Pentagon to Decommission 50 Nuclear Missiles

Wednesday, 09 Apr 2014 10:11 AM

By Melanie Batley

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The Pentagon is removing 50 nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles from its silos over the next four years in compliance with a treaty with Russia, but will not eliminate them from the U.S. arsenal, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The decommissioned missiles will no longer be considered operational but will continue to be maintained and guarded, and the silos will also be kept operational or "warm but empty," as one official put it.

The 2010 New START treaty with Russia calls for each country to cut their deployed nuclear weapons to 1,550 by 2018, down from a previous high of 2,200. It also set a limit of 700 deployed missiles and bombers, according to the Times.

Lawmakers in states housing the ICBM squadrons expressed relief at the announcement, having feared their closure would eliminate jobs for hundreds of Air Force personnel and cut millions of dollars that the bases contribute to local economies, the Times reported.

"Today's announcement is a big win for our nation's security and for Malmstrom Air Force Base and north-central Montana," Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said in a statement, according to the Times.

Lawmakers in North Dakota and Wyoming had also braced themselves for the impact of reductions in nuclear forces. The three states are home to America's 450 Minuteman III missiles.

To comply with the treaty limits on warheads and launchers, the Pentagon will also convert 30 B-52 bombers configured for nuclear weapons to carry conventional weapons, according to the Times.

Meanwhile, the Navy will disable four launch tubes for nuclear warheads on each of its 14 missile-carrying submarines, a reduction of up to 56 missiles.

Some outside experts believe the decision to keep the land-based missiles was misguided, favoring their elimination or downsizing and instead relying on submarines and bombers to carry nuclear weapons, which might be more capable of responding to a surprise nuclear attack, the Times reported.

Minutemen III "is designed strictly to fight a large-scale nuclear war with Russia," Bruce Blair, a former ICBM launch officer and founder of a group that seeks the elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide, told the Times.

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