By Christine Kucia
The United States has begun dismantling its Peacekeeper ICBM force and converting two Trident nuclear submarines to carry conventional weapons in the first move toward reducing its deployed strategic warheads to the 1,700-2,200 limit established by the U.S.-Russian Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty.
On October 1, crews at F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming began dismantling the first of 50 Peacekeeper missiles, each capable of delivering 10 independently targetable warheads at variable yields, according to Jenna McMullin, spokeswoman with Air Force Space Command. One-third of the force will be retired in each year of the three-year dismantlement program at a total estimated cost of $400-500 million. The deactivation and dismantlement of each missile will take about 17 days, McMullin noted. Warheads removed from the Peacekeepers will be stored, and some are slated to replace older warheads on Minuteman III missiles.
Meanwhile, the USS Ohio ceased its nuclear role on September 30 upon its return to Bangor Naval Submarine Base in Washington, The Seattle Times reported October 1. The Ohio will head to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a two-year conversion program slated to begin in October 2003, according to U.S. Navy spokeswoman Elissa Smith. The submarine is the first of four that will be refitted to carry as many as 154 conventional Tomahawk or Tactical Tomahawk land-attack missiles, bringing the U.S. nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet down to 14 boats. The newly fitted submarines are scheduled to become operational in 2007 at a total estimated conversion cost of $3.4 billion.
The reductions in land-based and submarine-launched nuclear forces come after the Bush administration outlined its strategic plans in the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review. By 2007, according to the review, the United States will reduce the number of operationally deployed warheads in its arsenal from around 5,900 to 3,800 by eliminating the Peacekeeper ICBM platform and converting the four Tridents, along with downloading some warheads from other ICBMs and bombers. (See ACT, January/February 2002.)
It is unclear which warheads the United States will subsequently remove from operational deployment to meet the 2,200-warhead limit by the strategic reductions treaty’s 2012 deadline, but after the modifications to the U.S. force structure currently underway, there are no plans to dismantle further delivery vehicles. According to leaked portions of the nuclear posture review, after 2007 “no additional strategic delivery platforms are scheduled to be eliminated from strategic service.”
A September 24 Congressional Budget Office report on the financial implications of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty concluded that retiring delivery platforms and warheads would save more money than removing and storing warheads and keeping many delivery platforms, as the Bush administration plans. “Removing or retiring delivery platforms…offers the potential for significant savings”—around $5.1 billion in savings by 2012, according to the report. Simply removing and storing warheads while retaining the delivery platforms, however, will cost an estimated $105 million in the next decade, the report says.