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Montana Senators Oppose ICBM Cuts

The U.S. senators from Montana this week warned Defense Secretary Leon Panetta of dangers that would accompany reductions to the nation's arsenal of nuclear-tipped ICBMs (see GSN, Nov. 15).

The Pentagon is already planning to cut $450 billion in projected spending over the next decade. The recent failure of the congressional "super committee" to identify additional deficit-reducing budget cuts means that amount could more than double. Panetta stated last month that such a situation could force his department to eliminate its entire fleet of 450 ICBMs.

The missiles are deployed in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. As many as 420 of the systems are currently expected to remain fielded under the U.S.-Russian New START nuclear arms control treaty.

"We believe eliminating the ICBM wing would be disastrous for national security and fail to deliver significant budget savings over the next 10 years," Senators Jon Tester (D) and Max Baucus (D) stated in a letter sent on Wednesday to Panetta. "We hope to work with you to make the cuts required by our nation’s financial constraints without jeopardizing national security or gutting critical national assets such as the ICBM force and we urge you to include robust funding for the ICBM wing in the fiscal year 2013 budget."

The two lawmakers suggested that cuts to the U.S. strategic force could better come from the submarines or bombers that make up the other two branches of the nuclear triad.

"ICBMs are by far the most cost-efficient leg of the nuclear triad. The ICBM fleet provides a critical deterrent because of its considerable survivability. Unlike an attack on the submarine or bomber leg of the triad, an enemy would be required to strike deep within the continental United States in order effectively eliminate ICBM strike capability," the letter states. "Such a visible, highly dispersed force creates a powerful disincentive for any adversary while also providing clear reassurance to our allies, many of whom have chosen not to pursue their own nuclear arsenal because of the security provided by America’s nuclear umbrella."

The senators also questioned whether the Defense Department could, as assessed, save $8 billion by phasing out the ICBMs. "The large costs associated with closing down large installations, such as environmental remediation and other costs associated with dismantling nuclear infrastructure, would likely offset most potential savings," they wrote (U.S. Senator Jon Tester release, Dec. 8).

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