LASG header
Follow TrishABQ on Twitter Follow us
"Forget the Rest" blog


For immediate release February 2, 2018
**Our January 12 press release was based on the leaked NPR. In our first, necessarily quick read we have not seen marked, concrete differences between the earlier leaked, and today's final, NPR versions**
**Scroll down for quotations and general remarks**

Nuclear Posture Review Calls for Continuing Weapons Modernization -- Minus "Interoperable" Warhead, Plus New Nuclear Attack Options

Aims to return nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to some attack submarines -- but when, with what missiles, and at what cost?
Calls for low-yield submarine ballistic missile warhead
Meanwhile, delays expected in Obama-approved new bomb and upgraded warhead; 1.2 megaton bomb to be kept for now
**Feb. 12 budget request for warheads likely to rise dramatically**

Contact: Greg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group, 505-265-1200 (office) 505-577-8563 (cell)

Permanent link * Previous press releases

Albuquerque, NM – President Trump's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), released today by the Department of Defense (DoD), continues (but makes much more explicit) a number of long-standing US nuclear weapons policies, using newly-bellicose rhetoric, in the context of a "hard power" approach to national security.

The 2010 NPR, by contrast, soft-pedaled nuclear weapons use policies, such as the potential US first use of nuclear weapons. The present NPR highlights this possibility, in detail, and calls for new nuclear weapons.

The most striking feature of the new NPR is its emphasis on US military weakness abroad -- including in relation to Russian tactical nuclear capabilities, which by definition do not threaten the US itself but rather US and allied militaries and "vital interests" overseas.

To more credibly deter Russian nuclear strikes against US conventional forces and interests, the new NPR seeks new nuclear strike options, including new low-yield options which do not rely on foreign bases. Existing Ohio- and Virginia-class submarines are to be used as platforms for these new weapons.

While the new NPR does not much change long-standing US policies, its political-military context -- vis-a-vis Russia especially -- has changed, and drastically so, since Obama's 2010 NPR.

For example the Trump Administration has, in its broader policy formulations, focused its National Defense Strategy (subtitled, "Sharpening the American Military's Competitive Edge") on Russia and China as the main threats to the United States, a major shift. This corresponds with a widespread belief in official Washington in (especially) Russian "aggression." Factually, there has been a notable lack of success in US military and political gambits across Eurasia and the Levant.

The primary if not the sole policy response to these events and changing circumstances is now being conceived in military, rather than diplomatic, terms. It is primarily this broad sea-change, the roots of which lie in the second Obama administration and which is by no means confined to a single political party, which makes the rhetorical tone and concrete policies in new NPR especially consequential.


The NPR calls for two major additions to the stockpile: submarine-launched nuclear-tipped cruise missiles (SLCMs), a type of weapon which the US retired in 2010 under Obama; and a low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warhead for existing Trident missiles.

These two proposed new weapons are the most visible and concrete evidence of this NPR's proposed expanded role for nuclear weapons in US military plans and postures.

The low-yield Trident warhead is described as a "low-cost and near term modification" of an existing warhead. The SLCMs, by contrast, are to be an "arms control compliant response" to Russia and a "longer-term" pursuit, beginning with a "capability study leading to an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA)." The warhead to be used in the new or modified "modern" missile is not mentioned. Use of the term "modern," and the long development path mentioned for the missile, apparently precludes reusing, or rebuilding as-is, the retired Tomahawk Land Attack Missile for this role.

As noted, the proposed SLCM would comply with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which the United States accuses Russia of violating. In a separate development, the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, Section 1243) mandates a research and development program toward an explicitly INF-violating road-mobile ground-launched cruise missile.

The new NPR would continue Obama-era warhead programs, with some changes. Two have been discussed above.

The third change is the cancellation of what was a centerpiece of Obama's warhead plan, a so-called "interoperable" warhead ("IW-1"). IW-1 was to replace two different warheads: an existing warhead (the W78) for ground-launched ballistic missiles; and another (the W88) on SLBMs.

The NPR scraps the IW-1. It has been replaced by a much simpler Life Extension Program (LEP) for the W78 warhead, which the NPR says will begin in 2019, one year before the IW-1 was to begin.  The IW-1 had been trenchantly opposed by the Navy as well as others in both the Obama and Trump administrations.

