Pentagon Could Limit Some B-52 Bombers to Non-Nuclear Role

The United States could limit some of its B-52 bombers to non-nuclear missions in complying with a new strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, Defense Department officials informed lawmakers last week (see GSN, Sept. 30, 2010).

The New START pact entered into force on February 5. It requires the United States and Russia to each reduce deployment of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from a cap of 2,200 mandated by next year under an older treaty. It also limits the number of fielded warhead delivery platforms to 700, with an additional 100 systems permitted in reserve (see GSN, May 10).

The treaty authorizes inspections of nuclear arsenal components in each country by officials from the other nation.

The Pentagon had yet to determine a procedure for modifying affected aircraft ahead of their "exhibition" to Moscow, Principal Defense Undersecretary James Miller said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Air Force would retain 40 B-52 bombers and 20 B-2 jets for nuclear missions, and those aircraft would count as deployed delivery vehicles under the treaty, the Air Force Times quoted him as saying.

B-52 aircraft designated for a strict non-nuclear role would require U.S. certification as completely suited for conventional payloads, U.S. Strategic Command head Gen. Robert Kehler said at the May 4 committee hearing.

“We haven’t gotten to the complete end of that string yet about approvals to represent it that way with the Russians -- that’s pending,” the official said. “We believe we have a good way to do that that still allows them to be capable for conventional missions.”

The Air Force under New START would eliminate 30 of its 450 Minuteman 3 ICBMs, the Times reported. Each of the 420 remaining missiles would carry only one nuclear warhead, though the system can transport up to three.

The Navy's 14 Ohio-class submarines would be armed with “no more than 240 Trident 2 D-5 (submarine-launched ballistic missiles) at any time,” Miller said.

Washington and Moscow have swapped nuclear arsenal data as required by the New START pact, Miller noted (see GSN, March 22).

The United States has made B-2 and B-1 bombers available for Russian scrutiny, while Moscow has permitted U.S. officials to view the RS-24 mobile ICBM as well as an SS-19 Stiletto ICBM facility, Kehler said (Dave Majumdar, Air Force Times, May 9).

May 11, 2011
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The United States could limit some of its B-52 bombers to non-nuclear missions in complying with a new strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, Defense Department officials informed lawmakers last week (see GSN, Sept. 30, 2010).