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U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues

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Congressional rept.

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During the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear arsenal contained many types of delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons. The longer range systems, which included long-range missiles based on U.S. territory, long-range missiles based on submarines, and heavy bombers that could threaten Soviet targets from their bases in the United States, are known as strategic nuclear delivery vehicles. At the end of the Cold War, in 1991, the United States deployed more than 10,000 warheads on these delivery vehicles. That number has declined to around 6,000 warheads today, and is slated, under the 2002 Moscow Treaty, to decline to 2,200 warheads by the year 2012. At the present time, the U.S. land-based ballistic missile force ICBMs consists of 500 Minuteman III ICBMs, each deployed with between one and three warheads, for a total of 1,200 warheads. The Air Force recently deactivated all 50 of the 10-warhead Peacekeeper ICBMs it plans to eventually deploy Peacekeeper warheads on some of the Minuteman ICBMs. The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review QDR report also indicated that it planned to eliminate 50 of the Minuteman III missiles, leaving a force of 450 missiles that would carry, perhaps, 500-600 warheads. The 109th Congress stalled this plan, pending a study from the Administration. The Air Force is also modernizing the Minuteman missiles, replacing and upgrading their rocket motors, guidance systems, and other components. The Air Force had expected to begin replacing the Minuteman missiles around 2018, but has decided, instead, to continue to modernize and maintain the existing missiles. The 110th Congress will again review the Bush Administrations plans for U.S. strategic nuclear forces, during the annual authorization and appropriations process. It may review a number of questions about the future size of that force. Congress may also question the Administrations plans for reductions in the Minuteman force and B-52 fleet.

Subject Categories:

  • Bombers
  • Submarine Engineering
  • Surface-Launched Guided Missiles
  • Underwater-Launched Guided Missiles
  • Nuclear Weapons

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