Broken Arrow News: Week of July 30

By Luisa Kenausis, Scoville Fellow

In U.S. military lingo, a “broken arrow” refers to a incident involving the loss of a nuclear weapon. Here, we’re bringing you the nuclear weapons news that’s been ‘lost’ in the last week.

United States

Admiral in charge of nuclear weapons targeting: United States may face “strategic disadvantage” without multilateral arms control treaty

Last week, the Navy officer responsible for the targeting of the U.S. nuclear weapons said in remarks that the lack of a multilateral arms control treaty could put the United States at a “strategic disadvantage.” The statement was first reported on by Defense Daily (behind a paywall).

The remarks were made on Wednesday, August 1 by Rear Admiral William Houston, who currently serves as the Deputy Director of Strategic Targeting & Nuclear Mission Planning under U.S. Strategic Command. Rear Admiral Houston was speaking on a panel entitled “Who’s Shifting Competitive Strategic Advantage in Favor Of Themselves,” which can be viewed in a video released by the Department of Defense (the relevant remarks begin around 55 minutes). The panel was part of the U.S. Strategic Command 2018 Deterrence Symposium.

In response to a question about whether multilateral arms control offers a viable way to shift competitive strategic advantage, Rear Admiral Houston said that while the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty is a “great system between us and Russia” for limiting ground-based missiles of a certain range, the United States needs to “recognize all of the potential competitors we have out there, and not having a multilateral treaty on arms control could put us at a strategic disadvantage. So that’s mandatory…I think it’s fundamental to address it [arms control] in that larger context.”

2019 NDAA: Annual defense authorization bill passes House, Senate in record time

Last week, both the House and the Senate voted to pass the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), following an unusually rapid conference process. The bill, which authorizes a total of $717 billion in defense spending, now awaits President Trump’s signature to become law.

The Fiscal Year 2019 bill is poised to be the first NDAA in over 40 years to be signed into law before October 1, when the next fiscal year begins. For comparison, the Fiscal Year 2018 NDAA was signed on December 17, 2017.

For information about what nuclear-related provisions made it into the Fiscal Year 2019 NDAA, please see the Center’s analysis on the NDAA conference report.

Failed missile test: Air Force terminates launch of Minuteman III ballistic missile

On Tuesday, July 31, a test launch of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was terminated during its flight due to an anomaly. According to a statement carried in several media reports and attributed the Air Force Global Strike Command, “an anomaly is any unexpected event during the test. Since anomalies may arise from many factors relating to the operational platform itself, or the test equipment, careful analysis is needed to identify the cause.” The same statement says that the Air Force is forming a Launch Analysis Group to determine what caused the anomaly.

This is not the first test launch of a Minuteman III that required early termination, although such failures are rare, and only four have taken place in the last 20 years. Before last week, last test launch that was terminated early occurred seven years ago in July 2011, and previous failures took place in 2009 and 1998.

The Minuteman III ICBM currently serves as the ground-based leg of United States’ nuclear triad, but it is set to be replaced over the next two decades by a new missile called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), which is currently being developed.


Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia completes IAEA review of nuclear infrastructure; now ready to finalize plans for its first reactor

Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) completed a review of Saudi Arabia’s development of nuclear infrastructure in preparation for a nuclear energy program in the country. The news marks the latest step in Saudi Arabia’s ongoing efforts to plan and implement an ambitious nuclear power program in order to offset the domestic use of oil for energy production.

For countries like Saudi Arabia that seek to develop a nuclear power program, the IAEA uses a three-phase milestone approach to ensure a sound development process. The phases are described in detail in the link above, but can be briefly summarized as “consider, prepare, construct.” The IAEA review recently conducted in Saudi Arabia marks the end of the “prepare” stage and indicates that Saudi Arabia is ready to invite bids and finalize plans for its first nuclear reactor.

From July 12 to July 24, a team of IAEA experts in nuclear infrastructure visited Saudi Arabia at the Kingdom’s request to perform an Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review. The process involves a holistic review of 19 different issues categorized as nuclear infrastructure. These include technical issues such as nuclear safety, radiation protection, electrical grid preparedness, facilities, environmental protection, and waste management. Non-technical aspects of nuclear infrastructure are also reviewed, including funding issues, the legal and regulatory framework for nuclear power, emergency planning, and plans for procurement.

The review team was led by Dr. Jose Bastos, the Technical Lead for the Nuclear Infrastructure Development section of the IAEA. In an IAEA press release, Dr. Bastos is quoted as saying that “Saudi Arabia is well placed to finalize its plans for construction of its first nuclear power plant.”



India plans to purchase $1 billion missile defense system from United States

According to unnamed sources cited in the Times of India last week, India’s Defense Acquisitions Council has approved an “acceptance of necessity” to purchase a $1 billion missile defense system from the United States. India is already in the final stages of developing a ballistic missile defense system to protect its major cities from ballistic missile attack. The new system that India is reportedly moving to acquire is the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System-II (NASAMS-II), and is intended to complement the ballistic missile defenses. According to one of the anonymous sources that spoke to the Times of India, the NASAMS-II system would be tasked with intercepting “cruise missiles, aircraft, and