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Current Nuclear Weapons Development

bobbymike

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The British American Security Information Council (BASIC) has just published its take on what is going on, globally, in terms of nuclear weapons development. One of the conclusions is that “hundreds of billions of dollars are earmarked for spending over the next decade, not only in the United States and Russia but in major development programs in China, India, Pakistan and elsewhere. Almost all of the nuclear armed states covered in this paper are continuing to produce new or modernized nuclear weapons and some, such as Pakistan and India, appear to be seeking smaller, lighter, warheads to allow these either to be delivered to greater distances or to allow them to be deployed over shorter ranges and for more tactical purposes.”

Russia is expected to spend $70 billion through 2020 on its Triad to include financing the fielding of a new ICBM around 2018, the fielding of the road-mobile RS-24, and for a range of other activities, such as the development of a new bomber.

While the report may not be breaking much new ground, it provides a useful overview of warhead development efforts and also delivery systems. That includes a brief examination of what is believed to be Israel’s Jericho III missile program and a range of different delivery options under development in India.

http://www.basicint.org/sites/default/files/commission-briefing1.pdf
 

bobbymike

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The Incredible Shrinking Balance Of Terror October 31, 2011: Two decades of budget cuts and disarmament treaties have changed the "balance of terror" between the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia). Back in 1991, the U.S. had 1,947 delivery systems (ICBM, SLBMs and bombers) and 9,745 nuclear warheads. The Soviet Union had 2,483 delivery systems and 11,159 nuclear warheads. Back then, the recently negotiated START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement called for each side to reduce this to 1,600 delivery systems and 6,000 warheads. Twenty years later, the U.S. has 822 delivery systems and 1,790 warheads. Russia has 516 delivery systems and 1,566 nuclear warheads.

START came into force in 1994, and brought with it on-site inspections of Russian and American nuclear weapons and delivery systems, to insure that everyone was in compliance. This allowed the U.S. to shift its spy satellites away from watching Russian nuclear weapons, to other tasks. This became critical after September 11, 2001, when satellite recon was much in demand to track down terrorists. The START 1 agreement expired in December, 2009, and a new one was signed in April, 2010. The new agreement requires Russia and the U.S. to each have no more than 1,550 nukes, and no more than 800 delivery systems to carry them.

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IMHO we have gone low enough there is no reason to reduce further. In fact we should be building replacement systems and new warheads from a fully modernized weapons infrastructure. We should have a new ICBM, Bomber and SSBN (yes it is eventually coming) and a robust R&D program on advanced nuclear weapon concepts to remain on the cutting edge of all things nuclear.

If we are to go this low in deployed systems they better be the best.
 

Avimimus

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Hello Bobbymike,

I don't want to accidentally lead your thread off-topic. However, it got me thinking about research on deployment (and the context around development):
Does anyone know of studies on the actual number of warheads required for an effective deterrent? It would be very interesting to find out more about.
 

bobbymike

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Avimimus said:
Hello Bobbymike,

I don't want to accidentally lead your thread off-topic. However, it got me thinking about research on deployment (and the context around development):
Does anyone know of studies on the actual number of warheads required for an effective deterrent? It would be very interesting to find out more about.
I will try and find you some links but one I remember offhand was a study by the Ploughshares Fund or Union of Concerned Scientists that set the number of warheads for minimum deterrence at 311 (yes odd number) I think it had something to do with large and medium sized cities in Russia.
 

UpForce

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bobbymike said:
The British American Security Information Council (BASIC) has just published its take on what is going on, globally, in terms of nuclear weapons development.[/color] ...


No mention of Pakistani "Econolines of Doom" in the report. That's some seriously irresponsible behavior - but I guess this is roughly in line with the tradition of "it would be high-larious if it weren't about nukes" AQ Khan proliferation mess (... just ask the normally unassuming and understated IAEA officials who've been tasked with following up on that network how much "fun" it's been). Seriously, Pakistan's military and intel agencies need to get their heads outta where they may have stuck'em and start behaving like responsible adults ASAP. They do not want to be in the position of having contributed to some entirely avoidable incident, if only because it leaves the rest of the World with no good options between which we nonetheless would have to choose.

No mention of Iran or Syria either. Syria is teetering on all sorts of edges and it wasn't too long ago that Israel bombed a large undeclared nuclear facility there. What material and knowhow might still be lingering as a result of those fine messes, I don't know. Which brings us around to Iran, the authoritarian leadership of which seems to have taken leave of what might have remained of its senses (witness the harebrained Saudi ambassador assassination plot) and are now universally recognized as pushing towards a weapons capability in the very near future. Maybe they have deluded themselves into thinking they have an opening here (it would be naïve to assume the inability to reach an agreement to stay some US troops in Iraq had nothing to do with Iranian shi'ite influence) following the Mesopotamian Misadventures and their ramifications.

