The United States is set to remove 50 of their nukes from launch silos in order to comply with a 2011 agreement between the U.S. and Russia. This will leave 400 launch-ready weapons, the lowest number since early in the 1960’s. Although the silos will no longer be armed, they will remain “warm”, which means they will have the ability to be returned to active use should that need arise.
The U.S. will keep its current force of 450 land-based nuclear missiles but remove 50 from their launch silos as part of a plan to bring the U.S. into compliance with a 2011 U.S.-Russia arms control treaty, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The resulting launch-ready total of 400 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles would be the lowest deployed ICBM total since the early 1960s.
The decisions come after a strong push by members of Congress from the states that host missile bases – North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana – to not eliminate any of the silos from which the missiles would be launched. Fifty silos will be kept in “warm” status – empty of missiles but capable of returning to active use.
Sen. John Tester, a Montana Democrat, called the Pentagon’s announcement “a big win for our nation’s security and for Malmstrom Air Force Base,” home of the 341st Missile Wing with 150 Minuteman 3 missiles.
“ICBMs are the most cost-effective nuclear deterrent, and keeping silos warm is a smart decision and the kind of common sense Montanans expect from their leaders,” Tester said.
The decision to put 50 missiles in storage but not eliminate any of their launch silos is a departure from the practice followed throughout the 50-plus year history of intercontinental ballistic missiles. A senior defense official who briefed reporters on the plan and its rationale said the Pentagon had never before structured its ICBM force with a substantial number of missiles in standby status. The official spoke under Pentagon ground rules that did not permit her name to be used.
Hans Kristensen, an arms control expert at the Federation of American Scientists, called the administration’s announcement disappointing as an apparent shift away from ICBM force reductions.
“This decision appears to have more to do with the administration surrendering to the ICBM caucus (in Congress) than with strategic considerations about national security,” he said in an email exchange.