Early Retirement for B-52G

Oct. 1, 1983

Cost considerations win out over USAF’s proposal to overlap Gs with ATB.

Washington, D. C., September 1—The Defense Department’s central arbitrating body, the Defense Resources Board (DRB), has ordered the phase-out – effective in 1988 – of all B-52G models from the country’s strategic nuclear, or SIOP (Single Integrated Operational Plan) forces. The Air Force had recommended retention of the some ninety aircraft involved until the Advanced Technology Bomber (ATB), known also as Stealth, enters the operational inventory and can pick up some of the slack.

Prompting the DRB’s decision was an immediate cost saving of several hundred million dollars resulting from not modifying the G models to the extent originally planned. The impact of this accelerated phase-out on the SIOP force level is major, especially since it compounds the effect of the previously announced retirement of the Titan ICBMs.

The ninety Gs are designated ALCM (air-launched cruise missile) carriers, with each aircraft nominally carrying twelve missiles. The result is the elimination of 1,080 ALCM stations. The scrapping of these aircraft will not impinge on the transfer of sixty-one other B-52Gs to SAC’s Strategic Projection Force (SPF) and their availability for conventional warfare missions.

The DRB’s insistence on retiring the ninety B-52Gs was based in part on earlier Air Force willingness to drop these aircraft from the SIOP inventory in the late 1980s. At that time, however, the Air Force expected that 200 MX ICBMs would be deployed. Since then that number has been scaled back to 100 missiles.

Also, the B- program, as currently structured, calls for the acquisition of no more than 100 aircraft. These strategic bombers are to be augmented by around 125 ATBs that should enter the inventory in the early 1990s. Because of these schedules, the Air force had planned to retain the B-52Gs, along with the Hs, until a significant number of Stealth bombers became operational.

Meanwhile, the just-released Senate/House Conference Report contains an ironclad prohibition against diverting any funds earmarked for the ATB program to any other purpose. The implication is that the conferees enjoin the Defense Department and the air Force in the FY ’84 authorization bill from siphoning off funds from ATB to expand the B-1 program.

Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), along with other prominent Democrats in Congress, has expressed concern that the sheer momentum of the B-1 program will lead to a production run in excess of 100 aircraft and deferral of the ATB. As the Georgia lawmaker recently claimed, the B-1 program, as presently structured, reaches a peak production of forty-eight aircraft – involving a work force of about 60,000 – in 1986, it last year.

Explaining that “I know something about human nature in Congress.” Senator Nunn suggested that there “isn’t any way in the world that you are going to shut down that production line flat out – from forty-eight to zero.” Even though in reality the forty-eight aircraft entering production in 1986 would not be completed for several years thereafter – and hence the B-1 work force would remain on the rob correspondingly – Senator Nunn and many other members of Congress claim that the schedule and structure of the B-1 program – especially its multiyear procurement feature – stack the deck against the ATB: “We may or may not build the ATB, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the B-1 production is geared like it is. We are making fateful decisions right now on ATB, and if the decisions the Senate has made so far stick through the appropriations process, ten I think the chances of the ATB go down, no matter how good the technical data might be.”

Senior USAF personnel recently briefed a group of Senators on the status of the ATB program under top-secret conditions to allay their fears that the Defense Department and the Air Force were pursuing the project at less than an expeditious rate. Senator Nunn told this writer afterward that the evidence presented indeed indicated that the Air Force was pursuing the ATB program vigorously and without favoritism toward the B-1. Nevertheless, the political facts of life militate against the ATB, he claimed.

New Strategic Penetration Aid Requirements

The concept of “salvage-fuzing” nuclear warheads is getting a second hearing. The notion of equipping penetrating nuclear weapons with sensors that cause them to detonate in the face of otherwise disabling action by the enemy’s non-nuclear or nuclear defenses is far from new. The reason why it might make sense to cause the warheads of ICBMs. SLBMs, and cruise missiles that are about to be intercepted by a defender to explode with full force is that in doing so they can cause grave damage to the defender’s ground-based sensors and command and control system.

