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Monday, December 21, 2009

Strategic nuclear force in transition

While the US continues the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty START) talks with the Russians, (The White House recently made a very quiet announcement that the talks have been extended past the former Treaty’s termination date.) there are indications that the US strategic nuclear forces are in a transition from a Triad force to a Dyad one.

During the era of the cold war and nuclear deterrence with the Soviet Union the US strategic force was based upon three components—strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs)—this was the called the nuclear Triad.. Indications are that the manned bomber force is being phased out.

Pic : Global Security

The Triad was designed to insure nuclear force survivability and attack flexibility. Each leg of the Triad contributed its unique capability to the mix. The manned bomber was the first force component in the nuclear deterrent forces. It added strategic flexibility and the ability to retarget during the conduct of any phase of a nuclear war.

Pic : GlobalSecurity

The future of the manned bomber in the mix is now in question. The bomber force is aging, the Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMs) that gave the force increased standoff are being retired as are the aging B-52s, The B-1B force has been reduced so that there are only 67 in the inventory and they and the stealth bombers have mostly been converted to conventional mission capability.

Modern air defenses that are being developed by potential nuclear adversaries also make manned bombers more vulnerable.

What is unknown is what the final force and war head mix will come out of the START negotiations.

This could affect the transition to a dyad of ICBMs and SLBMs. Financial analysis also seems to doom the nuclear Triad. A recent analysis by Northrup Gruman concluded that: “it would cost $240 billion to continue a nuclear Triad through 2050 with modernized ICBMs and SLBMs and a new ALCM and next-generation bomber.

Pic :

A monad with solely SLBMs would cost $141 billion during the same period, a dyad with sub-launched missiles and a nuclear-capable bomber force would be $230 billion, one with ICBMs and bombers, $99 billion, and the silo- and sub-based missile configuration, $151 billion.” It was reported that several Air Force officers called into question the report’s monetary assumptions.

The Air Force seems to have taken this into consideration as it has recently announced that its next strategic bomber will be designed as a combination intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform with instant attack capability. The new platform will combine an intelligence sensor package with different attack weapon options to sense and then attack.

Reportedly the new bomber design will be more about intelligence gathering and non-kinetic weapons than about bombing. Such an ISR/Strike aircraft may eventually include directed energy and network attack, capability.

Directed energy weapons currently under development include a range of lasers and transmitters that produce pulses of high-power microwaves. Other non-explosive capabilities include the ability to attack enemy sensors with very precise, waveform jamming and the electronic invasion of networks that link weapon systems such as advanced air defenses or possibly nuclear weapons sites.

The Air Force points out that” “Technology has pushed us beyond [the bomber] and fiscal constraints push us toward [multi-role] aircraft. The most important part of a future bomber is not to deliver bombs but to assimilate information rapidly and translate it into decisions.

A non-negotiable element in the formula is that operations and ISR will be tightly fused on a single platform. To continue to talk about a segregation of intelligence and operations simply doesn’t make sense.” Whether the aircraft will be manned or unmanned has not been decided, but it most likely will incorporate stealth technology.

Such an aircraft would not be focused on the strategic deterrent role and as such would not extend the Triad. This all suggests that the era of a three legged nuclear deterrent is coming to an end. However, the ability of such an attack platform could serve as a deterrent against nuclear armed states and as a first strike capability given its ability to preempt or to attack strategic targets such as enemy leadership. As the concept develops so will the uses of such seek and strike aircraft.

Will such a weapons system make nuclear weapons less relevant? What is your opinion as to the future of the nuclear Triad? Original Examiner

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