Over the past several years, various measures have been taken in the United States to maintain and develop strategic nuclear forces. From time to time, high-ranking officials talk about successes in this area, and new statements were made just the other day. This time, President Donald Trump personally spoke about the modernization of the strategic nuclear forces.
D. Trump regularly raises the topic of modernizing the US strategic nuclear forces, and each such statement attracts attention. This year there have already been two similar performances, which are very interestingly correlated with each other.
In February, the US President recalled the difficult situation in the sphere of strategic arms control. The United States offers Russia and China to sign a new limiting agreement similar to the current START III, but it does not meet with understanding. In this regard, according to D. Trump, the only option for the American side is the further development of strategic nuclear forces, which will make them the most powerful in the world.
On August 20, D. Trump again touched upon the development of nuclear forces – but this time in the format of a progress report. According to him, a major modernization of the armed forces was carried out, on which they spent $ 2.5 trillion. Part of these funds went to renew the strategic nuclear forces and brought them to a “fantastic level.” At the same time, the president hopes that the obtained nuclear and conventional potential will not have to be used in practice.
We are talking about consistent work over several years, starting with the election of Trump as president. However, everything may look as if the named results were obtained in just a few months. Thus, in February the president spoke of the need to build up strategic nuclear forces, and already in August he points to their “fantastic level.”
Currently, the development of the US strategic nuclear forces is carried out in accordance with the plans from 2018, reflected in the Nuclear Policy Review. This document provides for a gradual increase in spending on the development and production of strategic weapons, as well as their carriers, changing the structure of forces in accordance with new challenges, etc.
In recent years, incl. before the publication of the latest version of the “Review”, the development of several new types of equipment and weapons for the strategic nuclear forces was launched. Most of these projects are still at the design stage and are not yet ready for adoption. Nevertheless, the work continues and should give the desired results in the foreseeable future.
It should be noted that over the past six months, separating two high-profile statements by D. Trump, no fundamentally new types of weapons or equipment have been transferred to the strategic nuclear forces. So far, we are talking only about design, preparation for future tests of prototypes, etc.
The current plans of the Pentagon provide for the creation of a cut of several new models for the rearmament of strategic nuclear forces in the distant future. All components of the “nuclear triad” are covered, and we are talking about both warheads and delivery vehicles of a number of main classes.
For strategic aviation, a long-range bomber B-21 Raider is being developed, designed to replace the cash B-1B and B-2A in the future. “Raider” will be able to use existing strategic weapons; new ammunition is also being developed. In particular, tests are being carried out on a promising aeroballistic missile AGM-183; new samples expected.
For ground missile units, a promising Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) ICBM is being created, with the help of which the existing LGM-30 Minuteman III will be replaced. The first missiles of the new type will take over duty in 2027. It is assumed that such products will remain in service for approx. 50 years.
After withdrawing from the treaty on intermediate and shorter-range missiles, the United States began developing new types of strategic weapons. The land-based cruise missile has already entered testing, and the MRBM is still being developed. There are projects of ground-based hypersonic missile systems, which have not yet advanced too far.
In the interests of the Navy, a strategic submarine missile carrier of the Columbia type is being designed for the future replacement of the existing Ohio-class SSBNs. The lead boat of the new project will be laid next year and in 2030-31. will be commissioned. Promising submarines will have to use Trident II ballistic missiles, which will undergo another upgrade.
To date, the Navy has begun the deployment of new warheads of reduced power W76-2. Such products with a capacity of 5-6 kt, installed on Trident-2 missiles, should be a response to the tactical nuclear weapons of a potential adversary.
Thus, in recent months, the development of the US strategic nuclear forces has been reduced mainly to work on promising projects of various kinds. The real results of promising projects are still few in number, and most of them are expected only in the second half of the decade. Until then, the strategic nuclear forces will have to use mostly “old” models.
Development without limits
In recent years, the development and optimization of US strategic nuclear forces has been carried out taking into account the limitations of the START III treaty. It does not allow a participating country to have more than 1,550 warheads on duty; the number of carriers is limited to 800 units, of which 700 can be deployed. The United States and Russia have long ago reduced their nuclear forces to the required level and continue to maintain them in this form. The necessary combat qualities of the strategic nuclear forces are ensured by changing the shares of different components, carriers and weapons within the limits of the permissible number.
START III ends in early 2021. There is a high risk that it will not be extended and the restrictions will be lifted. This will allow the United States and Russia to build up and rebuild their strategic nuclear forces only in accordance with their own plans. The collapse of the INF Treaty also allows the two countries to develop and deploy missiles of “new” classes that have been absent in recent decades.
Thus, at the moment, the Pentagon has limited capabilities to change, optimize and improve its strategic nuclear forces. However, the gradual disintegration of international treaties removes such restrictions and opens up new ways for the development of nuclear forces. The first steps in this direction have already been taken, and new programs will be launched in the near future. However, their completion will take at least several years.
Modernization and politics
The current program for the modernization of the US strategic nuclear forces is carried out in accordance with the doctrine of 2018, but its main provisions were determined even earlier, incl. under the previous president. For several years, various projects have been launched to create promising samples and modernize existing ones.
It is curious that most of these projects are still at the design stage and have not even been brought to the test yet. Their results will only appear during the current decade. At the same time, in February, D. Trump promised to build improved strategic nuclear forces, and in August he reported on the completion of such events. With all the observed successes of the Pentagon and the defense industry, the latest statements by the head of state do not fully correspond to the real state of affairs.
This discrepancy between words and deeds can have the simplest explanation. In a few months, the next presidential election will take place, and D. Trump needs to remind the voter of his deeds and merits. Development of the B-21 aircraft, GBSD missiles, Columbia submarines, etc. went during Trump’s rule – and he gets the opportunity to view them as an achievement of his administration.
Thus, the military department and the US defense industry continue to implement the adopted doctrine for the development of strategic nuclear forces, taking into account current tasks, challenges and restrictions, as well as possible changes in the military-political situation. Some of the results of this work have already been obtained, while others will appear only in the future – however, all of them will expand the strategic capabilities of the Pentagon. Against this background, D. Trump is doing everything possible to stay in the presidency and uses nuclear projects to his advantage. How successful this campaign will be will become clear in November, after the elections.