US Plans to Place More Modern Nuclear Bombs in Germany
August 23, 2016
US President Barack Obama intended to make nuclear disarmament one of his government's goals but now the US intends to modernize its nuclear weapons stationed in Germany. Germany's air force is preparing to adapt some of its Tornado warplanes to carry more up-to-date US atom bombs in light of plans by Washington to modernize its nuclear arsenal in Germany.
Fliegerhorst Buchel Atomwaffenstationierung USA Eifel. The German and American flags fluttered peacefully in the breeze/
USA Wants More Modern Nuclear Bombs in Germany: Report
(August 15, 2016) -- US President Barack Obama intended to make nuclear disarmament one of his government's goals. But now the US intends to modernize its nuclear weapons stationed in Germany, according to media reports.
Germany's air force is preparing to adapt some of its Tornado warplanes to carry more up-to-date US atom bombs in light of plans by Washington to modernize its nuclear arsenal in Germany, media reported on Saturday.
The German newsmagazine Spiegel reported that US President Barack Obama had approved the last phase of development for the atom-bomb model B61-12, which is to go into full-scale production from 2020.
Washington then intended to station some of the modernized weapons at the Buchel air base (pictured) in Germany's western Eifel region, according to the report.
Cold War Legacy
Experts estimate that 10 to 20 nuclear warheads from the Cold War period are currently stored in Buchel, with German Tornado warplanes standing by to carry them if it is deemed necessary. The area is under strict protection, with some US soldiers also stationed there.
Although the German parliament said in 2010 that it was in favor of having the weapons withdrawn, the government at the time, which consisted of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU-CSU bloc and the liberal FDP, stated that this would not happen without the agreement of Germany's NATO allies.
"Spiegel" reported that the US armed forces intended to modernize other elements of their nuclear arsenal as well. The magazine reported that they had called on the arms industry to come up with proposals for a new generation of nuclear long-range missiles and cruise missiles by 2017.
Threat from Russia?
The plans come as Poland and Baltic states urge NATO to up its nuclear and other military deterrents in the face of what they see as Russia's territorial aggression.
The plans for modernization would seem to contradict US President Barack Obama's stated goal of nuclear disarmament, an objective he pledged to pursue at the start of his first term in office in 2009.
Germany itself has pledged not to create nuclear weapons under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Reports: US Nuclear 'Upgrades' in Europe
Upgrades of six US air bases set to stock modernized B61 nuclear bombs are continuing in Turkey and Europe, according to US and German researchers. They claim Turkey's Incirlik base stocks at least 50 such US weapons.
Modernizations of security perimeters around nuclear bomb vaults and infrastructure at the six US air bases were continuing apace, reported the Frankfurter Rundschau (FR) newspaper on Wednesday.
Moscow reacted on Wednesday saying it would take countermeasures if the US placed new nuclear weapons in Germany. "Unfortunately, if this step is implemented it may disrupt the strategic balance in Europe," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The US provided the bulk of the funding but extras such as runway refurbishments came out of the national budgets of the five 'guest' NATO partners -- Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
Congress boosted spending in 2011 after an air force review concluded that "most" US storage sites in Europe did not meet US defense department standards.
The FR cited the non-governmental Berlin Institute for Transatlantic Security (BITS) and findings of the nuclear-critical Federation of American Scientists (FAS) compiled from budgetary data given to the US Congress.
Nuclear Vaults Reinforced
FAS researcher Hans M. Kristensen said commercially available aerial photos showed new perimeter construction works around 12 aircraft shelter-vault complexes at the US Aviano air base in Italy and 21 such aircraft shelters at Incirlik, where the perimeter had double fencing and intrusion detection equipment. Special weapons maintenance trucks were also being replaced and upgraded, he said.
Incirlik, close to war-torn Syria, has been used in recent months for US-led airstrikes on jihadist IS militants in Syria. Those activities have coincided with a Russian military buildup via Tartus, a Soviet-era naval base in Syria's coastal Mediterranean region of Latakia.
50 Estimated at Incirlik
Kristensen estimated that Incirlik's vaults currently held 50 B61 nuclear weapons.
For the anti-IS operation, US F-16 jets had been relocated from Aviano, Italy to the Turkish NATO base under a "unique" arrangement.
"The Turks have declined US requests to permanently base a fighting wing at the [Incirlik] base," he wrote.