IW-1 was expected to cost $15 billion (B) in then-year dollars, plus any cost associated with accelerating construction of a new factory for the new plutonium warhead cores ("pits") that IW-1 would require [note 1]. The IW-1 program was to be centered at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

LLNL was the primary design laboratory (and is the current custodian) of the 1.2 megaton B83-1 bomb, which this NPR announces will be retained for some time longer than previously planned. Under Obama however, B83-1 retirement was always contingent upon successful deployment of the new B61-12 bomb, which the Department of Energy (DOE) Cost Estimation and Program Evaluation (CEPE) office estimates will be delayed by two years [note 2].

The cost of, and schedule for, the two proposed new warheads is unknown at this time. Partial information may become available with the Administration's Budget Request, expected February 12.

The NPR calls for completing all the warhead LEPs planned for the 2020s one year earlier than recently planned (as of November 2017). [See FY18 SSMP (Note 1), pp. 8-33 to 8-35]. This proposed acceleration includes the LEP for the B61-12 gravity bomb, the W88 SLBM warhead, and the W80-4 warhead for the proposed Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) cruise missile. The First Production Unit for what is now the W78 LEP is to be advanced one year from that estimated previously for the IW-1 which it replaces.

This schedule acceleration appears to be entirely unrealistic. According to the DOE CEPE, both the B61-12 and W88 LEPs are likely to be delayed from their stated schedule, the former by 2 years and the latter by one year [note 2].


This NPR, like its predecessors, provides guidance only. It does not establish unwavering policies. The past two NPRs (2001 and 2010) were poor predictors of subsequent realized policy. The first was very hawkish in both rhetoric and in the specific weapons it proposed, the second portrayed more dovish aspirations. For various reasons neither set of changes in nuclear policy were supported by Congress. 

This NPR, by itself, does not authorize or fund nuclear weapons programs, build infrastructure, or order deployments. Congress authorizes and funds programs. Even after doing so there have been many nuclear weapons programs which were not successfully executed. Even in the purely military sphere the President can only order what is possible and may encounter resistance from generals and admirals, as was the case with Obama's IW-1 program.

The leaked draft of this NPR has been a source of alarm for many commentators. All parties should understand, as long-time nuclear journalist Fred Kaplan has written ("Nuclear Posturing: Trump’s official nuclear policy isn’t that different from his predecessors’; That’s what makes it so scary.") that:

The shuddering thing about this document is that it reflects the views of officers and civilians, deep inside the Pentagon, who have been thinking about nuclear policy for decades. In other words, its premises and logic precede Trump; they have been woven into America’s nuclear-war machine for a very long time. Trump makes it seem more shuddersome because he is the first president since the end of the Cold War to speak about nuclear war so cavalierly—to give the impression that he might actually launch a nuclear first strike—and, therefore, to a degree that wasn’t true of Bush or Obama (or almost any other president), it seems that he might easily be persuaded to take this document as a serious guide to action.

Much of the alarm about this document centers on US policy to not forswear nuclear first strikes, a long-term problem in our view. Obama's NPR did not discuss the shocking details or implications of this policy, which he did not change. Trump's NPR does discuss them.


Study Group Director Greg Mello:

"What is most 'missing in action' in this document is civilian leadership. Trump is not supplying that. In part the fault for this comes from Democrats -- who, allied with the intelligence community and other military-industrial interests, insist that the US must have an adversarial relationship with Russia. There is no organized senior-level opposition to the new Cold War, which is intensifying week by week. This document reflects, and is just one of many policies embodying, the new and very dangerous Cold War.

"Unfortunately the "hard power" approach that we see in this NPR eliminates better options as it proceeds and creates the enemies it needs to justify high military expenditures. Fear is used to create more fear -- and more appropriations. In that sense, our nuclear missiles are aimed at Congress. They are also aimed at the American people, whose nuclear fears were consciously cultivated and used as a social control mechanism by government in the first Cold War.

"The low-yield Trident warheads are a gratuitous self-inflicted wound on the supposed rationale of the nuclear mission. What the drafters of this NPR seem unable to grasp is that any use of nuclear weapons -- anywhere, against any adversary, with any yield, under any circumstance -- will immediately lead to existential dangers for the United States and the world. Nuclear weapons cannot be used -- period. The term "nuclear weapon" is an oxymoron. 

"A strong nuclear posture review -- one that would help 'make America great again' -- would be one that eliminated gratuitous nuclear threats, decreased the US arsenal, and shrunk the institutions and contractors which thrive on existential threats to our country.

"It is traditional to discuss US nuclear weapons delivery options as a 'triad.' Actually there are currently four such options -- a quadriad -- because air-launched cruise missiles and free-fall bombs are quite distinct modes, from the military point of view. This posture review proposes five delivery modes, a pentad, since submarine-launched cruise missiles are to be added back into the mix.