Rather than “wasting” the warhead that the defense is about to put out of commission, the weapon might deal a mortal blow to the radars and other “soft” elements of the enemy’s strategic defense systems.

In the past, both the US and the USSR have shied away from deploying salvage-fuzed weapons – at least so far as is known – because of two potential drawbacks. For one, the salvage-fuzed weapon might cause fratricidal effects on the attacker’s other warheads that were arriving in the same area at about the same time. Another problem might ensue if the defender succeeds in causing the salvage-fuzed warhead to go off at a point and time of his choosing. Sophisticated sensor technologies can probably prevent this from happening; especially if contact fuzes are used that simply react to the impact of a non-nuclear interceptor.

The advantage of such an approach is especially pronounced in the case of air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) that penetrate the defender’s territory at low altitude and, therefore, preclude him from intercepting them by nuclear means. In the case of ICBMs and SLBMs, it might be possible to send in salvage-fuzed warheads as “precursors” to disable the ballistic missile defenses (BMD) or disrupt the command and control system, thereby paving the way for the main attack. Careful timing might avoid fratricide. There are indication that the Soviets – who in contrast to the US rely heavily on strategic defenses – are quite concerned about the possibility of the US deploying salvage-fuzed weapons since they, in effect, represent a special form of penetration aid.

Because of mounting concern about growing Soviet strategic defense capabilities, including putative violations of the SALT ABM accord, the Pentagon is examining the potential for a wide spectrum of penetration aids. As the result of studies of Soviet ABM capabilities that in turn prompted the so-called Scowcroft Commission on Strategic Forces to delve into this issue, the Defense Resources Board has just arranged for a joint air Force-US Navy study of advanced penetration aids.

While OSD originally wanted to include MaRVing (maneuvering reentry vehicles, which avoid interceptors by descending in corkscrew or other irregular fashion on their targets) in this study – and eventually to develop them on a joint basis – the services insisted on confining their work to various types of decoys. The services feared that a uniform approach to MaRVing would facilitate the Soviets BMD task by enabling them to cope with both ICBMs and SLBMs at once.

The Scowcroft Commission’s concern about Soviet ABM capabilities drives in part the need for MX and its substantial throw-weight: “As Soviet ABM modernization and modern surface-to-air missile development and deployment proceed – even within the limitation of the ABM treaty – it is important to match any possible Soviet breakout from that treaty with strategic forces that have the throw-weight to carry sufficient numbers of decoys and other penetration aids; these may be necessary in order to penetrate the Soviet defenses which such a breakout could provide before other compensating steps could be taken. Having in production a missile that could… counter such a Soviet step should help deter them from taking it.”

Soviet Arms-Control Gambits

The Soviet Union is seemingly getting on US political bandwagons to gain military advantage. One ploy seems designed to erode US domestic support for MX by hinting at Soviet intentions to build and deploy small, mobile ICBMs to increase the survivability of its strategic nuclear force. The word from the US START negotiator in Geneva is that the Soviet delegation let it be known there that Moscow had plans to transform at least a part of its ICBM force to small, mobile systems.

The Administration and influential members of Congress – at the recommendation of the bipartisan Presidential strategic force modernization panel, the so-called Scowcroft Commission – are committed to the development and deployment of a small single-warhead ICBM that could probably be reasonable mobile.

Such a weapon offers a number of advantages, in the view of the Commission. For one, since the small ICBM (SICBM) carries only a single warhead, it represents a far less attractive target for a potential attacker than does a large ICBM carrying many MIRVs. Undeniably, if both sides shifted to SICBMs, a more stable strategic balance would exist than is the case with large, MIRVed weapons. An SICBM can also be deployed in a mobile mode – and hence made more survivable – more readily than can large, heavy missiles. These factors, I combination, create conditions conducive to sharp arms reduction. As a result, sizable constituencies that favor bypassing MX and concentrating on SICBMs are forming in Congress and elsewhere. The expression of Soviet intent to move toward such a design is bound to feed the aversion to MX of these groups.

