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A Suggestion on the Nuclear Arsenal Structure

Posted: 06/17/11 04:54 PM ET

For over sixty years, the United States has maintained a large and costly nuclear arsenal, composed of heavy bombers, submarine-launched missiles, and intercontinental missiles. Perhaps it's time for a change.

It has been suggested by some that the U.S. nuclear force should be restructured in such a way as to still provide a credible deterrent to adversaries, while continuing to guarantee security to U.S. allies.

Moreover, in the face of difficult budget constraints on Capitol Hill, maintaining a triad may not be the best way forward. So what is the most stable force structure that is both cost-effective and credible?

By eliminating any two legs of the U.S. triad, the cost savings would be tremendous. At present, the United States maintains 14 Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines, 450 deployed Minuteman III ICBMs, and a total of 94 nuclear-capable bombers. We spend about $30 billion a year to maintain and operate this arsenal. Eliminating any two of these legs would save billions of dollars annually.

As Tom Collina of the Arms Control Association wrote earlier this month, the Pentagon will soon be analyzing changes to current force structure and posture:

These changes could include, for example ... moving from a nuclear force based on a triad of delivery vehicles ... to a dyad that might eliminate nuclear-armed bombers. ... [White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Gary] Samore said that "we've reached the level in our forces where further reductions will raise questions about whether we retain the triad or whether we go to a system that only is a dyad. Those are important considerations."
Our current triad is costly and redundant. Moving to a dyad or even a monad would be an improvement on the status quo. Not only would it enhance nuclear force stability, it would save money. It is a smart and sensible step.

 

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