The Reagan administration announced on Oct. 2 a package of decisions on strategic nuclear forces. The highlights of the package concerned the B1 bomber and the MX missile. I find unconvincing the arguments they make for their decisions and against what I considered the previous administration's better choices: full steam ahead on air-launched cruise missiles and the Stealth bomber, leaving the B1 to rest in peace, and deployment of the MX in a multiple protective shelter mode.
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger has indicated that the B1 will be able to penetrate Soviet air defense until 1990--a year or two after deployment of the 100 B1s included in the Oct. 2 strategic program. After that, he suggests, the B1 can effectively be used as a cruise missile carrier (for which it is grossly overdesigned and overpriced). Moreover, he judges that an advanced technology "Stealth" bomber, employing recently developed techniques to reduce the observability of the aircraft by Soviet air defenses, could reach its initial operational capability by 1989, three years after that of the B1.
The Stealth bomber, because it is still in development, cannot be as certain to be operational on the schedule predicted as can the B1. But the B1 manufacturing capability does not extend very far below the prime contractor, and will have to be rebuilt--and the program now includes over $2 billion of B1 development funds. Moreover, there is a serious risk of diversion of funds from Stealth development and production into the B1, particularly once the B1 production line has begun and all the usual political pressure to keep it going has built up.
The B52 force may now not be modified to be able to preserve a reasonable penetration capability into the late 1980s, on the expectation that the B1 will serve that purpose. Moreover, the air-launched cruise missile force may be cut back in size. Both would be additional mistakes, made to finance the B1 decision.
The Soviet air defense system has been pointed toward defense against a B1-type threat for over a dozen years. We will lose assurance in the B52's ability to penetrate sometime after 1985, and in the B1's penetration capability about 1990. The B1 will have to depend on electronic countermeasures (ECM) for its penetration, and this is a game of measure and countermeasure whose outcome is not confidently predictable.
The Soviets have been making an investment that will amount to over $100 billion (double that, counting operating expenses over a decade) in this kind of defense system by the time the B1 reaches its full operational capability. But the cruise missiles (to be launched from the B52) will require the Soviets to keep up and improve that type of air defense in the late 1980s and 1990s even if the B1 is not built. Indeed, these ALCMs will be able to penetrate the same defense with more confidence than will the B1. Against the Stealth bomber they will be totally ineffective; the Soviets will have to build a different system for target detection, tracking, identification and intercept, and at major added expense.
Thus, during the 1990s the Stealth bomber would have an extremely high confidence of being able to penetrate and strike strategic targets in the U.S.S.R.
Why the decision? Given the administration's MX decision, some new weapons system may have been seen as politically needed in order to show action by the new administration to improve the strategic forces during the period of the late 1980s. The B1 decision may also be intended to mollify the Air Force (with blame for a re-cancellation, if it occurs, to fall on Congress rather than on the administration).
The 1977 Carter decision to cancel the B1 may then have been a close call. Since then, it has been proven correct. The air-launched cruise missile has proven out and will enter the force by l983. The Stealth technology and its applications have advanced to the point where such a bomber can enter the force by 1989. Thus, there are now two alternatives for the air- breathing portion of the strategic force that offer higher confidence than the B1 of being able to survive and penetrate Soviet air defenses.
The B1 decision is likely to waste $20 billion (or even $30 billion) if 100 aircraft are built--or perhaps $15 billion or $20 billion if the production line is stopped at 50 aircraft, though 50 aircraft is not a useful bomber force. Such waste is a serious matter in light of fiscal constraints and other defense needs, conventional and strategic. But the MX decision, which implicitly concedes to the Soviets at least through the 1980s the advantage of having the only survivable land-based ICBM force, is a more fundamental one. Undoubtedly it proved most difficult for the Reagan administration to make, and may have the most far-reaching strategic consequences.
Moving to a dyad of strategic forces is conceivable: that is, relying on sub-launched ballistic missiles and bombers, abandoning the land-based intercontinental missile as an equal leg of the strategic triad, and dismantling it or allowing it to become a subsidiary capability that would not be expected to survive if attacked. That was considered by the Carter administration and rejected for the following reasons:
1)It would in the end prove as expensive as maintaining a credible ICBM force, since the reduction of the strategic force to two components would require them to be more numerous and more survivable. Major increases in air-launched and perhaps ground-based (intercontinental) cruise missiles would be needed; so would increased numbers of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), perhaps involving new submarine designs. And in the end, the Soviets would still be faced with an easier task in planning to destroy or defend against our strategic forces than would be the case with a full triad. We would be particularly vulnerable to a Soviet breakthrough in ability to locate submarines.
