July 12, 2013
By Pat Host
The head of the Defense Department’s nuclear enterprise defended the B61 nuclear gravity bomb life extension program (LEP), which is under fire as too expensive and wasteful in an era of budget cutting and further nuclear weapons reductions.
U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) chief Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler yesterday said modernization of the nuclear enterprise is essential as virtually all of the weapons are over 20 years old, and in some cases, substantially over 20 years old. Kehler also said modernization of critical nuclear weapon components like platforms and the command and control (C2) systems have also been deferred for over a decade. Kehler even brought up DoD’s 2010 nuclear posture review, which he said cited the need to invest in nuclear arms.
“The president, in his (Berlin) speech, made it very clear that we will continue to have a credible deterrent force, not only a strategic deterrent force, but a deterrent force that has a feature of extended deterrence to our allies and partners,” Kehler said at a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington. “The B61 is an essential piece.”
The B61 life extension program (LEP) is under scrutiny for its escalating cost at a time of fiscal belt-tightening and President Barack Obama’s declaration of further nuclear arms reductions. Kingston Reif, director of nuclear non-proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, estimated yesterday that DoD wants to produce 400 refurbished B61 “mod 12s” at a total price of $10 billion, which comes out to $25 million per weapon.
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