Range Depends on Aircraft
The FR said the B61 nuclear bomb -- first devised in the 1960s -- had been "modernized" so it could be set to explode at various strengths of up to ten-times the devastation inflicted at Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
It also has the capability to be steered toward a target placed it between short-range "tactical" and long-range "strategic" atomic weapons, the FR said.
The Last Nukes in Germany
(May 8, 2015) -- Their location is top secret -- but it's an open secret where the last US nuclear weapons are stored in Germany. There are thought to be around 20 warheads at the German Buchel military base.
The German and American flags fluttered peacefully in the breeze that made the heat of the summer morning bearable at the main gate of Buchel Air Base (pictured above) in southwestern Germany, not far from the banks of the Mosel River. The guard at the entrance barrier looked suspiciously at Katja Tempel as she stood in front of the main entrance, pointing to the area behind the fence.
The words of the 52-year-old midwife with the short gray hair were suddenly drowned out in a deafening roar from the other side. "Those are the Tornadoes on their training flights again," she said as the noise from the fighter jets died down.
The planes take off regularly from here throughout the week, Tempel said. She spent a lot of time here, in the Eifel region near the French border, in the spring. From March to May, together with other activists, she organized the "Buchel 65" protest movement. The aim of the 65-day action was to block entry to the place where the last US nuclear weapons on German soil are believed to be stored.
Cold War Relics
Between 10 and 20 American nuclear warheads from the Cold War era are stored underground here at the base of Germany's 33rd Tactical Air Force Wing, in a separate, guarded US military area.
Their existence has never officially been confirmed, and NATO and the German government do not comment on the matter for security reasons. Their information policy is neither to confirm nor to deny the presence of nuclear weapons in specific locations.
But the deployment of US nuclear weapons in Europe, including Germany, is an open secret. American military documents leave no doubt. And the German government does not deny the presence of nukes in Germany.
The 2013 coalition agreement between Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats says the German government will work for the "withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Germany and Europe" under specific conditions.
Defense expert Ottfried Nassauer of the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security (bits) said it's common knowledge that there are about 20 American nuclear weapons in Buchel. There are two bomb types from the B61 bomb family, with a maximum explosive yield from 50 to 170 kilotons, he said. This is equivalent to four to 13 times the explosive power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
The German pilots also train with the fighter jets that would, if required, drop these nuclear weapons. "Nuclear sharing" is the NATO term for this. During the Cold War, German fighter jets armed with American nuclear bombs would have been able to stop an advance by Warsaw Pact armored forces -- admittedly only after authorization by the US president. At the height of the Cold War, about 7,300 US nuclear weapons were stationed across Europe.
Nassauer said the 180 US nuclear weapons still in Europe hardly have any military importance. "The effect is more political and psychological," he said. "They assure the new members of NATO, for example, that the Americans would, if called upon, be ready to defend Europe with their nuclear weapons."
Modernization, Not Eithdrawal
The German government has long wanted US nuclear weapons removed from German soil. In their previous coalition agreement with the Free Democrats in 2009, the Christian Democrats set this as a clear objective. And in 2010, a large majority in the German parliament voiced its support.
But so far this hasn't happened. On the contrary, as Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier conceded recently in parliament, "We have by no means given up on this matter, but it is just as difficult as it has been over the past few years."
Perhaps it has become even more difficult. After all, the geopolitical situation is now pointing in a different direction. So a few years ago the US government decided to modernize its nuclear arsenals in Europe with a multibillion-dollar program. The long-in-the-tooth B61 bombs stationed in Germany are likely to be replaced by more precise, digitally guided missiles.
Berlin has accepted that it cannot expect withdrawal of US nuclear weapons in the coming years, Nassauer said. In addition, some parts of the German government fear they will lose influence when it comes to the planning of these weapons if the US nuclear arsenal is withdrawn, he said.
That simultaneously implies a "preliminary decision that the German government can and must live with the modernization of these weapons, which will then be brought to Europe from about 2020," Nassauer said.
The Tornado fighter-bombers stationed in Buchel, which are able to deliver the old nuclear weapons, would then have to be refitted for the new ones. Originally, the German military wanted to retire the Tornado by 2020. But it is now clear that the plane will continue to be used in smaller numbers beyond 2025, and will be modernized again, if necessary.
Against this background, there's no chance in sight for a complete withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Germany -- as Katja Tempel and her "Buchel 65" comrades had demanded with their protest.
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