Discussion of nuclear weapons capability of U.S. Navy ships in 1990.

B61 thermonuclear bomb on display at March Air Base Museum, Riverside, California. Photo by James Ulvog.

Nuclear weapons carried on U.S. Navy warships back in 1990 is the focus of the preceeding four posts.  Topic caught my interest after a recent tour of the U.S.S. Midway Museum in San Diego, California.

Turns out there were a lot more nukes at sea with the Navy than I realized. 

Links to the four posts, totaling just over 3,000 words, are below along with a brief description of each post:

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Nuclear weapons at sea with the U.S. Navy in 1990 (and earlier).

Ywb61_1b (B61 “Silver Bullet” thermonuclear bomb, USAF museum) by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Previous articles explained the U.S. Navy had three different nuclear weapons deployed at sea in 1990. That of course got me curious about the capabilities of those weapons.

One of the articles I cited had an intriguing table listing all of the nuclear weapons carried by the Navy over the last several decades. The table provided the data source in a citation, which led me to the following book: U.S. Nuclear Arsenal / A history of weapons and delivery system since 1945, by Norman Polmar and Robert S. Norris. I splurged and got a copy at a very nice price (better than what is available as of today).

It is an astounding resource. A veritable encyclopedia of the US nuclear arsenal. It covers warheads, reentry vehicles, missiles, helicopters, tactical fighters, and strategic bombers. Astounding.

For the moment I will dive into some information on the weapons deployed with U.S. Navy in 1990, which also probably covers their loadouts for a decade or two earlier. Will have lots more to discuss from the book later.

B43

There were about 1,000 B43 bombs produced. They were in the inventory from 1961 through 1999.

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Nuclear warfare capability of U.S. Navy in 1990.

B61 nuclear bomb. Ywb61_2b by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I have been aware of the US defense posture of maintaining a triad for nuclear deterrence since I was in high school. Since way back then I’ve known the Navy had lots of nuclear weapons on SLBMs under the water.

Only recently have I learned there were a massive number of other nukes in the Navy in the tactical size.

Previous two posts have discussed the nuclear warfighting capabilities of U.S. Navy. Did some more poking around and found that there is actually quite a bit of material available online.

Came across one intriguing article, from Greenpeace of all people:

Article goes into great detail on US capabilities (45 pages), Soviet Union (26 pages), England (11 pages), France (6 pages), and China (2 pages).

Articles written in 1990, which is a useful framework for reference for several reasons.

First, that is about a year before the United States decided (as directed by President Bush) to offload all nonstrategic nuclear weapons from U.S. naval ships. Second, that is a few years after I was on active duty so corresponds relatively close to what was going on my experiences. Third, this corresponds closely to the aircraft on the deck of the U.S.S. Midway Museum, so I have decent pictures to go along as illustrations.

I’ll describe a number of interesting tidbits I found in the article.

Mark 43 thermonuclear bomb, USAF Museum, Ohio, Ywm43_1b by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By the way, since I’m talking about nukes, please know I’ve long since forgotten anything I ever knew so today I don’t know nothin’ about nothin’ except what I read in non-government or declassified public documents. Just so you know.

Aircraft carriers

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“Nuclear Weapons Afloat”, official tally

Mark 43 thermonuclear bomb, USAF Museum, Ohio, Ywm43_1b by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

As mentioned in the previous post, during a recent tour of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, my curiosity awoke regarding how many nuclear weapons an aircraft carrier had onboard. On of several related questions is how many nukes the Navy had.

Previous discussion described two articles exploring the question.

Immediate answer to my first question is the article asserts a U.S. aircraft carrier typically had 100 nuclear weapons on board during the Cold War.

Deeper answer is the articles pointing to declassified information about the number of nuclear weapons Navy had at sea for the years 1961 through 1991.

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Nuclear weapons deployed with the U.S. Navy during Cold War.

Access to ‘special weapons’ area. A Marine guarding nukes? Trust me, you would NOT want to mess with him. Photo aboard U.S.S. Midway Museum by James Ulvog.

On a recent tour of the Midway Museum in San Diego I walked past the door to the “special weapons” area. The “special” means nuclear.

I’ve noticed that area on previous times aboard the U.S.S. Midway, but paused to ponder this visit.

This time I wondered:

  • How many nukes did a US carrier have on board?
  • What types?
  • What airplanes were equipped to carry nukes?

As an amusing coincidence, I asked one of the docents if he is aware of open source documents which describe the nuclear loads on carriers. He did not know, but we had a delightful conversation.

Turns out this docent had a parallel job to what I did when I was in the U.S. Air Force. He was based on SSBN submarines while he was in the Navy, having keys to launch the Polaris SLBM. Like I said, what a fun coincidence.

Well, that triggered my curiosity, got me doing a little research, and I found some good materials for starters.

One specific tidbit in the second article link below is directly responsive to my curiosity – the article asserts U.S. aircraft carriers typically carried 100 nuclear weapons on board during the Cold War.

Update: Just so you know, every word I say in my discussions of nuclear weapons is based on what I have read in a public, open-source document. I don’t know anything else at all about nukes.

