Senior U.S. military personnel continue to advocate for maintaining the full nuclear triad even as it becomes less cost-efficient to build new delivery platforms for a declining number of warheads, Time magazine reported on Monday.
Expenses for upkeep, refurbishment and management of the nation's ballistic missile submarines, strategic bombers, and silo-based ICBMs could amount to roughly $391 billion over the coming decade, according to a spending projection recently released by the antinuclear Ploughshares Fund.
The new extended distance nuclear weapons delivery platforms the Defense Department intends to build to replace corresponding systems will actually be mounted with fewer warheads compared to levels in years past, according to an assessment by the Natural Resources Defense Council. For example, there were 7.5 warheads in 1991 for every delivery platform. That number decreased to 5.8 weapons for every delivery vehicle in 2001 and in 2009 fell further to 2.6 warheads for every platform.
Under the New START arms control accord with Russia, the United States as of the beginning of last month possessed 1,034 active and reserve strategic nuclear delivery platforms. Washington is required to lower the number of such delivery systems to 700 by 2018, though an additional 100 platforms can be held in reserve.
Military leaders contend the full range of options to fire atomic warheads from land, sea, and air is needed to guarantee the survivability of the strategic deterrent should an attack eradicate one or two of the country's delivery methods.
Air Force Secretary Michael Donley in April said the evolving geopolitical climate necessitates maintaining multifaceted nuclear delivery options. "The more complex the global environment becomes, the more flexibility you want between land, sea, and air-based capabilities," he said.
Donley said he believes "it's important to maintain the flexibility and options for the president going forward. There's no doubt in my mind that the international strategic environment is much more complex than it was when we developed this concept and capability back in the '50s and 60s."
The Navy's head of underwater warfare programs, Rear Adm. Barry Bruner, said earlier this month it was essential his service receive a replacement for the aging Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines. "We have to get that submarine," the admiral said in an interview with the New London Day newspaper.
The Defense Department earlier this year announced it would postpone by two years plans to develop, build, and acquire a new series of Ohio-class vessels. The first new vessel in the series is not projected to be ready before 2031.