2)Lacking the relative ease of communications to ICBMs, our SLBMs might well not be able to retaliate promptly, and could not respond as accurately on the U.S.S.R. or its forces. Air-breathing systems take many hours to reach intercontinental distances. These deficiencies could act to erode the deterrence.
3)Abandonment of the land-based ICBM would signal a retreat in the face of a Soviet buildup of just those forces--a retirement from the competition, a major political-military defeat for the United States, and a very bad precedent, encouraging the Soviets to try to repeat the process in other technical/military areas.
The Oct. 2 decision fails to meet any of those objections.
It is useful to recall that the Reagan administration accepted from the beginning the view (which I share) that land-based ICBMs have especially valuable characteristics of precision, command and control, and quick response that are necessary for a part of the strategic force. Administration officials declared that they were determined to find an acceptable and survivable basing system--and that they knew that the multiple protective shelter basing mode proposed by the Air Force and adopted by the Carter administration was the wrong one.
The Oct. 2 decison adopts an admittedly very vulnerable basing system, and indicates an intention to continue to explore other possibilities for some time in the future--including at least one, the air-launched version of the MX, that was rejected after a lengthy consideration by the Ford and Carter administrations and also by the Reagan administration.
There is talk of further hardening of existing silos for a much-truncated MX force, but since the MX will not be available until 1986, that further hardening, if it is at all feasible, will not be available before the Soviets can install a new generation of guidance systems. The Soviets, using technology that they have already developed, will surely be able by that time to improve the accuracy of their ICBMs further, so that in the case of a nuclear war the hardened MX silos will find themselves in the fireball and in the crater left by the nuclear explosion of Soviet warheads; the silos would not survive such an experience.
Other future possibilities for survivability listed by Secretary Weinberger include digging silos deep in the mountains or adding an anti- ballistic missile defense of fixed silos. The deep mountain approach is an old one and has never shown any signs of being workable, particularly as regards the problem of getting the missile out afterward, early enough to play any part in a strategic exchange. The air-launched system would be enormously expensive, and vulnerable to any attack that would threaten the bomber force--thus vitiating one purpose of maintaining a strategic triad.
Close to Cancellation
The effect of the Oct. 2 decisions on MX is to come as near as possible to cancelling the program without actually doing so. Though better than nothing, because it leaves open the possibility of a survivable basing mode later on, it abandons at least through the 1980s any possibility for a U.S. ICBM force able to survive even a very small Soviet attack and strike back in retaliation. The multiple protective shelter basing system was criticized on the grounds of its vulnerability to an attacking force of 9,200 Soviet one-megaton ICBM warheads, allowed in the absence of SALT II restrictions. The Reagan administration's deployment of 100 MXs can be destroyed by 200 such warheads. The difference of 9,000 is a very significant one.
In particular, it provides a major additional capability for a Soviet planner. A principal value of, and reason for maintaining, a survivable land-based ICBM is that in its absence a Soviet military planner, thinking about the possibilities of a strategic preemptive attack, could concentrate on the other components of U.S. strategic forces--bombers and submarines. The Soviet planner will now have 9,000 additional warheads to allocate to those ends in that planning. He will also want to work even harder on anti-submarine warfare capability, in the knowledge that has one less independent component of the U.S. strategic force to worry about.
I have some concern that the administration may be tempted in the future to go to a combination of ABM defense plus launch-under-attack as the basis for regaining some sort of public relations "survivability" for our ICBM force. Such a course would in my judgment be the most dangerous of all, both because of its implications for starting a war based on the decision of a computer, and because of the grave consequence of abandoning the ABM treaty, which is perhaps the most valuable specific achievement of the arms limitation process to date.
This could condemn the United States to a strategic arms competition, in which our side had thrown away not its restraints but some of the best ideas for improving our position in the competition. The resulting drain of resources and attention from the conventional arms needs of the United States, as well as from the non- military aspects of the U.S.-Soviet competition, could then be the most damaging effect of all.
Thus the major elements of the Oct. 2 decisions of the administration are at best a deferral of the difficult choices. What they suggest about the analytical process, the consideration of expert military opinion and diplomatic factors, the inability to override local political interests or to reconsider political statements augurs badly for the future. They contain the seeds of serious deficiencies in our future strategic posture. And by ignoring arms control considerations, they open the possibility of stimulating a further round of Soviet strategic arms deployments while the United States deploys rhetoric rather than effective strategic forces.