The Iranian elites are obviously highly paranoid about Middle East's "spring" movements and desperate to stave off the already demonstrated desire of their own citizens to exercise self-governance, but the nukes program is growing in scale beyond taunting Israel, the US et. al. to engage in a brief bombing campaign to help re-solidify their internal grip on power. It is irrational, basically rolling the dice. Therefore any action or response - necessary or unavoidable as they may be - cannot be solely based on presuppositions of different parties to the conflict understanding "cold-war-esque" co-mutual game theoretical postures and causalities.

It should also be noted that if the window of options about Iran is closing in about a year, now is the time to let their democracy movement know. Awareness of the larger framework may affect the tactics they (and even other rationally minded unaffiliated people, perhaps even within the Iranian nuclear establishment) choose to adopt.
 

bobbymike

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Supercomputers Seen Offering More Insight Into Nukes Than Testing Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011

Supercomputers in some ways are able to offer U.S. scientists more insight into the workings of nuclear weapons than atomic testing, by permitting weapon laboratories to anticipate and rectify problems before they occur, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday (see GSN, July 15).


"Our current efforts go a step beyond explosive testing by enabling the labs to anticipate the problems in advance and reduce their potential impact on our arsenal -- something that nuclear testing could not do," Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher said in May.


The United States has observed a moratorium on nuclear testing for years; the last test was conducted in 1992. The Obama administration would like to see the Senate ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would prohibit any further tests. Some senators, however, are doubtful that computer simulations can fully replace the information gleaned from detonations on the inner workings of thermonuclear explosions.


Several years ago, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California used a supercomputer to model the process that takes place from when a B-83 strategic nuclear warhead is removed from storage to when it strikes a target. Warhead specialists and designers were taken aback to learn from the simulation that at a specific point in the process, the warhead would "fail catastrophically," said Livermore weapons programs Principal Associate Director Bruce Goodwin.


The problem was located in the "real dynamics of the vehicle" -- meaning the warhead's travel path and behavior -- and would not have been detected through a check of the weapon's parts or by underground testing, Goodwin said.


It took several years to remedy the fault in the B-83 bomb and changes in policies were put into place for how the military transports the warheads, officials said.


Livermore's discovery was the first instance in which a serious problem in a warhead had been detected primarily through computer modeling, according to Goodwin. "We have a more fundamental understanding of how these weapons work today than we ever imagined when we were blowing them up," he continued.


A onetime nuclear warhead developer, however, was less convinced of the ability of computer simulations to fully replace the knowledge acquired from underground detonations. "If you want to know if something works, you have to test it," the unidentified former designer said. "The calculations are good, but the issue is one of risk. How good do you think the calculations are?"


Other warhead flaws have been discovered without testing. In 2003, routine monitoring pointed to a prevalent, though not cataclysmic, problem in the U.S. nuclear stockpile. The specifics of the matter are a state secret. Livermore specialists addressed the matter by conducting a number of simulations using laboratory supercomputers. High-yield but nonnuclear testing was also used at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Mexico to affirm that the warheads would not require a significant modification that could have come with a multibillion-dollar price tag, according to Goodwin.


Decades of subterranean nuclear testing have given weapon developers information on how the warheads operate under specific circumstances, "but they could never fully explain how or why" they behaved as they did, Monterey Institute of International Studies nuclear weapons analyst Jeffrey Lewis said.


"The best argument against the test ban [treaty] was always that we didn't understand how nuclear weapons really worked and couldn't simulate them, so underground nuclear explosions were an important reality check," Lewis continued. "But even then, there was never enough testing to establish the kind of confidence that comes from actually understanding the process of a thermonuclear explosion" (David Hoffman, Washington Post, Nov. 1).
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Of course I would argue that when it comes to the assurance that our weapons will work if needed why not test and simulate? We are going down to 1550 deployed strategic warheads from close to 13,000 in the 80's, they better work along with the delivery vehicles.
 

Avimimus

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bobbymike said:
Avimimus said:
Hello Bobbymike,

I don't want to accidentally lead your thread off-topic. However, it got me thinking about research on deployment (and the context around development):
Does anyone know of studies on the actual number of warheads required for an effective deterrent? It would be very interesting to find out more about.
I will try and find you some links but one I remember offhand was a study by the Ploughshares Fund or Union of Concerned Scientists that set the number of warheads for minimum deterrence at 311 (yes odd number) I think it had something to do with large and medium sized cities in Russia.
It was the Ploughshares Fund - thanks for the lead!

