One of America's first new nuclear weapons since the Cold War is the product of an arms race for smaller nukes. The W76-2 low-yield nuclear warhead, which is now rolling off production lines, was ordered by the Trump administration to counter equally low-yield Russian warheads, the Guardian reports. The National Nuclear Security Administration has confirmed that production of the weapon has begun at its Pantex Plant in Texas, NPR reports. It is expected to deliver the first warheads to the Navy by October. Trump ordered the "battlefield" nuclear weapon as part of last year's nuclear posture review. It is a modification of the much stronger W76-1 deployed on Ohio-class submarines.
Hans Kristensen at the Federation of American Scientists advocacy group estimates that the new weapon will have a yield of 5 to 7 kilotons, compared to 15 for the bomb dropped on Hiroshima—and 100 kilotons for the W76-1. The administration argues that having the low-yield weapon will overcome the disadvantage of having an arsenal full of nukes "too big to use," but critics warn that smaller-scale nuclear weapons make nuclear war more likely. Kristensen tells NPR that the same Trident missiles will be used for both W76 weapons, potentially causing catastrophic confusion. "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...'" he says. (Trump says the US will expand its nuclear arsenal after pulling out of a treaty with Russia.)