U.S. Needs New Nukes Now, DOD Officials Say

MAY 2, 2019 | BY C. TODD LOPEZ

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The U.S. needs to upgrade its nuclear capability now, DOD officials told Congress recently. And while those efforts are already underway, it'll take continued funding from lawmakers to ensure the U.S. can maintain its nuclear edge.

The U.S. nuclear deterrence capability relies on the "nuclear triad," which includes ground-based nuclear weapons that launch from silos; sea-based nuclear weapons that launch from submarines; and air-based nuclear weapons that are dropped from aircraft.

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Here's what the U.S. is doing to keep its nuclear edge sharp:

  • For ground-based deterrence, the U.S. is developing the "Ground Based Strategic Deterrent," which is expected to replace about 400 existing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Minuteman III has been around since 1970.
  • At sea, the U.S. is looking to replace about 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines with the Columbia-class submarine. Development of that sub is underway now, and the first is expected to begin construction in 2021.
  • In the air, the U.S. uses B-52H Stratofortress and B-2A Spirit bomber aircraft to deliver nuclear payloads. Eventually, it expects to replace those with the now-under-development B-21 Raider aircraft. The nuclear capability of the AGM-86B air-launched cruise missiles is also expected to be replaced by the Long Range Standoff weapon by the early 2030s.

Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, discussed U.S. efforts to upgrade its nuclear triad yesterday during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Click to learn more about the work to upgrade the triad.

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