The Trump administration plans to loosen constraints on the use of nuclear weapons and develop a new low-yield nuclear warhead for US Trident missiles, according to a former official who has seen the most recent draft of a policy review.
The D5 missiles, each costing approximately $66 million, will carry warheads more than 30 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb.
The Pentagon-led review proposes studying the possibility of a "rapid development of a modern SLCM" and the modification of an unspecified number of existing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) warheads to provide a "low-yield" option.
Wolfsthal, who has reviewed what he understands to be the final draft of the review, said it states that the USA will start work on reintroducing a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile, as a counter to a new ground-launched cruise missile the U.S. has accused Russian Federation of developing in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
It comes during a state of heightened nuclear tension following heated rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea as well as greater Russian military activity and a build-up of NATO forces in Eastern Europe.
Like the one carried out under Obama, the new review does not rule out a United States nuclear first strike. Expanding the instances when America might use nuclear weapons could also make it easier for other nuclear-armed countries to justify using their own arsenals against adversaries.
However, the researchers said cyber risks in nuclear weapons systems have so far received scant attention from the nuclear weapons policy community. The Pentagon's plan would allow Washington to initiate a so-called "limited" nuclear war in pursuits of its "national interests".
The Pentagon believes in strengthening the nuclear triad as a mean to deter conflict in what is described as "a critical moment in our nation's history", and a "more complex and demanding" global security environment than any since the end of the Cold War.
Under the Obama administration, $1.3 trillion was spent on a 30-year plan to refurbish all the elements of the USA nuclear "triad" - intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and strategic bombers. In a United Kingdom context it is absolutely immoral and massively expensive for us to be thinking of renewing our own nuclear weapon.
Now it appears that a new, Pentagon-led Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) will seek to formally shift USA nuclear strategy to align with Trump's more aggressive nuclear notions. "We've had them for many, many years, and some of them were considered and rejected under the Obama administration".
"Advocates of additional nuclear capabilities seem too fixated on weapon types and don't seem to understand or appreciate the flexibility of the current capabilities", he write.
The proposed nuclear policy says a more aggressive nuclear posture is warranted because the world is more unsafe, with China, North Korea and Iran cited as concerns.
"The potential impacts of a cyber attack on nuclear weapons systems are enormous", they said, because data hacks can reveal sensitive information on facilities' layouts, personnel details, and design and operational information.