The report contends that developing the weapons will also help the US deter North Korea's nuclear aggression, which has ramped up at a far faster rate than experts had predicted. The first weapon is a low-yield nuclear warhead that could be delivered by the Trident missiles carried by USA submarines.
Policymakers worry that regular, large-yield weapons are essentially too big to ever be detonated, as their use would likely result in large-scale retaliation from an adversary and wipe too much of humanity off the map.
Cyberattacks threatening to or actually wreaking physical havoc on the United States mainland could be met with nuclear retaliation, the New York Times reports.
According to the Journal, "Paying for all of the missile and bomber programs may be a challenge".
"While the United States has continued to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons, others, including Russian Federation and China, have moved in the opposite direction", an unclassified draft of the Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) states. If the Pentagon doesn't secure the spending increases it anticipates, this could heighten the competition between nuclear and nonnuclear programs for budgetary resources.
The nuclear review states that the development of new, lower-yield nuclear weapons is not meant to enable "nuclear war-fighting" that would see the USA military using the weapons on the battlefield.
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The draft document calls for the U.S.to raise its nuclear threshold and update dual-capable aircraft with the deployment of F-35A jets.
"The pro-nuclear ideologues say that for a real deterrent, the United States must align itself with the enemy's arsenal, with the weapon, with the power", Blechman said.
"Expanding flexible USA nuclear options now, to include low-yield options, is important for the preservation of credible deterrence against regional aggression", the document states. It breaks with the vision of former President Barack Obama who, in 2009 in Prague, called for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
A Defense Department spokesperson declined to comment until the final version of the report is released in February. But the review expands the definition of what constitutes an extreme circumstance to "include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks", according to the Times.
The nuclear review states its commitment to the non-proliferation treaty "remains strong".
"Additionally, a decision to use nuclear weapons would not be made haphazardly", she told AFP.