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U.S. Eliminates Multi-Warheads on All Ground-Based Nuclear Missiles

Workers inspect a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile in 2002 at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The U.S. Air Force finished modifying its long-range nuclear missiles to each carry just one warhead. Workers inspect a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile in 2002 at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The U.S. Air Force finished modifying its long-range nuclear missiles to each carry just one warhead. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The United States this week finished altering its ground-based, long-range nuclear missiles to each carry just one warhead, the Great Falls Tribune reports.

Crews carried out the final modification of an intercontinental ballistic missile at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, the newspaper reported on Wednesday. The service implemented the alterations under a nuclear-arms pact with Russia.

The New START strategic arms-control treaty called for the change to the nation's Minuteman 3 ICBMs, which were previously able to carry three "Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles." The United States maintains roughly 450 of the missiles, deployed at the Montana facility and at bases in North Dakota and Wyoming.

"This was the last Minuteman 3 in the Air Force to be 'deMIRVed,' and this is a major milestone in meeting the force structure numbers to comply with the New START requirements," Steve Ray, a member of Air Force Global Strike Command's missile maintenance division, said in a released comment.

"This is historic because we've had MIRVs in the field for more than 40 years, since 1970 when the first Minuteman 3 came on alert," Ray said.

In its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the Obama administration said "deMIRVing" the weapons would "enhance the stability of the nuclear balance by reducing the incentives for either side to strike first."

Meanwhile, the Air Force is still reviewing alternatives for a next-generation ICBM capability, U.S. Strategic Command head Adm. Cecil Haney said on Wednesday. The existing Minuteman 3 fleet can remain in service through 2030, he noted in comments referenced in a Defense Department news release.

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