A little-known change in the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal has boosted the killing power of the W-76 warheads used on submarine-based missiles by a factor of three, prompting concern that Russia will “undertake countermeasures that would increase the already dangerously high readiness of Russian nuclear forces,” according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
A report published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists by Hans M. Kristensen, Matthew McKinzie and Theodore A. Postol explains how a “modernization program” has implemented “revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the U.S. ballistic missile arsenal.”
“This increase in capability is astonishing – boosting the overall killing power of existing U.S. ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three – and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike,” they said.
The change, the report explains, comes from a new “super-fuze” device that exploded the bomb in a zone above the target where it is likely to do the most damage.
Previously the bombs would have been triggered by passing through a certain altitude, but if a rocket is slightly off target, the explosion could be ineffective.
The new technology would allow the explosion to come at the point directly above or adjacent to a target, where it would cause the most damage.
“The result of this fuzing scheme is a significant increase in the probability that a warhead will explode close enough to destroy the target even though the accuracy of the missile-warhead system has itself not improved,” the authors wrote.
“This fast increase in U.S. nuclear targeting capability, which has largely been concealed from the general public, has serious implications for strategic stability and perceptions of U.S. nuclear strategy and intentions,” they continued.
“Russian planners will almost surely see the advance in fuzing capability as empowering an increasingly feasible U.S. preemptive nuclear strike capability – a capability that would require Russia to undertake countermeasures that would further increase the already dangerously high readiness of Russian nuclear forces.
“Tense nuclear postures based on worst-case planning assumptions already pose the possibility of a nuclear response to false warning of attack. The new kill capability created by super-fuzing increases the tension and the risk that U.S. or Russian nuclear forces will be used in response to early warning of an attack – even when an attack has not occurred.”