As I’ve written previously, combing responses to questions for the record (QFRs) from Members of Congress after Congressional hearings can reveal all sorts of interesting information, assuming they’re made available by the Government Printing Office or Steve Aftergood over at the Federation of American Scientists manages to get his hands on a copy and share it with the world.
Steve did just that yesterday in publishing responses to QFRs pursuant to the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee’s November 2 hearing titled “The Current Status and Future Direction for U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy and Posture.” Testifying on behalf of the administration were then-Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller, STRATCOM Commander Gen. Robert Kehler, then-Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher, and National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Tom D’Agostino.
Steve focused on the fun fact provided by Miller, in response to a question from Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), that “Within the Department of Defense, fewer than twenty copies of the President’s [nuclear employment and targeting] guidance are distributed in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, and U.S. Strategic Command.”
But that wasn’t the only interesting nugget from the QFRs…
1. New information on the costs of nuclear facilities
In response to a QFR from Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), D’Agostino provided a chart showing that the projected total 50 year operational period cost of operations and maintenance (in 2011 dollars) for the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) is $6.45 billion. The same projected cost for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), which the administration delayed by five years in it’s FY 2013 budget submission, and the recently completed Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB) is $6.3 billion. Rep. Sanchez also asked for information on the projected cost to decontaminate and decommission the facilities after they are no longer operational. NNSA stated that it has not yet determined these costs.
This information helps us begin to piece together the full “end-to-end” cost of the UPF and CMRR-NF/RLUOB. For example, the latest NNSA estimate of the cost to build the UPF is approximately $6 billion, 10 times more than the cost projected in 2004. An independent Army Corps of Engineers assessment puts the cost of the project as high as $7.5 billion. Add that to the projected operations and maintenance cost and you get as high as $14 billion (excluding the decontamination and decommissioning costs). Given NNSA’s terrible history of accurately predicting costs, the total could be much higher. Seems like something the Congressional Budget Office ought to follow up on!
2. New information on the cost to maintain US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe
In response to a QFR from Rep. Sanchez re: the cost of forward-deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, Miller responded: “DOD estimates the annual operating costs for the United States to support forward deployed nuclear weapons in Europe is approximately $100 million per year on average, as shown in the below table.” Miller added that “Beyond the above costs, Host Nations fund all facility and installation costs at the Munitions Support Squadrons locations. In addition to facility and installation costs, NATO funded $14.7M in FY 2011 to develop and procure a replacement weapon maintenance vehicle for all weapon sites and $63.4M in FY 2011–2012 in security upgrades for munitions storage sites.”
Has the Pentagon ever provided such a detailed unclassified breakdown of the costs of the European deployment? If so, this is the first time I’ve seen it. Of course when evaluating the cost of the European deployment don’t forget to include the cost of the B61 life extension program, for which the latest estimate is $10 billion. The major driving force behind the life extension program is to continue to support the deployment of US B61s in Europe.
3. Chinese nuclear modernization and strategic stability
In response to a QFR from Rep. Turner on whether we ought to be concerned about China’s strategic force modernization, Gen. Kehler responded “In China’s case, their efforts involve both modernization and expansion of their forces. However, while there is uncertainty regarding the intended scale of their force expansion, our current assessment is that it is unlikely to affect strategic stability.” This is particularly interesting given that Miller’s response to the same question was less sanguine about the implications of China’s (and Russia’s) modernization for the nuclear balance. In any event, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that all the hyperventilating about China’s strategic force modernization is a tad overwrought.
These are only a few of the interesting tidbits. Let us know if you notice other items worthy of attention!