Turkey, as regular readers of the blog already know, is home to ~65 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons at Incirlik Air Force base. The bombs are designed for delivery by Turkish and American F-16s. Given the most recent U.S. nuclear targeting guidelines in the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), I would presume that buried deep inside a locked file cabinet in Brussels sits strike plans for targets in Iran, Syria, and Russia.
Turkey – despite its recent attention to the negotiations for a Middle East WMD Free Zone (MEWMDFZ) – is a strong supporter of the stationing of nuclear weapons in Europe. Thus, I am always surprised that so little attention is paid in Turkey to the problems with the F-35 and the B-61’s life extension program (LEP). The B-61 is the name of the nuclear weapon deployed in Europe. Currently, the United States’ National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is overseeing the B-61 LEP. The U.S. NPR originally stated that the upgraded bomb would be delivered to its overseas bases – i.e. – Incirlik among others – in 2017. However, due to mismanagement and cost-overruns, that timeline has been pushed back to 2019. As if that was not bad enough, the NNSA’s sequester related $600 million budget cut could push back production even further.
According to Hans Kristensen’s excellent blog: The B61 LEP is already the most expensive and complex warhead modernization program since the Cold War, with cost estimates ranging from $8 billion to more than $10 billion, up from $4 billion in 2010. The price hike has triggered Congressional questions and efforts to trim the program. B61-12 proponents argue the weapon is needed to provide extended nuclear deterrence to NATO and Asian allies, but the mission in Europe is fading out and a cheaper alternative could be to retaining the B61-7 for the B-2A bomber and retire other B61 versions. The B61-12 program extends the life of the tactical B61-4 warhead, incorporates selected components from three other B61 versions (B61-3, B61-7, and B61-10), adds unknown new safety and security features, and adds a guided tail kit to increase the accuracy and target kill capability of the B61-12 compared with the B61-4.
The B61-7 is delivered by the U.S. based stealth bomber, which, if the U.S. and NATO opt to pursue this route, would mean the end of the forward deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe. In the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept the Allies agreed that they should retain the capability to forward deploy U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, but did not specifically say that the Alliance must maintain the physical presence of nuclear weapons in Europe indefinitely.
Secondly, the B61-12 is being designed for delivery via dual capable F-16, B-2, F-15, and Tornado aircraft. Turkey, which plans to retire most of its F-16 fleet in the late 2020s, does not have an urgent DCA issue. However, as Andrea Berger (follow here on twitter) explained here on Turkey wonk, Germany does. Berlin has indicated that it will not purchase the F-35 once it retires its Tornado aircraft and has publicly called for the removal of U.S. weapons from Europe (For reference, the weapons are based in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, and Turkey).
Moreover, Belgium and the Netherlands have also not committed to buying the U.S. made fighter. Thus, there is a chance that Turkey and Italy may be the only NATO countries that are home to DCAs and the B61-12 in the 2020s. As of now, Turkey remains committed to the F-35 program, even though it continues gripe over its lack of access to the aircraft’s source codes (If interested in Turkey’s military procurement policy, read this post).
However, as the cost of each aircraft rises, and the production schedule is delayed, the prospect of the Netherlands purchasing the air craft diminishes. Thus, making it more likely that Turkey could be faced with the prospect of having to either shoulder the Alliance’s nuclear burden alone with Italy, or the rapid withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe. I completely understand why people in Turkey don’t care about US Congressional funding debates or silly self inflicted messes like the sequester, but they do have relevance for Turkish security planning in the future.
Stay tuned . . .