US quietly cutting nuclear force

2017-03-20 05:25
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Washington - The Air Force is quietly shrinking its deployed force of land-based nuclear missiles as part of a holdover Obama administration plan to comply with an arms control treaty with Russia.

The reductions are nearing completion despite President Donald Trump's argument that the treaty gives Moscow an unfair advantage in nuclear firepower.

The reduction to 400 missiles from 450 is the first for the intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, force in a decade - when the arsenal came down from 500 such weapons. The Air Force says the latest cut in Minuteman 3 missiles will be completed in April, leaving the deployed ICBM arsenal at its smallest size since the early 1960s.

In 2014, President Barack Obama's administration announced the planned ICBM reduction to tailor the overall nuclear force, including bombers and nuclear-armed submarines, to the New START accord that the US and Russia sealed in 2010. Both nations must comply with the treaty's limits by February 2018.

The shrinking of the ICBM force runs counter, at least rhetorically, to Trump's belief that the US has fallen behind Russia in nuclear muscle. In December, he tweeted that the US must "greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes".

He has criticised New START as a bad deal.

Michaela Dodge, a defence policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, says the US should get out of New START.

"There should be a way to reverse those decreases," she said, referring to the 50 Minuteman missiles pulled out of their silos. "As long as Russia continues to increase the number of its nuclear warheads under New START, we should not be decreasing."

Russia's warheads have surpassed the treaty limit of 1 550, and the US is below the limit. But by next February, neither is expected to be above.

The 50 underground silos from which the Minuteman missiles are being removed will be kept "warm". meaning capable of returning to active use. 

Read more on:    us  |  russia  |  nuclear

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