The Post New START Nuclear Arsenal


So now that the Nuclear Posture Review is out, one of the stated aims of which is to reduce the role of U.S. nukes, and a new arms reduction treaty with the Russians (New START) is signed (though not yet ratified by the Senate), let’s take a look at where things stand, or will soon stand, with America’s nuclear arsenal.

Assuming it’s ratified, New START, which replaces the 1991 START I Treaty which expired last year, sets limits of:

• 1,550 strategic warheads

• 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and deployed nuclear capable heavy bombers

• A combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and nuclear capable heavy bombers

New START is only the beginning, according to the NPR, as the U.S. and Russia will continue discussion on further reductions in the nuclear arsenal. After some speculation that the Obama administration's NPR would axe a leg of the nuclear triad, the NPR decided to keep all three legs.

The Boomer Fleet

The Navy will retain all 14 Ohio class SSBNs for the near term; although the plan is to reduce to 12 before the end of the decade. The first of the Ohio class will be retired in 2027. The Navy is currently designing a replacement SSBN; how the Navy plans to fit a new boomer into an already overcrowded shipbuilding plan is a mystery, more on that in a later post.

No More MIRVs

There are 450 deployed Minuteman III ICBMs sitting in silos somewhere in middle America. Nearly all ICBMs remain on alert status. All ICBMs will be “de-MIRVed,” reducing each to a single warhead. A life extension program is underway to keep the Minuteman III missiles operational to at least 2030. The NPR reaffirmed the current practice of “open ocean” targeting; all missiles are aimed at the ocean in event of an accidental launch. It says the Pentagon is exploring “new modes of basing” for the ICBM force.

Nuclear Bombers

The U.S. has 76 B-52H and 18 B-2 nuclear capable bombers. An as yet undetermined number of B-52H bombers will be converted to conventional only. Over $1 billion will be invested in upgrading the B-2 fleet (currently the only penetrating bomber in the inventory) over the next five years. Nuclear capable bombers no longer sit at the ready on the ramp.

The NPR says DOD is currently examining the right mix of long range strike, the outcome of which will be seen in the 2012 budget request.

Tactical Nukes

The NPR says “a limited number” of tactical nuclear weapons are maintained forward deployed in Europe, mainly because Russia maintains a pretty sizeable tactical nuke stockpile in Europe and it makes our NATO allies feel better to keep our bombs there. Any decisions as to the future of those nuclear bombs will be made by committee in NATO.

As the Air Force (someday) replaces the F-16 with the F-35, it will ensure that the B-61 nuclear bomb (carried by the B52H and B-2) can be carried by the new fighter-bomber.

The nuclear tipped Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile (TLAM-N) will be retired.

-- Greg

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