Another Soviet move in the field of arms control that presumably is designed mainly to influence the US political climate was the announcement by President Yuri Andropov of a “unilateral moratorium” on the deployment of ASAT (anti-satellite) weapons. The Soviet leader made the offer to nine visiting Democratic US Senators Headed by Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island.

The Soviet Union has had an operational ASAT for several years. The Defense Department credits this weapon with the “capability to seek and destroy US space systems in near-earth orbit” and reports that the Soviets conduct yearly tests to practice satellite interception and to refine the system. The Soviets are also known to be working on follow-on ASAT weapons.

Since their ASAT uses an SS-9 ICBM as launcher, verification of such a moratorium is basically impossible. In addition, since the USSR has a space-tested operational system and the US as yet has no comparable capability. Moscow cold well afford to forgo further ASAT flights if that were to cause this country to halt its nascent ASAT program.

Here, too, the Soviets are capitalizing on US congressional sentiments, specifically the fear of an arms ace in space. Notwithstanding that the Soviets are running such a race already, more than 100 House members recently petitioned the Administration to “immediately propose to the Soviet Union a mutual moratorium on the testing of anti-satellite weapons in space.”

The Petition argues with odd logic that sine the presents Soviets ASAT is limited to near-earth orbits and hence can’t attack US satellites in geostationary altitude, a “mutual ban on ASAT testing would not place the US at a disadvantage.” From this premise the signers of the petition leap off the starting conclusion that “since the American ASAT is much more advance and capable than the Soviet ASAT, there are compelling incentives for Soviet compliance with the mutual test moratorium.”

Curiously disregarded in this reasoning is the fact that a weapon that does not yet exist – and has not been tested – is a weak means for ensuring compliance. Similarly, the fact that the Soviets are working on follow-on ASATs, including a system probably capable of direct ascent to geostationary orbits, is also swept under the rug.

Yet a third move by Moscow to accelerate the US – and European – political momentum toward arms control at any price involved a vague but highly touted promise by President Andropov, carried in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda, that Moscow is willing to scrap some of its intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), including the formidable SS-20, if the US agrees not to deploy its Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe later this year.

The catch is that this offer covers only Soviet IRBMs currently deployed in Europe. Moreover, it does not change the fact that the Soviets insist on retaining 162 of these missiles – ostensibly to offset French and British nuclear weapons – while denying the United States the right to deploy any IRBMs at all.

Bolstering this maneuver to prevent the scheduled deployment of 572 US Pershing IIs and GLCMs, beginning in December of this year, are preparations in Western Europe for massive antinuclear demonstrations this fall. As Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy Richard N. Perle observed recently. “The buses have been chartered already, and the concessionaires are ready to go. But we don’t think that any of the [European] governments involved will allow their parliamentary process to be subverted by demonstrations on the streets.”

The Administration, he explained, does not expect the Soviets to begin serious negotiations at the INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Force) talks in Geneva until the Soviets become convinced that the Pershing II/GLCM deployment “becomes inevitable. Their proposals so far have all entailed the complete abandonment of any Western deployment and freedom for the Soviets to retain hundreds and possibly thousands of warheads on their SS-20s…. I would be surprised if the last-ditch Soviet effort to stop the deployment of [US INF weapons] does not consist of negotiating ploys as well as continuation of the threats and intimidations that have characterized their actions” in the past.

Although he did not rule out the possibility that the Soviets might make good their oblique threat to put Soviet IRBMs into Cuba if the US goes ahead with the Pershing II/GLCM deployment in Europe, Secretary Perle did not consider such an action likely. Violation of the Kennedy/Khrushchev understanding of 1962 – which ended the Cuban missile crisis of that year by committing the USSR to pull out and keep out its nuclear missiles – he said, “would be totally unjustified and have serious ramifications.” He pointed out also that the Soviets have threatened to do things as a reprisal against US INF deployments “that they have already done, such as putting nuclear missiles in Eastern Europe.”

