Vulnerable at 2,672 Nuclear Warheads?

In a recent article, Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk outlined what could happen to U.S. nuclear forces under a sequestration budget. He illustrates that even with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s so-called “doomsday” cuts to nuclear weapons related activities, the U.S. could still field enough warheads to greatly surpass the limits put in place by New START.

What could that “doomsday” look like if the U.S. maximized its nuclear forces? (View at full size)

Lewis is careful to note that these cuts are what could happen and not necessarily what will happen. Likewise, he posits a nuclear force that we could have under the deepest cuts. It is striking that the U.S. could make significant cuts to the strategic weapons budget and still potentially field a nuclear force slightly over ten times the size of China’s. It does force one to ask, “why not scale back outdated weapons for some much needed economic security?”

12/06/11 UPDATE: A reader correctly noted that sequestration cuts in total dollars did not match Jeffery Lewis' article. I have updated the number on the graphic and in the posting to correct for the error. Thank you for reading both this posting and Jeff's excellent piece.

12/06/11 UPDATE: To avoid any confusion, we have removed the total dollar figure from the post. 

Sources: Jeffrey Lewis and Hans Kristensen

Research: Mary Kraszynski

Creative/Art Direction: Peter Fedewa



There is plenty of room for cuts to the nuclear force structure which would enable money to be shifted to other areas of the defense budget, while maintaining a creditable deterrent. Besides Jeffrey Lewis' force structure of only bombers and subs, a triad can still be maintained with plenty of cuts as follows: 1. 300 icbms with one warhead each (close one icbm base). 2. 192 slbms on 8 deployed subs with 150 warheads per sub (10 subs total). 3. 16 B-2s with 16 gravity bombs per bomber. This still gives us 1,516 warheads under New START counting rules, while in actuality it is really 1,756 warheads. 4 Ohio subs can be converted to tactical Tridents SSGNs, the B-52Hs and the alcms can be converted to conventional only. This makes more sense under our fiscal crisis and the need for stronger conventional forces. It also makes more sense than just slbms and bombers because conventional icbms would count the same as nuclear icbms under New START.

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