Comments on US and Soviet nuclear arsenals in 1983 – #1

ICBM test contributes to continued deterrence
Second Lt. ___ ___, the 321st SMS deputy missile combat crew commander, and 1st Lt. ___ ___, the 321st SMS missile combat crew commander, simulate key turns of the Minuteman III weapon system during a Simulated Electronic Launch-Minuteman test inside the launch control center at a missile alert facility in the 90th Missile Wing’s missile complex, Neb., April 11, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano) SELM tests use actual equipment in the field to make sure the equipment in an LCC and an LF can work.

Came across a great resource on nuclear armaments as I browsed the web looking for some particular information. The book is Physics and Nuclear Arms Today (Readings from Physics Today)

It has lots of articles from the late 1970s through 1991. Reason I bought the book is for one specific article in 1983 dealing with US and Soviet nuclear forces. A table within that article was updated with a detailed inventory of strategic weaponry as of 1990. Several posts will discuss the 1990 inventory in detail.

Likelihood of destroying a hardened missile silo

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Number and alert status of U.S. nuclear weapons in 1980.

Minuteman ICBM, Hill AFB Museum, Utah – Ywmin_1b by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Previous post strung together my guesses, assumptions, and speculation to develop a table of how many nuclear weapons are on day-to-day alert and how many additional weapons could be generated to alert in what length of time.

Those guesses are for 2020, well after the U.S. won the Cold War and the Soviet Union, the bad ol’ Evil Empire, collapsed.

What would a comparable estimate look like for the depths of the Cold War? This post combines another string of guesses, assumptions, and speculation to figure out the available of U.S. nuclear weapons in 1980. Why that date? Well, it corresponds to when President Reagan won election, took office the following year, and then took necessary steps to conclusively win the Cold War. It also corresponds to the time frame when I was active duty.

Strategic Bombers

I’m fuzzy on number and armament of strategic bombers back in the 1980s. Wikipedia has List of B-52 Units of the United States Air Force.  Going through the list of units active in 1980 I count 17 wings with 29 squadrons.

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Number and alert status of U.S. nuclear weapons in 2020.

A KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, prepares to transfer fuel to a B-2 Spirit from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., off the coast of Spain, June 13, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Micaiah Anthony)

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.

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More tidbits on U.S. nuclear forces.

Two B-52H Stratofortress aircraft assigned to the 96th Bomb Squadron fly in formation during Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1 over the Baltic Sea, Oct. 23, 2019.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Duncan C. Bevan)

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.

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Inventory of U.S. nuclear weapons

AGM-87 ALCM Cruise missile, Seattle Museum of Flight – Ywalc_3b by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists publishes their Nuclear Notebook which provides extensive detail on the nuclear forces of the world’s nuclear powers.

As I read through some of their publications, some of the highlights and details will be mentioned.

Up first is the Nuclear Notebook – United States nuclear forces, 2020. The document is about 16 pages long including four pages of references.

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.

Total inventory

The US inventory of nuclear weapons is estimated by the authors at:

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Another post on nuclear weapons; who has how many, history of triad, and upgrade plans.

Capt. ____ , 91st Operations Support Squadron minuteman combat crew commander, and 2nd Lt. ____, 740th Missile Squadron deputy minuteman combat crew commander, review missile alert facility checklists at MAF Delta-01, Max, N.D., Oct. 26, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alyssa M. Akers) (Names deleted by editor)

This will be my last post clearing out old articles on military topics, particularly on nukes. Will have a few more posts on new articles found will writing this series. Articles mentioned here:

  • what countries have how many nukes
  • history of U.S. triad and details of weapon systems over the years
  • upgrade and modernization plans for U.S. inventory
A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile successfully launches at 1 a.m. Nov. 5 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The missile was configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration test assembly in which a single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 4,190 miles to their pre-determined targets near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. (U.S. Air Force photo/Joe Davila)

Utopia, you are standing in it! – 4/12/15 – Who’s Got Nukes

Article provides a graph with data from 2014 of which countries have how many nukes, and when they tested their first one. Source cited is the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

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Revising U.S. nuclear strategy

AGM-86 ALCM cruise missile, Seattle Museum of Flight, Washington – Ywalc_2b by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 – This is the only nuclear load currently authorized for the B-52G.

A few articles I bookmarked a while back describe a shift in nuclear strategy by the U.S.

Some discussion if you are interested:

Free Beacon – 2/7/18 – Mattis Defends Plan to Deploy Small-Nuclear Arms

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More tidbits on nuclear weapons, particularly ICBMs and SLBMs.

Minuteman II at March Air Base Museum, with F-105 Thunderchief in corner. Photo by James Ulvog.

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?

Popular Mechanics – 8/10/18 – The Air Force Wants Helicopters to Help Defend Nuclear Missiles. USAF is looking for a new helicopter for use in the missile field. Currently the old UH-1N Hueys are in use. Those are the last Hueys in the Air Force inventory. Four contestants are under consideration.

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.

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 11:01 Pacific Standard Time Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos)

Business Insider – 9/23/18 – Here’s what it would look like if Britain launched an attack with nuclear weapons.

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Some updates on nuclear weapons

A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress makes a flyover at Air Force Station Yelahanka, Bengaluru, India, Feb. 20, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Juan Torres)

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.

The War Zone – 1/13/20 – The Air Force’s B-52H Bomber Force Has Said Goodbye To Its Nuclear Bombs.

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.

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Why is it necessary to have a nuclear defense?

After reading my post on Nuclear launch protocol and timing, you may be wondering why the United States built these,

Minuteman II on static display at March Air Base Museum. Photo by James Ulvog.

and why we built 550, 450, and 50 of these,

Minuteman II, Minuteman III, Peacekeaper ICBMs on display at Warren AFB. “Ywwrn_1b” by gvgoebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

as well as why we had 1,000 of these spread across the country for several decades:

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Nuclear launch protocol and timing

Drawing courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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:

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Information on nuclear weaponry for future reference

Minuteman II on static display at March Air Base Museum. Photo by James Ulvog.
Minuteman II on static display at March Air Base Museum. Photo by James Ulvog.

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:

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