Pentagon Close to Selecting Specific Nuclear Cuts Under New START Limits

An unarmed Minuteman 2 intercontinental ballistic missile launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in this undated photo. Pentagon leaders are close to a decision about altering the mix of U.S. nuclear-delivery vehicles, which include the missiles.
National Journal
Sebastian Sprenger
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Sebastian Sprenger
April 4, 2014, 11 a.m.

Pentagon lead­ers ex­pect to soon give Pres­id­ent Obama a plan for spe­cif­ic U.S. nuc­le­ar cuts to bring the ar­sen­al in line with arms con­trol caps.

A num­ber of al­tern­at­ives have been un­der con­tem­pla­tion for re­du­cing de­ployed bomber air­craft and land- and sub­mar­ine-based bal­list­ic mis­siles to meet a lim­it of 700 de­liv­ery sys­tems and 1,550 war­heads un­der the New START agree­ment, which entered in­to force in Feb­ru­ary 2011.

“We’ve looked at this prob­lem very, very hard over the last year,” Adm. James Win­nefeld, the vice chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in re­sponse to a ques­tion from Rep­res­ent­at­ive Jim Langev­in (D-R.I) at a Thursday hear­ing.

He said de­fense lead­ers are “close” to fi­nal­iz­ing a re­com­mend­a­tion.

“It’s a vex­ing chal­lenge to look at all of the factors in­volved and the re­l­at­ive ad­vant­ages of de­creas­ing [in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­sile] silos and de­creas­ing [sub­mar­ine-launched bal­list­ic mis­sile] tubes on sub­mar­ines,” Win­nefeld told mem­bers of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

In­tern­al Pentagon dis­cus­sions sur­round­ing the mat­ter had been “spir­ited,” the No. 2 mil­it­ary of­ficer ad­ded.

At is­sue is how the Pentagon will al­ter its mix of de­liv­ery vehicles for nuc­le­ar weapons — ground-launched Minute­man 3 mis­siles, sub­mar­ine-launched Tri­dent D-5 mis­siles, and bombers — to meet lim­its of the New START agree­ment with Rus­sia. Bey­ond the 700-sys­tem cap, 100 de­liv­ery plat­forms are al­lowed in re­serve.

Con­gress already has waded in­to the de­bate. Law­makers from states host­ing the na­tion’s 450 Minute­man mis­siles are at­tempt­ing to block the Pentagon from start­ing even ini­tial stud­ies in­to the pos­sib­il­ity of clos­ing a por­tion of their un­der­ground launch silos.

Win­nefeld on Thursday de­cried the Pentagon’s in­ab­il­ity to pro­ceed with as­sess­ing launch-silo re­quire­ments, ar­guing that in­sights from such ana­lyses are badly needed for fu­ture de­cisions.

In ques­tion­ing Win­nefeld, Langev­in in­dir­ectly cri­ti­cized con­gres­sion­al op­pon­ents to pos­sible re­duc­tions.

“I, for one, would feel much bet­ter know­ing that de­cisions made re­gard­ing what con­sti­tutes a safe, se­cure and ef­fect­ive de­terrent tri­ad is in­formed by the best judg­ment of our uni­formed lead­ers about how to bal­ance a de­terrent, rather than shap­ing the na­tion’s nuc­le­ar force based on pa­ro­chi­al in­terests,” the law­maker said.

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