The $100 Billion Nuke Problem

A Defense Science Board task force formed in late 2006 and led by retired Adm. Henry Chiles has concluded that the nation lacks a current national strategy for the nuclear security enterprise and could lose its nuclear deterrence competency sooner rather than later. The Chiles task force—which completed its Nuclear Deterrence Skills report in June, but the Pentagon only recently released it—believes “the pendulum has swung too far,” as the nation has put off decisions on follow-on nuclear deterrence systems and now faces “about $100 billion of decisions,” ranging from the reliable replacement warhead to new land-based and sea-based systems and a concomitant loss of opportunity to train the next generation of nuclear weapon system experts. The task force faults every entity involved in the nuclear security enterprise, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, US Strategic Command, the Air Force, and Congress. Among 23 major recommendations, the task force urges OSD to create a new Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategic Weapons, as did the Welch panel report released earlier this year; STRATCOM and the Air Force “should restore the rigor and focus necessary to reestablish and sustain the demanding proficiency necessary for nuclear operations;” and DOD, the Energy Department, and the National Nuclear Security Administration should implement an exchange program to “ensure remaining talent stays in the [nuclear weapons] field.” The Chiles task force also suggested USAF might want to reestablish the Air Force Weapons Lab.