Senators Call for Retention of ICBMs

(Oct. 14) -U.S. Air Force personnel mount a refurbished nuclear warhead to a Minuteman 3 ICBM in an underground launch facility in Nebraska in 1997. Eight U.S. senators on Wednesday urged the Obama administration to retain at least 420 ICBMs in implementing a strategic arms reduction pact with Russia (AP Photo/Eric Draper).
(Oct. 14) -U.S. Air Force personnel mount a refurbished nuclear warhead to a Minuteman 3 ICBM in an underground launch facility in Nebraska in 1997. Eight U.S. senators on Wednesday urged the Obama administration to retain at least 420 ICBMs in implementing a strategic arms reduction pact with Russia (AP Photo/Eric Draper).

The United States should retain no fewer than 420 launch-ready ICBMs and evenly disperse any reductions across three host bases as it moves to comply with a strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, senators from four states said in a Wednesday letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (see GSN, Oct. 13).

The United States now deploys 500 warheads on 450 nuclear-armed Minuteman 3 ICBMs in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. New START, which took effect on Feb. 5, requires Russia and the United States 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 strategic systems permitted in reserve.

"As the administration seeks to implement the New START treaty, it is distressing to hear some argue for a significant reduction, or even abandonment, of our ICBM force. We believe such an unprecedented reversal of our long-held and successful nuclear deterrent strategy is unwise and would create an unnecessary strategic danger," states the letter signed by Montana Senators Max Baucus (D) and Jon Tester (R), Wyoming Senators John Barasso (R) and Mike Enzi (R), North Dakota Senators Kent Conrad (D) and John Hoeven (R), and Utah Senators Orrin Hatch (R) and Mike Lee (R).

"Accordingly, we continue to strongly support the deployment of 450 ICBMs. We do understand that the administration and the Department of Defense intend to reduce the number of deployed ICBMs as part of a wider New START treaty compliance effort. If those plans proceed, we strongly urge [the Defense Department] to maintain at least 420 ICBMs on alert."

The senators also called for the nation's 450 ICBM launch facilities to be maintained in "warm status." The condition "means that the silos remain functional and staffed," a Turner spokeswoman clarified in an e-mail.

"We further urge that any reductions be spread equally between each of the three operational ICBM bases. Such a dispersal will not only provide the maximum effective deterrent, but if all 450 ICBM silos are maintained in a warm status this will further leverage the deterrence effect created by dispersal," the letter states.

The lawmakers said they concurred with the findings of the Strategic Posture Commission and the Pentagon's 2010 Nuclear Posture Review about the potential pitfalls of cutting any leg of the nuclear triad of land-, air- and sea-based assets. "Reducing our force to a dyad or a monad structure could be destabilizing in unpredictable ways," the letter states (see GSN, Dec. 16, 2009).

"Given the irreplaceable contributions to stability that the ICBM force provides, the strategic value of preserving the triad, and the relative cost advantages of the Minuteman, we continue to support the deployment of 450 ICBMs," the senators wrote (U.S. Senator Jon Tester release, Oct. 13).

October 14, 2011
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The United States should retain no fewer than 420 launch-ready ICBMs and evenly disperse any reductions across three host bases as it moves to comply with a strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, senators from four states said in a Wednesday letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (see GSN, Oct. 13).