The need for new nuclear weapons
Officials have found a way around the apparent lack of a need for new weapons. The argument is that new versions of nuclear weapons would be much safer than those in the existing arsenal. An unclassified white paper that was sent to the US Congress earlier this year warned that land-based missiles because of their design to be fired minutes after an enemy attack were prone to being fired by mistake. The new missiles would presumably not have the same vulnerability.
Critics think that developing the new sub-launched weapon, the W93, is not required as they think that the current warheads are plenty forceful. The new weapon would be too expensive they argue and developing it would harm global non-proliferation efforts.
Existing weapons have never suffered the accidents envisaged
The existing arsenal have existed for decades with no accidents of the type envisioned. The Pentagon also is asking not just for safer weapons but also more powerful weapons even though the existing arsenal itself seems far more powerful than is needed.
If the argument about needing safer methods is successful this may encourage future Pentagon planners to deliberately incorporate safety flaws in designs in order to ensure that they can argue later that the weapons need to be replaced because of safety issues.
Some criticisms of the W93
Since the W93 is lighter than earlier missiles they have a greater range and thus subs that release them can remain further from anti-submarine weapons according to officials. However, this argument goes counter to the official depiction of so-called boomer subs as being virtually undetectable and essentially invulnerable. There is no need for such further distance in the first place. These subs were able to perform deterrence patrols during the Cold War when Soviet attack submarines roamed virtually the entire globe.
Hans Kristensen an analyst with the Federation of American Scientists said: “There’s no indication that Russia’s current or foreseeable attack submarine fleet has the capability to take on the U.S. boomers on the open oceans — China even less so.”
Once W93s are in production officials must decide which current warheads should taken out of deployed inventory and in what numbers. Officials have publicly declared that introduction of the W93 would not increase the number of deployed warheads. Yet the document does not state this and government spokespersons asked about the issue would not forswear the possibility of increasing the arsenal deployed. If this happens other countries will hardly be willing to cut back their own programs according to arms control advocates.
Officials have been reluctant to call the W93 a new weapons even though the document makes it clear that it is. There is even a chapter entitled ” Why Do We Need a New Weapon?”