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Combat drone launches drone. Spare parts for Minuteman system getting scarce.

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrates the separation of the ALTIUS-600 small UAS in a test at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground test range, Arizona on March 26, 2021. This test was the first time the weapons bay doors have been opened in flight. (Photo courtesy United States Air Force.)

The U.S. Air Force is working to develop drone fighters. Most recent test flight had the drone launch another drone.

All the original manufacturers for every component of the Minuteman ICBM system are either gone or the assembly lines have long since been shut down. That means USAF is using its own production facility to create the myriad of necessary spare parts.

4/6/21 – New Atlas – Valkyrie combat drone launches another drone during test flight – Imagine a drone fighter that accompanies a cutting-edge manned fighter such as an F-35. The escorting drone could carry a heavy load of bombs to multiply the strike power of a fighter. It could carry an assortment of air-to-air missiles to defend against other planes or air-to-ground missiles to strike radar or other defense assets.

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British nuclear forces in 2011.

NE140004002 by Think Defence is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. Royal Navy Vanguard Class submarine HMS Vigilant returning to HMNB Clyde after her extended deployment.

The United Kingdom relies exclusively on submarine launched ballistic missiles for their nuclear deterrent. They have no land-based missiles (ICBMs) or bomber delivered nuclear weapons.

In 2011 the speculation was they had 225 nuclear warheads. Of these, 160 were operationally available with 65 spares to allow for routine maintenance and processing.

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England to increase its nuclear weapons stockpile.

ATLANTIC OCEAN (May 9, 2019) An unarmed Trident II D5 missile launches from the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740) off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 9, 2019. The successful launch certified the readiness of the SSBN crew and the operation performance of the submarine’s strategic weapons
system following completion of its engineered refueling overhaul before
returning to operational availability. (U.S. Navy photo by John Kowalski/Released)

In a significant policy shift, England is planning to expand its nuclear weapon stockpile. The current guess from outsiders is they have 190 nuclear weapons. The previously announced goal was to draw down the inventory to 180 or less by the mid-2020s.

Instead they will build up to a stockpile of not more than 260.

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US is developing new ICBM and new strategic bomber.

The United States is working on developing a new ICBM to replace the Minuteman III and new Stealth bomber to replace the B-2.

1/15/21 – Air Force Magazine – Second B-21 Under Construction as Bomber Moves Toward First Flight Northrop Grumman is building a second B-21 Raider bomber. The first is expected to roll off the production line early in 2020 and fly sometime the following summer. Goal is for the newest bar to operational in 2026 or maybe 2027.

Cost of the first 100 off the production line is expected to be around $80 billion adjusted to 2016 dollars. That is around $800 million a piece.

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747s, B-52s, and F-35Cs

747 cargo aircraft taking off from Denver airport on 8-22-20. Photo by James Ulvog.

Background articles on:

  • Jumbo jet that opened up international travel to the masses reaching end of production run
  • Background on why B-52 has been around for 50 years and will still be in service after other heavy bombers have long since retired
  • New F-35C deploying to the fleet

9/8/20 – Wall Street Journal – The Jumbo Jet Was the Pinnacle of Air Luxury – Now It’s Days Are Numbered – Boeing will shut its 747 production line in 2022 when the last of the already ordered freighters is completed. Airbus will close its A380 super jumbo line in 2021 when the last dozen planes are finished. The double-decker A380 was designed as the peer-to-peer competitor to the 747.

Article has lots of fun stats on both planes. I will provide some of the fun detail:

The 747 was the revolutionary jumbo jet. It opened up international travel to the masses. It was a major part of the rapid expansion in air travel.

The 747 debuted in 1969. The A380 in 2000 with first commercial flight in 2007.

747 cargo aircraft taking off from Denver airport. Photo by James Ulvog.

Over 50 years there have been 1,556 747s produced. Forecast for the A380 had been 1,200 planes but only 242 have been delivered.

Seating capacity:

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Bombers and fighters.

Two B-52 Stratofortresses fly over Royal Air Force Station Fairford, United Kingdom, Aug. 22, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Eugene Oliver)

More background on the U.S. bomber forces and some info on prices for new fighters. Oh, some really nice photos too, courtesy of the U.S.A.F.

6/24/20 – Popular Science – Inside a training mission with a B-52 bomber, the aircraft that will not die. Author goes along on a training flight, weaving together history of the B-52, description of future structure of manned bomber force, and tale of the flight.

Fun read. Check it out.

Some interesting tidbits:

Every four years each B-52 goes through a massive maintenance routine which takes 40,000 hours of labor and replaces about 3,000 parts. This extensive maintenance along with major upgrades means the B-52 fleet is likely to stay in use until the year 2050.

Current inventory of the manned bomber fleet:

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MQ-1B Predator on display at March Field Air Museum.

Photo by James Ulvog at March Field Air Museum.

The March Field Air Museum has an MQ-1B Predator on static display. A few pictures of the drone for your viewing pleasure:

Photo by James Ulvog at March Field Air Museum.

Narrative on the placard:

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