"To modernize your nuclear weapons stockpile and assure that they
continue to stay secure and safe, it takes money, it takes
resources," Hagel said after touring Sandia National Laboratories
and Kirtland Air Force Base, two facilities involved in maintaining
The U.S. defense chief said upgrading U.S. nuclear warheads and the
submarines, bombers and missiles that deliver them would require
setting priorities and minding the budget, but he added the country
"has always been willing to make that investment and I think it will
continue to make it."
The visit was part of a two-day trip to bases supporting U.S.
nuclear forces. Hagel travels on Thursday to F.E. Warren Air Force
Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he will see intercontinental
ballistic missile silos and talk to troops in a nuclear mission that
has been troubled by morale problems.
Major General Michael Carey was fired as head of the 450-weapon U.S.
intercontinental ballistic missile force in October for getting
drunk and carousing with Russian women while leading a government
delegation to Moscow for talks on nuclear security.
Hagel acknowledged the morale problems in the unit and said he
planned to underscore the importance of the ICBM mission and thank
the troops for their service.
"They do feel unappreciated many times," he said. "They're stuck out
in areas where not a lot of attention is paid."
Hagel's visit to the nuclear-related facilities comes as the
administration is pushing ahead with ambitious plans to upgrade
nuclear systems by modernizing weapons and building new submarines,
missiles and bombers to deliver them.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated in late December the plans
would cost $355 billion over the next decade. The Center for
Nonproliferation Studies calculated in a study on Tuesday that the
upgrade would cost $1 trillion over 30 years.
"These are going to cost much more than people appreciate they are
going to cost," said Jon Wolfsthal, the deputy director of the
center in Monterey, California. "Annually we're going to be spending
upwards of $33 billion ... once we get to year 11, 12 and onward."
The administration plans to modernize its 1970s-era nuclear bombs — some of which still use vacuum tubes that date to the 1960s — and
upgrade them with current electronic components and tail kit
guidance systems to make them more accurate.
At the same time, the Pentagon is planning to build a dozen new
ballistic missile submarines, a new fleet of long-range nuclear
bombers and new intercontinental ballistic missiles to replace the
current delivery systems, all of which are nearing the end of their
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Critics of the administration's plans say the spending is excessive
given President Barack Obama's announcement last year that a nuclear
posture review had concluded the United States could reduce the size
of its arsenal by about a third to between 1,000 and 1,500 deployed
Under the New START treaty Obama negotiated with Russia, the two
former Cold War rivals are committed to reduce their deployed
strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 per side by 2018.
"In a constrained budget environment, and in a time in which the
president has already determined that the United States can reduce
our deployed strategic arsenal by a third, ... we don't believe the
taxpayer should be asked to build a new triad that's the same size,
the same firepower as the triad that we no longer need," said Daryl
Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association.
Supporters of the plans say the spending is a small proportion of
the overall Defense Department base budget, which has been running
at more than $500 billion annually, and they note that maintaining a
credible deterrent is necessary to fulfill treaty obligations in
Europe and Asia.
Clark Murdock, a nuclear weapons expert at the Center for Strategic
and International Studies think tank, said Russia had been
modernizing the legs of its own triad and had become more reliant
upon nuclear arms as its conventional forces weakened.
"I don't want the Russians thinking they have a superior nuclear
force," he said, adding it was also important to maintain nuclear
forces superior to those of China to fulfill U.S. treaty obligations
to Japan, South Korea and others.
"This is an uncertain time, particularly in the Asian sphere,
particularly with China getting more and more aggressive and
assertive about its territorial claims within the region," Murdock
said. "Under those kind of circumstances, that's not a time when you
take a way the overarching security architecture that's anchored
right now on the U.S. nuclear umbrella."
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
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