Friday, February 11, 2005

US Designing New Nuclear Arms

I have been reading Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor (yes, I know I am behind reading my Jack Ryan books!) and in it is a major theme of how downsizing and non-modernization of military assets can lead to disastrous global adventurism by other countries.

It is good that the United States is modernizing its nuclear deterence:

New York - United States scientists are quietly starting work on a new generation of nuclear arms meant to be more rugged and reliable than warheads in the existing arsenal, reported the New York Times on Monday.

About $9m has been allocated so far for weapons designers at the three US nuclear weapons laboratories, said the daily, citing government officials and experts.

The initiative is expected to grow and could produce finished designs in five to 10 years.

Congress and a future administration then would have to approve the development of prototype warheads.

Critics say the project could trigger a new arms race and topple bans on testing, while proponents say it ultimately could reduce the US nuclear arsenal, yet make it more robust.

Long shelf life

US weapons builders have spent decades trimming the dimensions of originally massive bombs to make them easier to transport and more accurate, using the latest technologies and innovative methods.

But now they want to emphasise reliability and long shelf life, and design weapons that are easy to manufacture.

The arsenal of about 10 000 warheads is ageing and the United States can no longer be certain of the reliability of the bombs because of international bans on testing.

"Our labs have been thinking about this problem off and on for 20 years," said John Harvey, director of policy planning at the national nuclear security administration.

"The goal is to see if we can make smarter, cheaper and more-easily-manufactured designs that we can readily certify as safe and reliable for the indefinite future - and do so without nuclear testing."

The creation of more-reliable warheads could lead to a sharp reduction in the overall number of arms in the US nuclear arsenal, according to a US lawmaker.

Could spark a new arms race

"A more-robust replacement warhead, from a reliability standpoint, will provide a hedge that is provided by retaining thousands of unnecessary warheads," said David Hobson last week.

An arms-control advocate said the programme could spark a new arms race, revive underground testing and possibly make use of nuclear weapons in war more tempting.

"The existing stockpile is safe and reliable by all standards," Daryl Kimball, director of the arms control association, told the Times.

"So, to design a new warhead that is even more robust is a redundant activity that could be a pretext for designing a weapon that has a new military mission."

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