I suppose the number of warheads which would get through is critical to such calculations? I'm finding it a very interesting equation - lots of uncertainties (between air defenses and psychology).
 

bobbymike

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Avimimus said:
bobbymike said:
Avimimus said:
Hello Bobbymike,

I don't want to accidentally lead your thread off-topic. However, it got me thinking about research on deployment (and the context around development):
Does anyone know of studies on the actual number of warheads required for an effective deterrent? It would be very interesting to find out more about.
I will try and find you some links but one I remember offhand was a study by the Ploughshares Fund or Union of Concerned Scientists that set the number of warheads for minimum deterrence at 311 (yes odd number) I think it had something to do with large and medium sized cities in Russia.
It was the Ploughshares Fund - thanks for the lead!

I suppose the number of warheads which would get through is critical to such calculations? I'm finding it a very interesting equation - lots of uncertainties (between air defenses and psychology).
I find the most contradictory thing about these so called peace groups is that in order to get as low a number as possible for nukes they always revert to saying "X numbers of warheads can still wipe out Y's major cities"

So the "peace" groups want weapons whose sole purpose is not counter force with minimized (yes that is relative with nuclear weapons) collateral damage but want instead to kill 50 million plus people as the only deterrent option, does that makes sense?
 

UpForce

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bobbymike said:
I find the most contradictory thing about these so called peace groups is that in order to get as low a number as possible for nukes they always revert to saying "X numbers of warheads can still wipe out Y's major cities"

So the "peace" groups want weapons whose sole purpose is not counter force with minimized (yes that is relative with nuclear weapons) collateral damage but want instead to kill 50 million plus people as the only deterrent option, does that makes sense?
I think the logic is quite clear: So long as things don't make sense there's still no reason to run (excessively) redundant risks when it comes to building and maintaining existential threats. Even if you sometimes wanted your adversary to waste its resources, all the better if it's the most benign waste possible. Nukes proliferation isn't solely about weapons, but also lots of people with obscure (to the general public) knowhow and few means to translate that decades long personal investment into something constructive. Just today Danger Room featured an article about "Loose Geeks", look it up. Nukes also have a way of undermining freedoms in ways that tend to play into the hands of those forces in the World who can't even be bothered with the thinnest veneer of democracy; therefore the "function" of nuclear deterrence can be regarded as somewhat self-defeating, self-contradictionary and self-perpetuating.

More widely, it's only beyond existential threats that a dialogue intrinsic to a state of peace is possible. What we have now is a kind of a schitzophrenic simulation wherein most of the constructive, creative stuff - and I don't mean in defense or politics alone, but the economy, academia, religion, environment, etc. - only happens because people choose to be oblivious to a very precarious potentially all-overriding concern that, realistically, profits and/or is controlled by an absurdly small minority provided we/they can avoid an actual exchange. Repackaged subprime mortgage derivatives have nothing on the plutocracy of proliferation. Bringing the World at least close to the treshold of potentially destroying itself just once over gives the perspective - and more importantly the option - to substantially relieve those risks should compelling reasons to do so emerge, be they positive or negative. Lest we forget the challenges on humanity are in may ways far more substantial than those we've managed to inflict on ourselves. The ability to nuke ourselves into oblivion really shouldn't be our crowning, defining achievement either.

Perhaps it's best that we let "peace groups" (a description many of those groups may balk at as basically too unsubstantial, and frankly wistful) speak for themselves. You can always try and put the questions direct to them. The stated aim of the Ploughshares Fund (for instance) is to support initiatives to prevent the spread AND use of nuclear weapons, among other things. No-one said it'd be easy, no-one even half-way serious (and many of these groups aren't short of people with quite some credentials to their names) is proposing they have all the answers. That is not to say some guy with his hand on the button can claim his position to be rational or unambiguous either, even if his world is ultimately reduced to a Hamlet-like binary. If you count yourself among the self-styled hawks (on defense etc.) and want to profile yourself and your social framework partly through negation, it is probably still hard to argue diametrically against Ploughshare's basic premise ("... spread and use nukes?").

Putting the "contrast cart" ahead of the "substance horse" is in many ways intrinsic to the nuclear "logic", of the fate of the future we inherited from our recent forefathers. That approach can be argued as having a track record of some strengths and some weaknesses, all precarious as life itself can be. So I don't dismiss it out of hand, nor reject it entirely. But my perspective can perhaps best be summed in a simple, basic question: If I - or we - want to move above and beyond what we have and are now, how do I - or we - do it? It's the kind of thing where one doesn't necessarily have to have answers but it is in my humble opinion nonetheless essential that the question is being asked in a substantial, actionable way. Otherwise, wherefore reason? This is why I respectfully but strongly disagree with those - anywhere - who maintain that an extinction size nuclear arsenal (for all "practical" purposes) is all we can do and nurture for the foreseeable future.

Call it mutually assured irrationality, if you will. Or perhaps just "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
 
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