Is the U.S. Military Preparing for a Post-New START World?
Aug. 8, 2020 (EIRNS)—Is the U.S. military preparing itself for a world after the end of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)? There is of course no official statement as the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty doesn’t expire until Feb. 21, 2021. As with the INF Treaty, however, there are developments that suggest that the groundwork is possibly being laid to expand U.S. nuclear forces beyond the limits imposed on nuclear warheads and launchers by the treaty.
On July 1, Gen. Arnold Bunch, Commander of Air Force Matériel Command, implied that production of the new B-21 stealth bomber, slated to replace both the B-2 and the B-1 bombers, could go beyond the currently program 80-100 aircraft as he claimed that the program is going so well that budgeting could allow for many more aircraft.
Then, on July 30, Adm. Charles Richard, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told a virtual conference of the Center for Strategic and International Studies that while the program for the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine is currently set at 12 boats, the actual number to be built will depend on the threat. “I think it’s important that when we set the requirements, particularly the numbers for the platforms, that was based on a specific threat. If you change the threat on me, then we have to come back and re-think what the right number is,” he said.
Then on Aug. 4, the Air Force Global Strike Command test launched a Minuteman III ICBM from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The command test launches 4-5 missiles a year to ensure the viability of the fleet, but this launch was unusual in that it carried three re-entry vehicles rather than the one mounted on each of the 400 missiles currently in service. The Minuteman III’s were originally equipped with three warheads, but were reduced to one each as part of the process to bring the total number of deployed warheads under the New START limit of 1,550.
All three of these developments have potential implications for the number of deployed land-based and sea-based missiles and bombers, as well as warheads, all of which are limited by the New START treaty.
The pattern may be that already seen with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which the U.S. withdrew from in 2019. For as long as two years prior, after the U.S. had been accusing Russia of violating the treaty, the groundwork, including through Congressional authorizations, was being laid for the U.S. to develop intermediate range strike systems. The U.S. Army now has under development two new strike systems, a super long-range cannon, and a hypersonic missile system with range capabilities of over 1,600 km. The now-defunct treaty formerly prohibited ground-launched weapons systems with a range between 500 and 5,500 km.