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Administration Defends B-61 Warhead Modernization Program

Obama administration officials on Tuesday defended plans to overhaul the U.S. nuclear arsenal and modernize the B-61 nuclear warhead, according to Reuters.

Madelyn Creedon, assistant secretary of Defense for global strategic affairs, told a House Armed Services Committee subpanel the aging atomic weapons must be modernized so that policy-setters will back the administration's plans to cut the size of the overall nuclear stockpile. In particular, the over-budget and behind-schedule effort to refurbish the U.S. arsenal of B-61 gravity bombs -- roughly 200 of which are fielded at overseas bases -- must continue, she told the Strategic Forces subcommittee.

"There are some who believe that there is a less expensive alternative … that was never considered, but I can assure you that each and every modernization design proposal available was presented to the Nuclear Weapons Council (NWC) during its decision process," Creedon said in prepared remarks. "Only after rigorous and thorough evaluation of each possibility did the Council unanimously conclude that the [planned B-61 program] … was the least expensive long-term option that could meet military requirements."

Estimates for the cost of the B-61 life-extension program range from the National Nuclear Security Administration's figure of $8.2 billion to the Defense Department's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation calculation of $10.4 billion.

Kingston Reif, an analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said it would be unwise to make such an investment when defense budgets are tight.

"That program is unaffordable, unrealistic and unnecessary because there are cheaper alternatives to extend the life of the weapon," he said in an interview with Reuters.

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