The US negotiating stance at the INF talks revolves around what Secretary of State George P. Shultz termed “equal rights and limits” for the principals. The central US goal, announced by President Reagan in November 1981, is the complete elimination of longer-range, land-based INF missiles. After more than a hear of negotiating, the Soviets continue to resist this so-called “zero-zero” option. In an effort to break the stalemate, the US has proposed an interim agreement whereby, according to Secretary Shultz, “we would reduce the number of missiles we plan to deploy in Europe if the Soviet Union will reduce the total number of warheads it has already deployed to an equal level. This would result in equal limits for both sides on a global basis.” President Andropov’s latest offer of scrapping only missiles the Soviets have deployed in Europe obviously circumvents the US principle of “equal rights and limits.”

Washington Observations

ê The differences between the Air Force and some elements of OSD over how to conduct the deep interdiction mission, known as Counter Air ’90, remain pronounced. The principal issue under contention is OSD’s penchant for using ballistic missiles to perform a major portion of the deep interdiction mission. Air Force analyses do not support the cost-effectiveness of such an approach. Much of the dispute – which has attracted congressional attention and partisanship – is taking place behind closed doors because of the heavy involvement of classified Stealth technologies in terms of both the platforms and munitions under consideration.

Typical of the divergent trends now at play is the question of what kind of replacement should be picked for the Medium-Range Air-to-Surface Missile (MRASM) that was dropped, largely because it lacked Stealth qualities. OSD and the Navy apparently favor an extremely expensive cruise missile that incorporates the full range of low-observable technologies. The Air Force, on the other hand, favors a far cheaper “stealthy” cruise missile that could be acquired in far large quantities.

ê The Defense Resources Board recently endorsed development of an advanced, follow-on version of the Strategic Air Command’s Short-Range Attack Missile (SRAM). The first-generation SRAM is aging, lacks adequate nuclear hardening, and lags behind the performance that could be built into a modern missile of this type. Among the advantages accruing to a new, advanced SRAM are nuclear hardness, greater range, greater compactness that would enable carrier aircraft to accommodate more of them, and an improved capability to deal with imprecisely located targets.

Some senior USAF leaders believe that an advanced SRAM system can be tied to the carrier aircraft’s and other external sensors to provide the system with a near real-time targeting feature.

There are indications that influential elements of the Air Force prefer the advanced SRAM over the Advanced Cruise Missile (ACM). The later is thought to be less suitable for adaptation to near real-time targeting.

Meanwhile, the joint conference report on the 1984 Defense Authorization Act supports the acquisition of 240 ALCM-B cruise missiles. The Defense Department had wanted to terminate the ALCM-B program now and to concentrate instead on ACM, a longer-range, “stealthy” follow-on to ALCM-B.

ê Due to damage to essential test equipment caused by lightening, a series of crucial tests of the hardness of various transporters associated with the small ICB< (SICBM) have been delayed until October 1983 or later Known as “direct Contact,” these tests by the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA) are counted on for pivotal information concerning what forms of mobile basing of SICBMs show maximal promise.

The degree of dispersal and, hence, the size of the areas within which SICBM can roam without becoming vulnerable to Soviet barrage attacks are determined largely by the hardness level and speed of the transporter. Another area to be probed by DNA tests involves the hardness of advanced ICBM silo designs.

ê White House officials have hinted that this fall the Administration plans to announce, with considerable fanfare, a general commitment to an advanced strategic defense system centered on the eventual deployment of directed-energy and space-based weapons. This announcement would be in extension of the President’s speech on March 23, 1983, when he hinted at the eventual feasibility of leak-proof strategic defenses.

By pulling together all Defense Department and Department of Energy programs that have, or might eventually have, impact on strategic defense, the Administration is expected to show that it will be investing about $5 billion annually in this field.