The Trump administration has ordered the production of a new, low-yield nuclear weapon in the hopes of countering Russia.
The weapon, called the W76-2, has started production at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Pantex Plant in the Texas Panhandle.
The administration believes that such a weapon could serve as a deterrent. In a report called the Nuclear Posture Review released last year, the administration argued that a low-yield weapon would be a more flexible deterrent than the U.S.’s existing nuclear arsenal, all of which are considered “too big to use.” Such a weapon would “raise the nuclear threshold and help ensure that potential adversaries perceive no possible advantage in limited nuclear escalation, making nuclear employment less likely,” the report contends.
The W76-2 is a variant of the W76-1, which reportedly has a yield of approximately 100 kilotons—more than six times stronger than that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The W76-2, meanwhile, is believed to have a yield of around 5 to 7 kilotons, made possible by removing or disabling the second stage of the W76-1, reports NPR.
But experts fear that the approach may be misguided and potentially dangerous, not least because the W76-2 will be launched from the same missile used to launch the W76-1. Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists, explained to NPR: “It’s not like the Russians are going to be sitting there saying, ‘Well, let’s wait to see this one detonate first. Oh, it’s a small mushroom cloud! Well, in that case…'” Furthermore, he noted that “a nuke is a nuke. Once it’s used, the gloves are off.”
The administration already announced plans in October of last year to pull out of a major arms control treaty with Russia. It is expected to suspend compliance in the coming days.
Despite such concerns, production of the warheads are underway. An unspecified number are due to be delivered before the end of September.