The standoff over Russia's incursion in Ukraine has not prevented Moscow from verifying the elimination of 18 U.S. missile sites, the Associated Press reports.
Russian experts visited Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana on April 9 to ensure that each intercontinental ballistic missile firing site had been loaded with soil and crushed rock, and that their entryways could no longer seal shut. Their trip was one of eight annual checks Moscow can conduct at U.S. installations under the New START arms control treaty.
"Overall, we felt the process went smoothly," said Col. Marne Deranger, vice commander of Malmstrom's 341st Missile Wing.
The base learned of the planned visit one day before Russian specialists arrived in the company of staffers from the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
"From the time we started [the inspection], we had to be completed in 12 hours," Richard Bialczak, a treaty compliance specialist for the missile unit, said in released comments. "We were able to get all 18."
Bialczak added that the trip was the first of its type at the base, which hosts one-third of the U.S. land-based strategic missile fleet. The others are located at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.
Workers rendered 16 more firing sites at the base inoperable after the April 9 visit, and Russian inspectors may check their elimination in a potential return visit, AP quoted Air Force personnel as saying. The base is expected to eliminate an additional 16 launch platforms previously operated by the 564th Missile Squadron, which disbanded in 2008.
As of 2018, New START will permit Russia and the United States to each maintain no more than a total of 800 deployed and nondeployed strategic missile launchers -- on land or at sea -- and nuclear-ready bomber aircraft.
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