Wednesday, December 3, 2008
"Gen. Kevin Chilton, a former command astronaut, is no stranger to cutting-edge technology. But these days the man responsible for the command and control of U.S. nuclear forces finds himself talking more often about '57 Chevys than the space shuttle. On a recent visit to The Wall Street Journal he wheeled in the Chevy analogy to describe the nation's aging arsenal of nuclear warheads. The message he's carrying to the Pentagon, Capitol Hill, the press and anyone else who will listen is: Modernize, modernize, modernize. ... There's been no new warhead design since the 1980s, and the last time one was tested was 1992, when the U.S. unilaterally stopped testing. Gen. Chilton, who heads the U.S. Strategic Command, has been sounding the alarm, as has Defense Secretary Robert Gates. So far few seem to be listening. ... Gen. Chilton stresses that StratCom is 'very prepared right now to conduct our nuclear deterrent mission'--a point he takes pains to repeat more than once. ... 'We've done a pretty good job of maintaining our delivery platforms,' the general says, by which he means submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles and intercontintal bombers. But nuclear warheads are a different story. They are Cold War legacies, he says, 'designed for about a 15- to 20-year life.' ... And here comes the punch line: 'This is the technology that we have ... today.' The technology in the weapons the U.S. relies on for its nuclear deterrent dates back to before many of the people in the room were born. ... It ought to go without saying, but the general says it anyway: His first priority for nuclear weapons is reliability. 'The deterrent isn't useful if its not believable, and to be believable you got to have tremendous, complete confidence that your stockpile will work. ... We have that today. Let me be clear: We have that.' ... The general stresses the need to 'revitalize' the infrastucture for producing nuclear weapons. The U.S. hasn't built a nuclear weapon in more than two decades and the manufacturing infrastructure has disappeared. The U.S. today 'has no nuclear weapon production capability,' he says flatly. ... At the height of the Cold War, the U.S. produced about 3,000 weapons a year. ... There's also the issue of human capital, which is graying. It's 'every bit as important as the aging of the weapons systems,' the general says. 'The last individual to have worked on an actual nuclear test in this country, the last scientist or engineer, will have retired or passed on in the next five years.' The younger generation has no practical experience with designing or building nuclear warheads", my emphasis, Melanie Kirkpatrick interview of Kevin Chilton (KC) at the WSJ, 22 November 2008.
What, nuclear warheads, like bananas, have a "shelf life"? Yes. Uncle Sam, ignore this at your peril. We waste at least $650 billion in Iraq, a place of no strategic significance to us and ignore our aging nuclear stockpile. I wondered when the popular press would ring the tocsin. KC tells us he has complete confidence in our nuclear stockpile. Suppose he didn't. Would he say, "Rooskies, Chicoms, 42% of our nuclear warheads have deteriorated to the point they are inoperable". I don't think so. Moral of the story: don't accept at face value anything anyone with Uncle Sam says. KC is to be commended for raising this issue. As for SecDef Gates, "sounding the alarm", here's a transcript of a 28 October 2008 speech he gave at the Carnegie Endowment, http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/1028_transcrip_gates_checked.pdf. You read it and you decide.