BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) – The modernization of nuclear weapons – already possessed by nine countries, and affecting Germany through “nuclear sharing” – is rapidly progressing, according to a current analysis of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The overall number of nuclear weapons in the world has slightly decreased SIPRI notes. However, new US-bombs (B61-12), for example, are much more precise than their predecessor models. Experts warn that this development could lower the threshold for their possible use. The B61-12 bombs are likely to be stationed also at the German Air Base in Büchel in the hills of the Eifel. Germany’s “nuclear sharing” status has already prompted discussions in the arms industry. Airbus has begun to design a successor model to the tornado jet fighter, which is currently certified for the B61. If this next generation jet fighter is to be certified also for the US bomb, all its construction details would have to be revealed to the USA, a prospect being met with misgivings in the Berlin establishment. It has recently been reported that the URENCO nuclear fuel company, which also has a plant in Gronau (North Rhine-Westphalia) has agreed to supply enriched uranium to a US power plant that produces tritium for US nuclear weapons.
Efficiency Instead of Mass
With the modernization of their nuclear arsenals, the nine nuclear weapon-possessing states are currently preparing for future conflicts, as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) confirmed in its analysis published Monday. According to SPIRI, the total number of nuclear warheads around the world, which, in the mid 1980s peaked at nearly 70.000 has decreased from 15 395 in early 2016 to 14 935 in early 2017 – particularly a result of the New START Treaty between the USA and Russia. This should not hide the fact that at the same time billions are being invested to develop and produce modern nuclear arms, SIPRI warns. The USA plans to spend $400 billion for its nuclear arms program over the period 2017-26. By some estimates, the USA will spend up to $1 trillion in the next three decades for this program. In any case, the total number of nuclear warheads worldwide should not be overestimated, SPIRI notes, because only 4,150 of them are currently operational, while the rest is held in reserve, and some of them are considered dispensable by the two major nuclear powers.
Lower the Threshold
B61-12 in the Eifel
If the B61-12 is to replace the previous B61 model, it could equally be assumed that this would also apply to the 20 B61 bombs currently stockpiled – in the framework of the so-called nuclear sharing – at the Büchel Airbase in the Eifel, which can be delivered with German PA-200 Tornados. Experts have confirmed that the B61-12 is also compatible with the tornados. According to recent data, by 2019 – 2020 these new bombs should be produced and begin gradually to replace the old B61 bombs – also in Büchel.
The Fighter Jet of the Future
What remains uncertain is what consequences the continuation of nuclear sharing will have on the German Air Force’s future planning. The fleet of tornados has shrunk considerably; Of the 357 tornados furnished between 1981 and 1992, only 83 are reportedly still in service. Airbus has begun to draw up a successor model, which should correspond to modern war scenario needs and, for example, be able to fly satellite-controlled accompanied by individual – or swarms of – drones. It could possibly not only replace the tornado, but the Eurofighter as well, it is speculated. However, problems remain in the question of nuclear armament. If the Airbus successor jet fighter model is to be certified for B61-12s, to comply with nuclear sharing, “all of the secrets of the aircraft must be made available to the US.” From the standpoint of strategists, seeking Germany’s independent role as a global power, this would represent a setback, even for the Eurofighter, which is uncertified to deliver US bombs. At present, there appears to be no solution on the horizon.
Key Customer, USA
The conversion of the US nuclear forces to bombs having possibly a lowered inhibition threshold for use, could also affect Germany’s nuclear industry – or more precisely the German-Netherlands-British Uranium Enrichment Company (URENCO) and its German subsidiary, the Gronau uranium enrichment facility. Its key customer is the United States of America, which in 2016, had purchased 440 tons of enriched uranium in Gronau to run its nuclear reactors. Business with he USA is considered very promising, because, the USA has not had its own enrichment facility since 2013, because it is unprofitable. Although a growing number of voices within the US establishment have been urgently calling for plans to construct, if necessary, government facilities, because US laws – in principle – do not allow foreign products to be used in essential arms production sectors, no decision, however, has been taken. This is one of the reasons why, in May, the government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) commissioned URENCO’s US subsidiary to supply an additional two – the Watts Bar and the Sequoyah – TVA nuclear power plants. The contract volume was at US $500 million.