Academic journal article Pepperdine Policy Review

Unanswered Questions: Modernizing the US Nuclear Arsenal and Forces?

Academic journal article Pepperdine Policy Review

Unanswered Questions: Modernizing the US Nuclear Arsenal and Forces?

Article excerpt


As long as nuclear weapons exist within the US nuclear posture, and other powers in the world have these weapons, they must be safe, secure, and effective to provide for the general defense and deterrence for the US and our allies. This is done for strategic effectiveness, and to reassure the world community of the US commitment to global security.1 Further, when the weaponry is brought up to date, not only can future threats be hedged against, but there is also not as significant a need for a large non-deployed stockpile.2 The US Nuclear Posture Review Report (NPR) from April 2010 calls for much needed infrastructure improvement that will possibly take decades to implement, spanning multiple administrations, and sessions of Congress. In April 2010, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates transferred nearly $5 billion from the Department of Defense to the Department of Energy for modernization. This investment represented the beginning of credible improvements to the nuclear arsenal, sustained deterrence effectiveness, and building a nuclear infrastructure for the twenty first century.3

This paper will examine the reasons for modernization of the US nuclear arsenal, and why updating the weapons and delivery system will give US forces the expanded capacity that may be a desirable factor, as opposed to the inordinate amount the US spends on maintaining obsolete weapon systems and facilities. This paper will bring up more questions than answers, as recent problems for the arsenal have come to light, and will be highlighted in this document. The cost associated with upgrading and modernizing its arsenal is not a zero-sum game, because if the US is going to spend a significant amount of money, there should be a significant benefit. According to a 1998 Brookings Institution Report, in the last half of the twentieth century the US spent nearly $8 trillion dollars on nuclear weapons, which represented nearly a third of its total military spending during the Cold War.4 It is time for the US to begin completely overhauling its nuclear complex, which is what Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced on November 15, 2014, in an effort to improve management and infrastructure security of the nation's nuclear stockpile while beginning the modernization process.5

Hagel Begins Revamping All Phases Of Nuclear Weaponry

Making nuclear weapons a capable and effective deterrent is not the only reason for modernization. There is also the issue of improving management at all levels of our stockpile and revitalizing the forces quality of life for those who maintain them.6 Although no longer in practice, until 1992 the US nuclear stockpile was maintained through warhead replacement, which came from design to test, then deployment for use and deterrence until retirement of the warhead when a successor came on-line.7 Since 1992, the US has stopped testing nuclear weapons, and has no longer maintained and certified the warheads as safe and reliable.8 There has been a Department of Defense program, Stockpile Stewardship Program, which is a Congressional mandate, and in theory will extend the life of refurbished warheads back to original specifications.9 This low-maintenance approach, in addition to low troop morale and personnel challenges within top ranks of the nuclear command structure, are reasons changes were begun under Gates and why Hagel has taken on the task of what to do with our nuclear complex with continued deterioration happening at all levels.

Hagel has concluded the problems in the nation's nuclear forces are rooted in a lack of investment, inattention by high-level leaders, and sagging morale. This forced him to order top-to-bottom changes. He has vowed to invest billions of dollars to fix management and modernization of the world's most deadly weapons. Hagel ordered two lengthy reviews the summer of 2014 after a series of stories by the Associated Press revealed numerous problems in management, morale, security, and safety, which led to several firings, demotions, and other disciplinary actions against a range of Air Force personnel from Generals to Airmen. …

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