Previous posts have described the count of nuclear weapons in the U.S. inventory and how they are deployed. Future posts will dive into the inventory of other nuclear powers. Plan to have some discussion of the U.S. inventory at various times in the past.
Reading the various articles made me wonder how many weapons are available in what time frame.
(Update 2/28/20: Realized the photos of 1970s and ’80s weapon originally included in this post would be better in a comparable post discussing weapons in 1980. Photos moved. New photos added to this post.)
For example, the Minuteman-III loaded with the Mk12A reentry vehicle can carry 3 warheads but are only loaded with 1. It would take months to reconfigure 200 missiles with another 400 warheads.
Of the 12 Ohio-class subs not in refueling, 8 are usually at sea with 4 of those on-station. The other 4 are hours or days away from their assigned station.
There are guessed 200 ALCMs at Minot and 100 gravity bombs at Whiteman which would take a fair amount of time to load. It would take an even long time to transport the remaining 550 weapons out to Minot and Whiteman.
So, I took a wild guess at how many weapons are available to the president immediately and long it would take to get the remaining inventory on line.
There is an astounding amount of information on U.S. nuclear forces found in Nuclear Notebook – United States nuclear forces, 2020, published by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Not having dived deep into the nuke world for a long time, I’m amazed how much info is available.
Previous posts have gone into a lot of detail on U.S. nukes. This discussion will cover a few interesting tidbits in no particular order with no particular theme.
New START is the name of the current treaty which limits U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons. It went into effect back in February 2011 and will expire in February 2021 unless it is extended for five years by mutual agreement of the U.S. and Russia. The article is skeptical that it will be extended based on what the articles describes as the “demonstrated disdain” of the current administration for any arms control agreements.
On-site inspections are a feature of this treaty. Article says through the end of 2019 there have been a combined total of 321 on-site inspections.
The U.S. has deployed a low-yield nuclear weapon on our Ohio-class submarines. The new warhead is categorized as the W76-2. Its estimated yield is usually described as 5 kilotons (kt). One report says it is in the range of 5 kt to 7 kt.
There have been a lot of articles on the W76-2 recently.
Federation of American Scientists – 1/29/20 –US Deploys New Low-Yield Nuclear Submarine Warhead– Report says the US Tennessee deployed in late December 2019 armed with 1 or 2 of its 20 Tridents carrying the new low-yield warhead. Estimated yield is 5 kilotons.
Want to make one thing clear at the beginning of this discussion. Everything discussed here and the two follow-on posts is based on open source information described in the above cited article. I don’t have any knowledge about any of the information in this article. Even if I did (and I don’t), anything I knew would be completely invisible in this discussion.
The US inventory of nuclear weapons is estimated by the authors at:
While browsing the U.S. Air Force’s website of official photos, came across some pix too good to pass up. So, without any particular connecting theme other than I like the views, here are four nice photos of various airplanes, current and old.
Unclassified, open public source info on nuclear weapons is of interest to me. Here are articles with interesting tidbits I’ve noticed over the last year or two.
One amusing thing I’ve noticed is a range of methods to abbreviate kiloton. I’ve seen kT and Kt, in print articles. On-line dictionary says kt. So, guess that means I can use whichever format I want, right?
Article also mentions there are 400 Minuteman IIIs deployed, spread out at Warren, Minot, and Malmstrom. Although capable of carrying three RVs, based on articles I’ve read in the past and articles below, the current configuration is one RV with 300 kt warhead, according to the article.
In pulling together posts in this series, I found a treasure trove of photos on Flickr by Greg Goebel. He has a photo album of Guided Missiles. He has accumulated views of a large number of air-to-air, surface-to-air, and ground-to-ground missiles.
Some articles I’ve bookmarked recently provide some background on nuclear weaponry: the B-52 no longer carries gravity nukes; recap of the capabilities of countries with sea-launched nukes, and losing the nuclear launch codes.
A 2019 update to technical document for strategic bombers says that the B-52H is no longer authorized to carry gravity nuclear bombs. The only weapon it is allowed to carry is the AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile with a W80-1 warhead. The only nuclear loads for the B-2A are the B61-7 and B83-1 gravity bombs, which previously were authorized for the B-52H.
A 1983 deserter from the U.S. Air Force was arrested in 2018 and has now been tried and sentenced.
I was advised today by the Air Force Office of Special Investigation that the now-former officer has been tried and dismissed from the service. I’m working to find out the results of his trial and his current status. As more details are learned, updates will be posted.
Back in July 1983, while the Cold War was still running, USAF Captain William Howard Hughes Jr. deserted after returning to Albuquerque from a TDY in Europe. He did not report to his duty station on August 1, 1983.
He was last seen making 19 withdraws from his bank account totaling $28,500. That may have been around a year’s gross salary at the time. Would have allowed him to run and hide for a while as he worked on his new identity. His car was abandoned at the Albuquerque airport.
In case I ever want to make reference to such things, I now can cite an article that describes a guess at the nuclear launch protocols in place for the United States. Article also has speculation as to timing for each phase of the sequence.
Someday I may want to cite an unclassified source, so here it is:
IS has posted videos of multiple uses of the drones to drop explosives. The frequency of offensive use of the drones is high enough that Iraqi troops must scan the scansky for drones and take cover when one is spotted.
Captured documents indicate IS is doing research to develop new drones and modify off-the-shelf versions.
This is a significant step up from my previous discussion of ISIS’ drone usage. On January 30, I mentioned:
I’ve been wanting to put some data on nuclear weapons in print (Yeah, in print isn’t correct, but in pixels just doesn’t sound right).
That way if I want to make reference to some of this info in the future I can point to an unclassified, unverified source for that information. Somewhere in the back of my brain I might remember something I was told on the record so I want to have something in print I can point to instead.
Also, found an article I found disturbing, yet of interest. First the disturbing article:
2/6/16 – The Economist – What lurks beneath– India is hoping to officially commission its first SSBM (a nuclear sub carrying missiles, or SSBN) this week. China reportedly has 4 second-generation SSBNs.
Both countries are trying to dominate their nearby ocean to provide safe operating space for their SSBNs. Article says both their boomers are noisy. That means for the moment they are easy to find.
Just to ponder. Number of SSBNs:
4 – China
1 – India
Article has a graph showing the estimated number of nukes held by India, Pakistan, and China. My interpolation of the graph, rounded to nearest 5s: