The Pentagon plans to pursue a nuclear modernisation similar to its pervious plan, but with ‘supplements’ such as low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and a new nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM), according to the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, published on 2 February.
Neither of those supplements will increase the size of the US nuclear arsenal, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon.
The 2011 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and Russia requires each to reduce arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads each, down from a previous 2,200 limit.
The Obama administration had planned to revamp all aspects of the US nuclear force, and the Trump administration’s supplements to that plan are based, in part, on fears that Russia would use nuclear weapons in a limited capacity, and the Obama administration officials voiced similar fears.
“Russia’s belief that limited nuclear first use, potentially including low-yield weapons, can provide such an advantage is based, in part, on Moscow’s perception that its greater number and variety of non-strategic nuclear systems provide a coercive advantage in crises and at lower levels of conflict,” the review said.
Accordingly, it called for “expanding flexible US nuclear options now, to include low-yield options”.
The lower-yield SLBMs would involve “some modifications ... but that does not involve production of new missiles or warheads”, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood told reporters. He would not say when the weapons might be fielded or how much they might cost.
The document also said the United States will maintain forward-deployed nuclear bombers and dual-capable aircraft around the world. This is currently met with B61 gravity bombs carried by F-15E Eagle multirole fighters, and in the future is to include nuclear-capable F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
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