The Wall Street Journal has recently published an op-ed by former Clinton administration Defense Secretary William Perry and former DOD acquisition official Andy Weber calling for the scrapping of plans for a new nuclear-armed cruise missile for the USAF.
Such a missile is to complement the USAF’s planned Long Range Strike Bomber in the nuclear deterrence and possibly also the conventional strike role. The rationale is that the USAF cannot afford to put all of its eggs into one basket, for that would simplify America’s potential adversaries’ plans. To thwart any American strike, they would then only need to counter US stealth technology – which they are already working on.
Thus, a new nuclear-tipped cruise missile is necessary to ensure the credibility of the airborne leg of the US nuclear triad, especially since the LRSB will not enter service until the mid-2020s at the earliest. The current, nonstealthy cruise missile borne by USAF bombers will have to be retired by 2030 at the latest.
If a new cruise missile is not fielded in that timeframe – between the mid-2020s and the year 2030 – the airborne leg of the US nuclear triad will be rendered totally ineffective and impotent in the face of the very potent, very modern air defense systems fielded by America’s potential adversaries – including Russia, China, Belarus, and Venezuela – with Iran set to join them.
Perry and Weber, however, refuse to acknowledge these facts and propagate several myths in their article. Firstly, they claim:
“Because they can be launched without warning and come in both nuclear and conventional variants, cruise missiles are a uniquely destabilizing type of weapon.”
This is nonsense. Cruise missiles are no more destabilizing than any other kind of weapon. Dozens of countries around the world possess them – both conventional- and nuclear-armed cruise missiles – and have used the conventional variants on numerous occassions without any miscalculation or destabilization occurring. Most notably, the US has used cruise missiles in combat, on a massive scale, in every major military intervention undertaken since 1991 – without anyone misreading America’s intentions.
Perry and Weber also claim:
“President Obama can lead the world to a stabler and safer future by canceling plans for a new U.S. nuclear-capable cruise missile. Moreover, taking such a step — which would not diminish the formidable U.S. nuclear deterrent in the least — could lay the foundation for a global ban on these dangerous weapons.”
This is fanciful and hopelessly naive, and as such, it completely discredits the authors of these claims. How do we know? Because the US has already unilaterally scrapped its nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs). In their op-ed, Perry and Weber themselves approvingly recall that unilateral disarmament gesture of the elder President Bush. No other nuclear power has reciprocated it. Not even one.
Russia has not scrapped any of its SLCMs and has deployed new ones, called the Kalibr, whose range is 1,550 miles (2,480 kms). India and Israel have deployed nuclear-tipped missiles on their own submarines. China has procured nuclear-tipped air-launched cruise missiles and is developing such weapons for its submarines. Iran and North Korea are developing ground-launched types of cruise missiles.
So President Bush’s unilateral gesture has not been reciprocated by anyone at all. It has only undermined the deterring power of the US nuclear arsenal – and thus, America’s national security.
Perry and Weber also falsely claim that modernizing the B-2 stealth bomber and procuring the LRSB (B-3) stealth bomb truck will suffice to renew the airborne leg of the nuclear triad:
“With these efforts, the B-2 and B61 will provide the core capability of the bomber leg of the strategic air-land-and-sea nuclear triad for decades to come. (…) With the updated B-2 and B61 expected to remain in service for many decades, and the planned deployment of new B-3 penetrating bombers with B61 bombs starting in 2025, there is scant justification for spending tens of billions of dollars on a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile and related warhead life-extension program. The old Cold War requirement for such a capability no longer exists. We can, and should, maintain an extremely effective bomber leg of the triad without it.”
Again, they are dead wrong. Russia and China are already working on “counter-stealth” radars to add to their air defense systems. If successfully developed and fielded in meaningful numbers, these radars could, one day, detect them and permit Russian/Chinese-supplied air defense systems to kill them. Such systems, if successfully developed, will be available to anyone able to pay for them, including Iran.
It would be sheer madness to put all of the USAF’s eggs into one basket and dramatically simplify the problem for America’s potential adversaries. The US Air Force cannot afford to rely on stealth alone. While it’s very important, it’s no silver bullet.
Cruise missiles rely not on stealthiness but on their small size, shape, very low flight altitudes, and terrain masking to evade enemy air defenses and reach their targets.
Perry and Weber also falsely claim that President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty because they supposedly “recognized the destabilizing nature of nuclear cruise missiles and prioritized the elimination of ground-launched versions in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.” Like their other claims, this one is also completely false.
President Reagan pushed for the INF Treaty not because he believed cruise missiles to be destabilizing – he didn’t – but because he was worried about 1,846 Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles aimed at targets in Western Europe, including US military bases. Therefore, he pushed for these Soviet missiles to be withdrawn – both the ballistic and the cruise missiles. He didn’t consider the cruise variety to be more destabilizing. He simply wanted Europe to live free of the threat of Soviet nuclear attack or blackmail.
