U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues

August 8, 2017

CRS Report: U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues

 

Even though the United States is in the process of reducing the number of warheads deployed on its long-range missiles and bombers, consistent with the terms of the New START Treaty, it also plans to develop new delivery systems for deployment over the next 20-30 years. The 115th Congress will continue to review these programs, and the funding requested for them, during the annual authorization and appropriations process.


During the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear arsenal contained many types of delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons. The longer-range systems, which included long-range missiles based on U.S. territory, long-range missiles based on submarines, and heavy bombers that could threaten Soviet targets from their bases in the United States, are known as strategic nuclear delivery vehicles. At the end of the Cold War, in 1991, the United States deployed more than 10,000 warheads on these delivery vehicles. That number has declined to less than 1,500 deployed warheads today, and is slated to be 1,550 deployed warheads in 2018, after the New START Treaty completes implementation.


At the present time, the U.S. land-based ballistic missile force (ICBMs) consists of 400 land-based Minuteman III ICBMs, each deployed with one warhead. The fleet has declined to 400 deployed missiles, while retaining 450 launchers, to meet the terms of the New START Treaty. The Air Force is also modernizing the Minuteman missiles, replacing and upgrading their rocket motors, guidance systems, and other components, so that they can remain in the force through 2030. It plans to replace the missiles with a new Ground-based Strategic Deterrent around 2030.

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