US to spend billions ‘modernizing’ nuclear arsenal

Mathieu Rabechault, “US to spend billions ‘modernizing’ nuclear arsenal,” AFP, 7 November 2013

Washington — The United States plans to spend billions to upgrade a decades-old atomic bomb designed to stop a Soviet invasion of Europe, as part of a controversial project to modernize its nuclear arsenal.

Some lawmakers and experts dismiss the effort as a colossal waste of money that could derail arms control talks with Russia. …

Some members of Congress are wary of the price tag, as the estimated cost for modernizing the B61 bomb keeps rising, from an initial $4 billion to $8.1 billion. And a Pentagon panel has projected the cost could reach $10 to $12 billion.

“The case against the B61 life extension is simple: it is unaffordable, unworkable and unnecessary,” said Kingston Reif of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

For skeptics, the project looks overly ambitious at a time of budget austerity, when the Air Force is already planning major spending on the new F-35 fighter jet, a new long-range bomber and a new cruise missile.

The cost of the program is coming under particular scrutiny because Obama himself is pushing to scrap tactical weapons in Europe, prompting criticism that the whole undertaking is unneccessary.

“To me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend billions of dollars to extend the life of weapons that the president has already said he wants to get rid of,” said Tom Collina, director of research at the Arms Control Association. …

Obama has touted fresh arms control negotiations with Russia as a priority but making improvements to the B61 bomb could undermine prospects for any deal with Moscow, Collina and other experts said.

“Certainly, if the United States puts upgraded B61 bombs that are more accurate in Europe, Russia will probably have a response,” Collina said.

“I don’t know what that would be, but it certainly won’t be very positive.”

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