Emerging Technology Risks and Rewards for U.S. Nuclear Modernization


For as long as we have nuclear weapons, the United States must ensure they are safe, secure, and reliable

Challenge

Emerging technologies present risks and opportunities for ensuring the safety and security of the U.S. nuclear arsenal as it is modernized. Upgrading aging systems can call for digitizing or incorporating automation into the nuclear triad and command-and-control systems, but modern technologies can also introduce new risks.

Action

Investigate how digital and automation technologies will be incorporated into nuclear weapons and related systems and the practices in place to ensure cybersecurity and AI safety. Understand the policy implications of the risk-reward balance.

Results

Recommendations to help technical experts, government officials, and policymakers achieve the improved benefits of nuclear modernization while minimizing risks, recognizing that it is essential to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons and related systems for as long as we have them.

For as long as we have nuclear weapons, the United States must ensure they are safe, secure, and reliable. A drive to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal is underway, including upgrades to weapons, delivery systems, and the command-and-control infrastructure that allows communication throughout the chain of command and with decision-makers.

NTI is undertaking a review to determine the degree to which digital, automated, or autonomous systems are projected to be incorporated into nuclear weapons and related systems in order to support an informed understanding and debate on the risks and benefits of introducing such new technologies. The implications are significant: If not done with care, the benefits of increasing reliance on modern, digital systems will not be realized and the risks of reduced safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent could be considerable.

In addition to the lifespan issues and age of the nuclear arsenal, new threats to nuclear command, control and communications systems—not present during the Cold War when the systems were developed—have emerged, causing concern among leaders about digital security, reliance, and trust in the technologies embedded in the nuclear weapons systems. Integrating new technologies with old is a perpetual engineering challenge, but in the context of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, one with significant implications.

NTI’s research and analysis is focused on the interaction and integration issues raised by the introduction of emerging technologies in the nuclear modernization effort, with the goal of making recommendations for U.S. policy and practices.

This project is made possible through generous funding from the Smith Richardson Foundation.

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