The United States appears to have quietly removed nuclear weapons from Ramstein Air Base. Here a B61 nuclear bomb is loaded unto a C-17 cargo aircraft.
By Hans M. Kristensen
The U.S. Air Force has removed its main base at Ramstein in Germany from a list of installations that receive periodic nuclear weapons inspections, indicating that nuclear weapons previously stored at the base may have been removed and withdrawn to the United States.
If correct, the withdrawal reduces the number of U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe to an estimated 350 B61 bombs, or roughly equivalent to the size of the entire French nuclear weapons inventory.
Click on figure to open full fact sheet. For an updated stockpile estimate, go here.
The Bush administration announced in 2004 that it had decided to cut the nuclear weapons stockpile “nearly in half” by 2012, but has refused to disclose the actual numbers. Yet a fact sheet published by the Federation of American Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that the stockpile will decline from approximately 9,938 warheads today to approximately 5,047 warheads by the end of 2012.
FAS and NRDC publish the fact sheet now because Congress is considering whether to approve a proposal by the administration to resume industrial production of new nuclear weapons, and because government officials have told Congress that production of new warheads will make it possible to reduce further the size of the stockpile in the future.
The fact sheet estimates are based on information collected by the authors over several decades about production, dismantlement and operation of US nuclear weapons.
“It is not true,” British Defence Secretary Des Browne insisted during an interview with BBC radio, that a new fuze planned for British nuclear warheads and reported by the Guardian will increase their military capability. The plan to replace the fuze “was reported to the [Parliament’s] Select Committee in 2005 and is not an upgrading of the system; it is merely making sure that the system works to its maximum efficiency,” Mr. Browne says.
The minister is either being ignorant or economical with the truth. According to numerous statements made by US officials over the past decade, the very purpose of replacing the fuze is – in stark contrast to Mr. Browne’s assurance – to give the weapon improved military capabilities it did not have before.
The matter, which is controversial now because Britain is debating whether to build a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines, concerns the Mk4 reentry vehicle on Trident D5 missiles deployed on British (and US) ballistic missile submarines. The cone-shaped Mk4 contains the nuclear explosive package itself and is designed to protect it from the fierce heat created during reentry of the Earth’s atmosphere toward the target. A small fuze at the tip of the Mk4 measures the altitude and detonates the explosive package at the right “height of burst” to create the maximum pressure to ensure destruction of the target. The new fuze will increase the “maximum efficiency” significantly and give the British Trident submarines hard target kill capability for the first time.
The U.S. Air Force has decided to retire the Advanced Cruise Missile, the most modern and capable nuclear cruise missile in the U.S. arsenal, according to information obtained by the Federation of American Scientists.
The decision affects approximately 400 ACMs (AGM-129A) currently deployed at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Each missile carries a W80-1 warhead with a yield of 5-150 kilotons. The ACM is designed for delivery by B-52H strategic bombers.
FAS analyst Hans Kristensen noticed elimination of funding for the ACM in the Air Force’s FY2008 budget request, and a subsequent email to the Air Force confirmed the decision to retire the weapon system. The Air Force has not announced when the retirement will be completed, but it appears to be within the next year.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency announced today that it has canceled the controversial Divine Strake experiment.
A 700 tons chemical explosion at the Nevada Test Site was intended to provide data for calibration of nuclear and conventional weapons against underground targets. Local fear that the explosion would kick up and disperse radioactive material from the ground – as well concern about Divine Strake’s role in calibrating the use of low-yield nuclear weapons against underground targets – prompted members of Congress to raise questions about Divine Strake.
The Federation of American Scientists was the first to obtain and publish confirmation from DTRA that Divine Strake was the same experiment described in the FY2006 and FY2007 DTRA budget requests as intended to “improve the warfighter’s confidence in selecting the smallest proper nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage.” DTRA public affairs officials subsequently denied Divine Strake had any connection to nuclear missions, but were later contradicted by senior DTRA officials saying that it was nuclear related.
Background: Divine Strake
The President’s foreign aid budget request for FY2008 contains an unexpected and laudable surprise: a five-fold increase in funding for the State Department’s Small Arms/Light Weapons Destruction initiaitive. If approved by Congress, the additional funding will bolster US efforts to stem the illicit trade in deadly light weapons.
(Updated January 26, 2007)
British Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines have at least 15 years more service life in them, and the U.K. government does not have to make a decision now on whether to replace them with a new class of submarines, Richard Garwin told BBC radio Tuesday.
Garwin, who is a member of the Federation of American Scientists Board of Directors and a long-term adviser to the U.S. government on defense matters, is in Britain to testify before the House of Commons Defence Select Committee on the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
The U.K. government announced on December 4, 2006, that it had decided to replace its current Vanguard-class sea-launched ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) with a new class to enter operation in 2024. If approved by the parliament, the plan would extend Britain’s nuclear era into the 2050s.
According to the U.K. government, a decision to build a new new class must be made now because the Vanguard-class SSBNs only have a have a design life of 25 years. But Garwin says that the submarines have a minimum design life of 25 years, which can be extended by at least another 15 years. A decision made now is premature and unwise, Garwin told BBC, because the large Trident missiles may not be necessary 15 years from now.
New additions: Garwin testimony / House of Lords debate
Background: BBC Today | Garwin Archive at FAS | Britain’s Next Nuclear Era
(Updated January 3, 2007)
North Korea may have gotten all the attention, but all the nuclear weapon states were busy flight-testing ballistic missiles for their nuclear weapons during 2006. According to a preliminary count, eight countries launched more than 28 ballistic missiles of 23 types in 26 different events.
Unlike the failed North Korean Taepo Dong 2 launch, most other ballistic missile tests were successful. Russia and India also experienced missile failures, but the United States demonstrated a very reliable capability including the 117th consecutive successful launch of the Trident II D5 sea-launched ballistic missile.
The busy ballistic missile flight testing represents yet another double standard in international security, and suggests that initiatives are needed to limit not only proliferating countries from developing ballistic missiles but also find ways to curtail the programs of the existing nuclear powers.
The Defense Science Board concludes in a new report that the United States has lost its “national consensus” on what the nation’s nuclear deterrent should look like and the role it should serve. The consensus has been replaced by an “entrenchment” of “sharp differences” of opinion. Therefore, urgent action is needed by the White House and senior leaders to “engage more directly to articulate the persuasive case” for how modern nuclear weapons serve U.S. national security policy.
U.S. nuclear policy has come to a crossroad because the current formula is no longer sustainable.
Perhaps not coincidently, the DSB report comes as the administration is preparing to persuade Congress to pay for a new nuclear weapons complex (Complex 2030) to resume production of nuclear weapons for the first since since the end of the Cold War. To that end, the report presents a wide range of recommendations for how to revitalize the U.S. nuclear posture.
After having spent the last several years sending diplomats to Teheran to try to persuade Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, the British government announced Monday that it plans to renew its own nuclear arsenal.
If approved by the parliament, Monday’s decision means that the United Kingdom will extend its nuclear deterrent beyond 2050, essentially doubling the timeline of its own nuclear era.
Doing so is entirely consistent with the United Kingdom’s international obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and with a policy that favors complete elimination of nuclear weapons, the government insisted in a fact sheet, because the British nuclear arsenal today is smaller than during the Cold War, and because the Treaty does not say exactly when nuclear disarmament has to be accomplished. In fact, the new plan has “the right balance,” the government claims, between working for a world free of nuclear weapons and keeping those weapons.