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Not great, not terrible: US tests refurbished missiles after admission nuclear refit lagging behind

Not great, not terrible: US tests refurbished missiles after admission nuclear refit lagging behind The US Navy test-fired a volley of decades-old Trident II nuclear missiles, proving they can still fly days after a top official said the upgrade of bombs and warheads was lagging, and Russia offered to sell US some of its tech.

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The USS Nebraska, an Ohio-class missile submarine, fired two missiles on Wednesday and another two on Friday, the Navy confirmed. All four missiles splashed into the target area off the Pacific island of Guam. 

The Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile was designed to last through 2024, but was recently refurbished to last into the 2040s, the Navy said. Their W76 warheads were recently upgraded as well.

Other parts of the US “nuclear triad” aren’t looking so good, however. Neither the B61-12 gravity bombs nor the W88 ALT 370 warheads for the silo-launched missiles will be delivered on schedule in 2020, Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Charles Verdon of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) told reporters at the 2019 Defense News Conference on Wednesday.

Stress tests found reliability problems with off-the-shelf components intended to last for 20 to 30 years, forcing the NNSA to look for replacements. The process could take about 18 months or so.

The modernization push, outlined under the Obama administration but embraced with enthusiasm by President Donald Trump in 2017, is a 30-year project affecting the entire US atomic arsenal, with an estimated cost of $1.5 trillion. In addition to upgrading the missiles and warheads, the US is also developing a new stealth bomber and a long-range air-to-ground standoff missile.

US politicians may not be concerned about the cost of this kind of endeavor, even with a national debt of $22 trillion and the Pentagon budget bloating up to $750 billion a year, but Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be.

Earlier this week, Putin offered – perhaps jokingly – to sell hypersonic weapons to the US to “even things out,” quipping that this was preferable to the Pentagon wasting billions of US taxpayer dollars attempting to develop the technology independently. 

While Trump has floated the notion of a major nuclear disarmament deal involving the US, Russia and China, his administration abandoned the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia and within weeks of its expiration tested one of the missiles that had been banned by it.

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