"The nuclear weapons complex and DoD modernization programs do not turn on a dime. Nothing that is new in this will come easy or cheap, except possibly for tweaking some existing Trident warheads.

"It will be up to Congress to reign in what is worst in this. We must help them. As we do so it is important to recognize that this NPR, in its bones, is much the same as Obama's. But the deteriorating context -- the new Cold War, and the relative decline of US power -- is far more dangerous now. Attempts to rely on a nuclear aegis for our expeditionary forces could well lead to nuclear war, which is inherently uncontrollable, with potentially catastrophic proliferation consequences even if 'successfully' terminated.

"There are no simple defenses for stealthy cruise missiles launched from submarines or freighters. Russia, China, and many other countries now possess or will soon possess this technology. Stimulating a provocative cruise missile race for which there is no defense is as profoundly stupid a policy for Mr. Trump as it was for Mr. Obama. Asymmetric responses to the new threats we seek to impose will also be found, which we may like even less than cruise missiles.

"Contrary to what is stated here, nuclear weapons do not bring peace. The idea portrayed in this NPR is that nuclear weapons can help make the planet "safe" for US and proxy wars, while we all remain under the general threat of annihilation. Their effect on our culture and character, and on our social contract, has been profoundly damaging. As Simone Weil put it in her famous essay on the Iliad, 'Thus it is that those to whom destiny lends might, perish for having relied too much upon it.'"

Additional remarks:

"Starting in Obama's second term, neoconservatives began to be ascendant. Their goal was then and is now to conquer -- to 'break' -- Russia, in the summation of Henry Kissinger, and to contain China, and thus to rule the world. That is the context of this document, and that is why it is consequential and frightening. To say, "Look at the terrifying things Trump is saying!' is to miss the deeper point that successful conflict with Russia has been the entire thrust of US policy for several years now. This is just another expression of it, in the nuclear weapons arena. Are you frightened? You should be! Given that 'victory' over the Eurasian powers must be ours -- and that is the view, like the old Roman Carthago delenda est -- a powerful, usable, and huge arsenal of nuclear weapons is implied and essential. There is a bipartisan consensus in Washington today, as there was under Obama, that Russia will eventually buckle if enough pressure is applied. 'Russia supine,' as it was under Yeltsin, is seen in Washington as the natural order of the world. Breaking Russia is in turn the gateway to containing a rising China.

"The neocons who were the first authors of this report (before the generals and budget hawks weeded out the worst bits) are partly right: the story spun by liberals about the US place in the world has been running out of oxygen. We can't run the world on 'soft power.' As much as we may complain, other states also have 'soft power.' The emperor's nakedness is visible to more and more of the world. What then to do? In the Trump policies, generals and neocons are saying, 'We must frighten even more, including with nuclear weapons, and be ready to fight.' This won't work. We can't run the world on hard power -- or on soft power. We just can't run the world, period. Unilateral steps toward peace and solidarity need to be taken now by the US to avoid the terrible consequences of our policies up to now, policies which have spanned many administrations. We must set aside empire -- let it go -- and avoid the collapse that awaits most empires at their end.

"This NPR is in many ways a neoconservative and military cri de coeur. 'What happened to the American Century? It's going to be over! Surely nuclear weapons can be our 'winning weapon' again! Aren't they the aegis of power that can protect our expeditionary forces as they fight all around the world for our 'vital interests'?" In other words, this NPR is peculiarly about weakness. About decline and how nuclear weapons might help to stem it. Remarkably, there's no progress toward anything positive envisioned. It's all war, all the time in this document. There is no diplomacy in it. No common security. No human solidarity. No environmental stewardship and climate change mitigation. It is a paranoid neocon essay on hard power, over-written and edited by generals."

Note 1: IW-1 cost and schedule can be seen on p. 8-36 of the NNSA/DOE FY 2018 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, Nov 2017. IW-1 was the only warhead LEP to require new pits; see NNSA: Pit Sources for Life Extension Programs (LEPs) 2015. The NPR does not change the pit production requirement from that was set under Obama (see 50 USC section 2538a).

Note 2
: Re B61-12 delay: "Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Should Adopt Additional Best Practices to Better Manage Risk for Life Extension Programs," GAO-18-129, Jan. 30, 2018, p. 27. Congressional staff have also told me they expect delays in these programs.

^ back to top

2901 Summit Place NE Albuquerque, NM 87106, Phone: 505-265-1200

home page calendar contact contribute