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October 28, 2010

Lt. Gen. Jameson: ICBM shutdown had 'no real bearing on the capabilities of our nuclear forces'
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

Earlier today, former Deputy Commander in Chief and Chief of Staff of U.S. Strategic Command, Lt. General Dirk Jameson, USAF (Ret.), once again reiterated his strong support for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and stressed that the computer glitch at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming that took 50 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) temporarily offline was “nothing to be overly concerned about.”

Prior to his STRATCOM assignment, Gen. Jameson commanded the 14,500 men and women of the U.S. 20th Air Force, and was responsible for all U.S. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, seven major subordinate units, operational training, testing, security and readiness. 

On a media conference call convened by the bipartisan American Security Project, Gen. Jameson emphasized that this interruption had “no real bearing on the capabilities of our nuclear forces to carry out their deterrent mission.”  Gen. Jameson further warned against doing “something foolish like not ratifying the New START Treaty because of this isolated event.” 

“I represent a group of retired admirals and generals who, on a nonpartisan basis, have investigated the New START Treaty and believe that it is in our country’s vital interest to see that this treaty is ratified,” Gen. Jameson said. 

The New START Treaty has the “unanimous support of America's military leadership,” including seven former STRATCOM commanders who have assured Senators, "We strongly endorse its early ratification and entry into force."

Despite this strong support, a few Cold War ideologues have attempted to use the F.E. Warren incident as an excuse to oppose New START.  Earlier today, Marc Ambinder reported

“The recent failure reinforces the need for the United States to maintain 450 ICBMs to ensure a strong nuclear defense," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY). “If new START had been in place on Sunday, we would have immediately been below an acceptable level to deter threats from our enemies.  Before ratifying this treaty, the Senate must ensure we modernize our own nuclear weapons and strengthen our national security.”

First, a bit of context:  Most public estimates put the number of strategic operational warheads at 1,968.  So for 45 minutes, a computer glitch disrupted our communication with about 3% of our operational nuclear arsenal.  A problem, yes – but not one that compromised the credibility of our deterrent. 

Second, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has already announced that we will spend $100 billion over the next ten years to update or replace our strategic nuclear delivery systems.  This is in addition to the $80 billion that will also be doled out to the labs. Secretary Gates wrote in his preface to the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review that “These investments, and the NPR's strategy for warhead life extension, represent a credible modernization plan necessary to sustain the nuclear infrastructure and support our nation's deterrent.”  An administration official also explained that for the systems that were the apparent source of the computer glitch:  "nothing in START prevents us from upgrading that part of the nuclear deterrent -- something DoD has already said they plan to do.  If folks on the other side are saying it affects START, they're just playing politics with this."

Third, under New START the U.S. plans to maintain up to 420 Minuteman III missiles. The United States currently has 450 ICBMs spread across three Air Force bases – Malmstrom, Minot, and F.E. Warren. While the exact numbers have not been finalized, it appears that each base will only have to trim 10 missiles to meet the requirements under New START.  As Steve Malicott, president of the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce in Montana, said, “It appears Malmstrom would lose only 10 of its 150 missiles if START is approved.  That size of reduction would have a negligible impact on Malmstrom’s staffing and its considerable economic impact on the area.”  Translation:  Sen. Barrasso doesn’t need to put our national security on the line to protect jobs in his home state.

For those who are so inclined, I’ve included more on the force structure under New START below:

 

  Estimated forces 

Alternative 2
Currently, the United States has 450 ICBM silos, and the administration plans to retain up to 420 ICBMs, each carrying a single warhead. The United States has 94 deployable nuclear-= capable heavy bombers; the administration plans to convert some of these bombers to a conventional-only role (at which point they would not count toward the treaty’s limits) and to retain up to 60 nuclear-capable bombers. The administration plans to retain all 14 strategic nuclear submarines that the United States has, but it will reduce the number of SLBM launch tubes on each submarine from 24 to 20 and it will deploy no more than 240 SLBMs at any one time. 

These figures add up to 720 delivery vehicles, so the United States will have to make further cuts in order to meet treaty limits.  When asked in a question for the record why the plan did not specify all the cuts that would be made, the Secretary of Defense responded:

Because the treaty covers a 10-year period after entry into force, the Department has outlined a baseline force structure that fully supports U.S. strategy. This structure is important for planning purposes and shows our commitment to maintaining the Triad, but also allows us to modify our force structure plans while fielding a force of 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, as circumstances dictate.

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