Courtesy Reuters

Nuclear Exchange: Does Washington Really Have (or Want) Nuclear Primacy?

Just the Facts

Peter C. W. Flory

The essay by Keir Lieber and Daryl Press ("The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy, "March/April 2006) contains so many errors, on a topic of such gravity, that a Department of Defense response is required to correct the record.

Lieber and Press assert that current U.S. nuclear policy looks "like a coordinated set of programs to enhance the United States' nuclear first-strike capabilities," an erroneous inference that has already prompted harsh reactions in Russia and other countries. Lieber and Press allege that the U.S. Air Force is "significantly improving its remaining ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] by installing the MX's high-yield warheads and advanced reentry vehicles on Minuteman ICBMs, and it has upgraded the Minuteman's guidance systems to match the MX's accuracy."

In fact, the MK-21 reentry vehicles and warheads from retired Peacekeeper missiles (formerly known as "MX") are being installed on Minuteman III missiles to take advantage of the MK-21's improved safety characteristics. There is no increase in yield, and the MK-21 reentry vehicles do not increase the accuracy of Minuteman III missiles. Nor will the guidance replacement program under way for Minuteman III missiles -- which involves upgrading guidance components to extend the missiles' lives -- result in those ICBMs' reaching a level of accuracy equal to that of the Peacekeeper.

The authors go on to question why crews of the B-2 stealth bomber train in low-altitude flight unless their "mission is to penetrate a highly sophisticated air defense

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