But President Reagan was not initially sold on the idea of a “zero option.” He initially didn’t support scrapping all American ground-launched intermediate range missiles. As Adam Lowther rightly notes in The National Interest:
“During the Oct. 13, 1981, National Security Council meeting, then-Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger suggested that the United States pursue a “zero option,” which would ban all intermediate range ballistic missiles and ground launched cruise missiles. President Reagan responded to this suggestion, “Do we really want a zero-option for the battlefield? Don’t we need these nuclear systems? Wouldn’t it be bad for us to give them up since we need them to handle Soviet conventional superiority?”
In the years that followed, President Reagan never came to see nuclear cruise missiles as destabilizing. He supported ratification of the INF Treaty (1987) because the United States was required to dismantle 846 weapons (Pershing II and GLCM) while the Soviet Union dismantled 1,846 weapons (SS-4, SS-5, SS-20). With the Soviets giving up better than two weapons to every one American weapon the INF Treaty was too good for the United States to pass up.”
As for Gorbachev, at the outset he wasn’t actually willing to withdraw any Soviet missiles at all. It was not until 1986 that he agreed to do so, and not until 1987 that he agreed to a verification regime.
And now, that landmark treaty is unravelling, as Russia continues to illegally develop, test, and field ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that violate the accord.
At the end of their screed, Perry and Weber make their most ridiculous claim: that the US can prompt other nuclear powers to scrap their own nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, and advance the childish cause of “a world without nuclear weapons”, if it unilaterally scraps its plans for the new missile:
“We therefore urge President Obama to cancel the current plan to develop and buy 1,000 to 1,100 new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles. Such strong U.S. leadership, coupled with a challenge to the other major nuclear powers to eliminate or, in the cases of China and India, forgo deployment of this extremely destabilizing class of weapons, would reduce the risk of nuclear weapons use and be a historic practical step in the direction of a world without nuclear weapons.”
Only totally naive and ignorant persons or congenital liars could make such claims.
The truth is that – as this writer has been warning for many years – “a world without nuclear weapons” is a totally unrealistic, childish fantasy which is NEVER materialize – unless even more powerful and deadly weapons are developed and fielded.
Every event of the last 10+ years has proven this writer right and everyone advocating “a world without nuclear weapons” dead wrong.
Russia and China are rapidly modernizing and expanding their nuclear arsenals. They are developing and deploying, in increasing quantities, new warheads, ballistic missile submarines, cruise missile submarines, sea-launched ballistic and cruise missiles, rail- and road-launched multiple-warhead ICBMs, intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles, tactical strike aircraft, air-launched cruise missiles, and strategic bombers.
North Korea has managed to miniaturize its nuclear warheads and mate it with ICBMs. Top US military commanders, incl. Adm. William Gortney (the commander in charge of defending the US and Canada), have confirmed this and have warned that these ICBMs can now reach the Continental US.
Iran, despite the recently-concluded Vienna Agreement, continues to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles of increasing range.
India and Pakistan are both increasing their nuclear arsenals and deploying new warhead delivery systems – aircraft, ground-launched missiles (including ground-launched cruise missiles in Pakistan’s case and sea-launched ones on India’s part), and, in India’s case, developing ballistic missile submarines.
Israel continues to grow its atomic arsenal and now possesses, inter alia, 5 ultra-quiet submarines armed with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.
France continues to field nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and is now developing their successor, the AS4NG, which will likely be hypersonic. France maintains its independent nuclear deterrent because it believes it cannot rely on the US to provide a reliable nuclear umbrella and doesn’t want to depend on America for its security.
Several other countries are now striving to join the nuclear club, most notably Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
There is ZERO chance of there ever being a world of nuclear weapons. In fact, the world is marching in the exactly opposite direction.
The U.S. government should base its policy on cold hard facts and realistic prospects of the future, NOT on fairy tales and false promises.
Perry’s and Weber’s promise that the US could somehow cause other nuclear powers to give up their nuclear-tipped cruise missiles is also a fairy tale. This is just one variant of the Left’s standard “if we disarm ourselves unilaterally, others will be compelled to do so as well by our moral example” lie.
If America disarms itself unilaterally, NO ONE will follow suit.
Over 25 years of deep unilateral cuts in America’s nuclear arsenal, and multiple unilateral disarmament gestures, have completely failed to convince anyone to follow suit. They have only undermined America’s national security and that of its allies.
The U.S. government needs to be realistic base its policy on cold hard facts and realistic prospects of the future, NOT on fairy tales and false promises.