Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in a Wall Street Journal oped, has announced the force structure for the New START treaty:
Based on the recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we plan to meet the Treaty’s limits by retaining a triad of up to 420 ICBMs, 14 submarines carrying up to 240 SLBMs, and up to 60 nuclear capable bombers.
|Delivery Vehicle Type||Deployed||Total||Loading||Warheads|
|Minuteman III ICBM||420||420||× 1||420|
|Trident II SLBM||240||280||× 4-5||1070|
|B-2 Heavy Bomber||16||19||× 1||16|
|B-52 Heavy Bomber||44||76||× 1||44|
Source: Author’s wild guess.
I am really quite baffled by this. Last I checked 420, 240, and 60 summed to, er, 720. The treaty limit for deployed delivery vehicles is 700. I don’t get it.
Holding aside that question, for a moment, the distribution suggests a few things:
✗ The United States is going to eliminate 30 Minuteman III ICBM silos. That, to me, looks like the Obama Administration is going to spread the pain around (fewer missiles per squadron) rather than try to eliminate a full squadron.
✗ The United States is going to reduce the number of launch tubes on each ballistic missile submarine to 20, down from 24, per the conversion protocol. (12 deployed SSBNs times 20 tubes equals 240. 2 submarines would in overhaul at any one time.)
✗ The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review — as well as some US officials with whom I spoke — indicated that the United States would convert additional B-52s. I don’t see it in these numbers, since the United States has only 44 combat coded B-52s. (In conversations, officials have used “test” and “training” codes in a way that would suggest neither count.)
It is, of course, possible that I don’t understand some counting rule, perhaps related to bombers. It is also possible that subsequent decisions about additional reductions must be made, although I would have phrased that sentence “we plan to move toward meeting the Treaty’s limits …” They have seven years to figure it out, I suppose.