasingly clear that the role these cold war-era weapons are supposed to play in a post-cold war security environment has not been seriously considered,” says the FAS report, titled Siled Thinking.
According to the FAS, a non-partisan think tank, the US Air Force price tag for the new GBSD was deliberately framed in such a way as to appear slightly less than the cost of extending the life of the missile it would replace. , the Minuteman III.
An independent evaluation conducted by the Rand corporation around the same time suggested that the cost of an entirely new weapon could cost two to three times as much.
An effort by Congress to demand an independent study on comparative costs was blocked in 2019 with the help of the industry lobby.
The current estimate is that the basic acquisition costs of the GBSD will be $ 100 billion, while the total cost of building, operating, and maintaining it over its projected life through 2075 is projected at $ 264 billion.
The report comes as the Biden administration is preparing its first defense budget that may reveal its intentions toward the GBSD, which is in its early stages.
In September 2020, Northrop Grumman received an indisputable offer for the $ 13.3 billion engineering, manufacturing and development phase of the project, just over a year after its only rival, Boeing, withdrew from the race, complaining of a rigged competition. He said Northrop Grumman’s purchase of one of two companies in the United States that make solid-fuel rocket engines gave it an unfair advantage.
There are currently 400 Minuteman missiles spread over five states: Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Many gun control advocates argue that rather than being replaced, they should be removed entirely due to their vulnerability and consequent instability.
A US president would have less than half an hour to decide whether to use the missiles in the event of a surprise attack by Russia (the only country with an arsenal large enough to carry out such an attack), or risk losing them by full because of incoming attacks. enemy missiles. The decision would have to be made on the basis of early warning systems, which could potentially be faulty or hacked.
“Deciding to launch US ICBMs under these conditions would be the most shocking decision in human history,” the report said. “No matter how competent the president is, it is unthinkable that a single person could make a rational decision in these extraordinary circumstances, especially given the irrationality of the system itself and the likelihood of a false alarm.”
ICBM skeptics, which include former defense secretaries and military commanders, say the United States should instead rely on its nuclear bombers and submarine-launched missiles, the other two legs of the American nuclear triad, that could be used in a retaliatory attack in the event of a nuclear attack. It is confirmed.
GBSD supporters argue against a greater reliance on sea-launched Trident missiles, which they say will be held hostage to advances in anti-submarine warfare.
“There is no point in long-term relying on the fact that the seas will always be opaque,” said Tim Morrison, former White House adviser to Donald Trump on Russia and nuclear weapons, now at the Hudson Institute.
“Our adversaries understand that much of our deterrence relies on our submarines and we can bet they are seeking to make those submarines vulnerable. I don’t see any reason why the US would put more eggs in that basket by eliminating the cheapest and most responsive part of our triad. “
The FAS report will argue the opposite: that the survivability of the US submarine force, which carries 55% of the total nuclear arsenal, “is unlikely to change, even decades in the future.”
Some critics advocate a pause in the GBSD buildup, delaying the planned increase in funding while the new administration conducts a nuclear posture review.
While a hiatus is possible, the Biden administration is not expected to reconsider the triad, which has been American nuclear orthodoxy since the early Cold War.
“I think they are going to make the wrong decision,” former defense secretary William Perry told The Guardian. “These arguments in favor of maintaining the triad have been so ingrained in us over the years that it is highly unlikely that they will find a way to overcome that.”
A study released by the Center for International Policy on Tuesday said Northrop Grumman and its top subcontractors spent more than $ 119 million lobbying in 2019 and 2020 alone and employed a total of 410 lobbyists, including many former officials.
China’s growing military might is increasingly being cited by GBSD supporters as a rationale for building the new weapon. When Democratic Congresswoman Ro Khanna suggested an amendment last July to use $ 1 billion of GBSD seed money to help fight the Covid pandemic, Republican Liz Cheney, whose home state of Wyoming is home to the Minuteman compound at the base of Warren’s Air Force was about to charge him. of being a Chinese puppet.
“I don’t think the Chinese government, frankly, could imagine in their wildest dreams that they could have gotten a member of the United States Congress to propose, in response to the pandemic, that we should cut a billion dollars from our nuclear forces.” Cheney said.
The FAS currently estimates the Chinese arsenal at 320 warheads, compared to the 3,800 the United States has deployed and in reserve arsenal. The Siled Thinking report will argue that US ICBMs are irrelevant to deterring China because any launch from the Great Plains and over the Arctic could be interpreted by Moscow as an attack on Russia and therefore risk expanding a already catastrophic conflict.
“Overall, the Air Force’s recommendation to search for a new missile was based on a number of flawed assumptions about how GBSD would address perceived capacity gaps, maintain the health of the large solid rocket engine industrial base … and Most importantly – be cheaper than the cost of a Minuteman life extension, ”the Siled Thinking report will say.
“In hindsight, and upon closer examination, all of these assumptions appear to have been exaggerated or de-prioritized,” the report will conclude, calling for a full reassessment.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism