The U.S. will get rid of 50 Air Force nuclear missiles, held in launch silos on three Air Force bases in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota, between now and 2018. But the silos will be kept “warm,” so that nuclear missiles could go back in at some point in the future.
Keeping the Air Force missile silos active even without nuclear missiles in them will help preserve jobs at the three Air Force bases, where politicians had worried that the cutback in Air Force nuclear missiles would deal a damaging blow to the local ecomony.
The nuclear missile cutback will reduce the Air Force nuclear arsenal to its lowest level since the early 1960s, and comes are part of the 2011 START treaty between the United States and Russia, an agreement which allows each country no more than 700 strategic nuclear missiles to be deployed — that is, ready to be fired — at any time.
In addition to cuts in Air Force nuclear missiles, the Air Force will mothball 33 nuclear-armed bomber jets, reducing its airborne fleet from 93 to 60, including 19 B2 Stealth bombers and 41 B-52s.
The Navy will scuttle 40 of its submarine-based nuclear missiles.
“Today’s announcement is a big win for our nation’s security and for Malmstrom Air Force Base and north-central Montana,” said Montana Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat. “Keeping silos on warm status ensures that they remain under the watch of Malmstrom’s security and maintenance personnel.”
The cutback in Air Force nuclear missiles brings the land-based nuclear arsenal down to 400 from 450. But the United States will still be well ahead of Russia in its nuclear missile count. The Russians are well under the 700 limit with just 473 nuclear weapons deployed as of last October.
The United States had 809, making the cutback in Air Force and other nuclear missiles a necessity to comply with the START requirements.
While some critics say that Air Force land-based nuclear missiles, or ICBMs, are no longer needed at all, President Barack Obama has said he remains committed to “triad” of nuclear defenses, with missiles ready to be launched from land, sea or air at any given moment.