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31 Oct, 2013 16:54

US readies for $400 bln nuclear arms upgrade

US readies for $400 bln nuclear arms upgrade

High-ranking Pentagon officials told members of Congress this week that the United States is in dire need of billions of dollars’ worth of upgrades to the country’s arsenal of antiquated atomic warheads.

Before a meeting of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, United States Department of Defense officials said the US must spend at least a decade working to revitalize the high-power weapons, and insisted that doing otherwise could be detrimental to the country’s national security.

Madelyn R. Creedon, the assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs, insisted to lawmakers that the US is obligated to move forward with plans to invest a tremendous amount of time and money into the program, because the repercussions of not doing so would be not worth risking.

Modernization work of this kind is expensive, but there is no doubt that the investment ... is necessary,” Creedon said, according to Reuters’ David Alexander.

Alexander reported that Creedon considers the US’ B61 gravity bomb, currently deployed in Europe, a “cornerstone” of America’s commitment to protect its fellow NATO nations.

Elsewhere during the hearing, the commander of the US Strategic Command said that three key functions performed by the nation’s nuclear arsenal could be questioned if upgrades aren’t made soon.

America’s warheads deter potential adversaries, assure allies and partners and “in the unlikely event deterrence fails, [they employ] nuclear weapons when directed by the president to achieve US and allied objectives,” Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler told the committee, according to the American Forces Press Service.

To do as much, Kehler said, requires repairing and replacing of old components that have degraded over the course of several decades.

Our requirement to deter nuclear attack is a military mission,” Kehler said. “This B-61 weapon arms the B-2. It will arm the future long-range strike platform. It arms the dual-capable aircraft that are forward stationed in Europe as well as those of our NATO allies.”

Earlier in the hearing, Creedon told the panel that the last time the country’s nuclear stockpile was fully examined and upgraded accordingly occurred in the 1990s when the production of new warheads was suspended.

Launching an operation now, though — even if some call it imperative — is too costly to consider for others. The non-partisan Stimson Center think-tank estimated last year estimated that the cost of upgrading the nation’s entire nuclear arsenal over the course of a decade, including weapons, infrastructure and delivery systems, could come at a price-tag as high as $400 billion. At the same time, the sequestration deal signed earlier this year calls for the Pentagon to slash spending by roughly $1 trillion during that same time-span.

Not all say it’s worth it, and among those is Kingston Reif, an analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. According to Reuters, Reif said that spending even as little as $11 billion to upgrade just the B61 bomb would be inappropriate.

"That program is unaffordable, unrealistic and unnecessary because there are cheaper alternatives to extend the life of the weapon,” Reif said in a recent interview cited by Reuters.

Others, including the Pentagon’s Kehler, said it is something that should be done despite any astronomical costs.

Equipping current and future nuclear bombers is a “necessary and crucial component of the triad and arming that force is a top priority,” Kehler said at this week’s hearing.