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Trump's talk of new secret US nuclear weapons System

“I have built a nuclear, a weapon, I have built a weapon system that nobody's ever had in this country before,” Trump said.

President Donald Trump is expanding his arsenal of spectacular, but hard to explain, claims about U.S. military might.

First, there were invisible airplanes. Then, a “super duper” missile.

And now, a secret nuclear weapon. “I have built a nuclear, a weapon, I have built a weapon system that nobody's ever had in this country before,” Trump said in an interview with journalist Bob Woodward for his book published this week. “We have stuff that you haven't even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before," Trump said, referring to Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China. "There's nobody. What we have is incredible." Weapons experts are puzzling over Trump's words. Some think he may have been talking about a nuclear warhead that was modified to reduce its explosive power. Known as the W76-2, this weapon certainly is unknown to the general public — not because of secrecy or mystery but because of its obscurity.

Asked by a reporter to clarify his comment, Trump on Thursday said he'd rather not. “There are systems that nobody knows about, including you, and we have some systems that nobody knows about. And, frankly, I think I’m better off keeping it that way,” he said. James Acton, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in an interview Friday that Trump may have been referring to the W76-2 warhead. Although its existence was not a secret, the timing of its first deployment was. The warhead is on the business end of a Trident II D-5 missile carried aboard Navy ballistic missile submarines.

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KEY FACTS

It’s not clear what Trump was referring to, but Woodward writes in his new book Rage that he later confirmed with sources that the U.S. military indeed had a secret new weapon system, and the sources said they were surprised Trump had disclosed the information, according to The Washington Post. It’s possible that Trump was referring to the W76-2 warhead, according to the defense publication Task & Purpose. That weapon was announced in Feb. 2018 as a relatively “low-cost” addition to the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and has a smaller explosive yield than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Trump made the comments to Woodward during one of 18 on-the-record interviews the famed Watergate journalist had with the president between December and July for his for his upcoming book, which is billed as providing an inside look at the Trump White House

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Others think Trump did not mean nuclear at all. The boast came in the same period that Russia and China had appeared to take a lead in the development of hypersonic glide vehicles, missiles currently almost impossible to defend against.

Three weeks after Trump gave the interview, Russia announced its first Avangard hypersonics had been put into service. On January 8 Trump declared the US was also building hypersonics, and in the following months he branded it the "super-duper missile."

"We have one 17 times (the speed of sound). And it's just gotten the go-ahead ... Fastest in the world by a factor of almost three," he said on May 15.

Arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis said Trump's language in the Woodward interview "really mirrors" his comments on the "super duper missile."

But others aren't sure Trump wasn't making it all up.

"It's always risky to parse only a few words from Trump," said Rofer. "He misunderstands so much and lies so much. 'Nobody's ever had' is one of his trademark brags."

Asked about Trump's comment, the Pentagon demurred.

"I'll have to refer you to the White House to clarify what the President meant in his remarks," said a spokesperson, Lt. Col. Robert Carver.


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