America’s Future Nuclear Arsenal

In the wake of the release of the Defense Department’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review and President Barack Obama’s signing of a new START treaty with Russia, what will the future American nuclear arsenal look like?

Under the latest START agreement, the United States will maintain no more than 1,550 strategic warheads; seven hundred deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBMs) and nuclear bombers and no more than eight hundred deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and bombers.

There are currently 450 Minuteman III ICBMs sitting in silos throughout the United States, nearly all of which remain on alert status. All will be reduced to a single warhead while the missiles are scheduled be operational until at least 2030.

The US Navy will retain its fourteen Ohio class SSBNs for the time being although two are to be phased out soon with the first submarine facing retirement in 2027. The nuclear tipped Tomahawk cruise missile will be retired altogether.

The Air Force currently has still 76 B-52 Stratofortresses in service, several of which will be converted to conventional bombers in the coming years. Eighteen B-2 stealth bombers are active today. Over the next five years, approximately $1 billion dollar will be spent on upgrading those planes. The B-61 nuclear bomb now carried by the B-52 and the B-2 will also be carried by the F-35 in the near future.

According to the Nuclear Posture Review however, the treaty will just be a first step in the administration’s nuclear disarmament policy. A “limited number” of tactical nuclear weapons are to maintain forward deployment in Europe. Russia maintains a sizable nuclear stockpile in Europe as well. Any decisions as to the future of these weapons will be made in committee with NATO.