Pentagon Seen Acquiescing to Congress on Land-Based Nuclear Missiles

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Global Security Newswire Staff
April 9, 2014, 7:50 a.m.

The Pentagon ap­pears to have ac­ceded to the wishes of law­makers in re­tain­ing large num­bers of land-based mis­siles, says one nuc­le­ar ex­pert.

In its Tues­day an­nounce­ment on the im­ple­ment­a­tion of nuc­le­ar de­liv­ery vehicle re­duc­tions un­der the New START ac­cord with Rus­sia, the De­fense De­part­ment said it would keep its present ar­sen­al of 454 Minute­man 3 in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­siles, though 54 of the weapons would be re­moved from their silos and placed in re­serve. Those emp­tied un­der­ground launch fa­cil­it­ies are to be kept in “warm” status, per­mit­ting their po­ten­tial us­age in the fu­ture.

The Pentagon’s de­cision fol­lows a con­cer­ted lob­by­ing push to lim­it cuts to the Minute­man ar­sen­al by a co­ali­tion of law­makers from Montana, North Dakota and Wyom­ing — the three states that host the mis­sile silos, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­por­ted.

“This de­cision ap­pears to have more to do with the [Obama] ad­min­is­tra­tion sur­ren­der­ing to the ICBM caucus [in Con­gress] than with stra­tegic con­sid­er­a­tions about na­tion­al se­cur­ity,” wrote Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ic­an Sci­ent­ists nuc­le­ar forces ana­lyst Hans Kristensen in an email to the news agency.

The New START pact re­quires the United States by 2018 to re­duce the total num­ber of de­ployed heavy bombers as well as stra­tegic land- and sea-based bal­list­ic mis­siles to 700 with an ad­di­tion­al 100 sys­tems al­lowed in re­serve.

By not mak­ing any cuts to its roughly 450 ICBM silos, the Pentagon has de­cided to make much deep­er cuts to its stock­pile of sub­mar­ine-launched bal­list­ic mis­siles — go­ing down to a total of 280 SLBMs from the present 336. While the sea-based fleet is more ex­pens­ive to main­tain than the oth­er two legs of the nuc­le­ar tri­ad, the sub­mar­ines are also seen as the most stra­tegic­ally valu­able be­cause they would be harder to elim­in­ate in a po­ten­tial first-strike, ac­cord­ing to AP.

Nev­er be­fore when the mil­it­ary has made cuts to its silo-based mis­siles have their launch fa­cil­it­ies been main­tained in standby status, said a high-rank­ing Pentagon of­fi­cial to journ­al­ists.

“The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­cision to re­tain the 50 silos ‘re­duced’ un­der the New START treaty in­stead of des­troy­ing them is a dis­ap­point­ing new de­vel­op­ment that threatens to weak­en New START treaty im­ple­ment­a­tion and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s arms re­duc­tion pro­file,” wrote Kristensen in a Thursday blog post.

Mean­while, law­makers from North Dakota, Wyom­ing and Montana praised the Pentagon’s de­cision in a flurry of press re­leases.

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