Interview with Jon Wolfsthal, AOMD Episode 027 – Natasha Bajema

Interview with Jon Wolfsthal, AOMD Episode 027

Welcome to the episode number 27 of the Authors of Mass Destruction podcast. My name is Natasha Bajema, aka WMDgirl on Twitter. I’m a fiction author, national security expert and your host for this podcast.

  • If you’re interested in science & technology, in reading good fiction, or want to write fiction based on technology, you’re in the right place.
  • Before we get started, a few notes:
    • The views expressed on this podcast are my own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.
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  • My headline this week is about nuclear weapons: “A Cheaper Nuclear Sponge” by Steve Fetter and Kingston Reif published on October 18 on War on the Rocks.
    • You might be a bit perplexed by the title. What is a nuclear sponge?
    • You might also not know that the U.S. plans to spend about $1.2 trillion dollars over the next thirty years to modernize our nuclear forces.
    • Here, we’re talking mostly about the set of delivery systems for nuclear weapons, often referred to as the nuclear triad. The nuclear triad refers to nuclear weapons delivered from land, air and sea. The delivery systems generally include intercontinental ballistic missiles, which in the U.S. reside in silos in the Great Plains region, sea-launched ballistic missiles from nuclear submarines, and gravity bombs and nuclear-cruise missiles delivered by bombers and fighter jets.
    • The article addresses the “ground leg of the triad” – the intercontinental ballistic missiles or ICBMs. The U.S. currently has about 400 Minuteman III missiles ready to launch at any moment in response to a nuclear attack.
    • ICBMs are considered the most vulnerable leg of the nuclear triad because in the event of a nuclear attack, U.S. leaders would be under pressure to use them or lose them. Why? Because our adversary nuclear forces would seek to take out these missiles first to limit damage to their own country in a retaliatory nuclear attack. In other words, these missiles serve as “a warhead sponge” for an adversary’s nuclear missiles.
    • The Minuteman III has been upgraded several times and their operational lifetime will expire in 2030
    • For this reason, the current modernization plan includes the replacement of the Minuteman III missiles with a new missile that can be deployed until 2070. Building these missiles would likely cost as much as $150 billion.
    • In the article, Steve Fetter and Kingston Reif argue that the Minuteman III can be sustained beyond the missile’s expected retirement in the 2030 timeframe and we should wait to replace the missiles given the high cost and spend the funds on higher priority issues.
  • Let’s get to the interview.

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