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Where the US Bombs are, 2006


Published 4 December 2006

By Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists November/December 2006 pp. 57-58 (vol. 62, no. 6) © 2006

Katharine Lee Bates, the author of "America the Beautiful," could not
have been referring to the expanse of the U.S. nuclear arsenal when
she penned the lyric "from sea to shining sea," but it is fitting.
Though it is the smallest it has been since 1958, the U.S. nuclear
arsenal continues to sprawl across the country, with thousands of
weapons deployed from the coast of Washington State to the coast of
Georgia and beyond.

In total, we estimate that the United States deploys and stores
nearly 10,000 nuclear weapons at 18 facilities in 12 states and six
European countries (see below). The Pentagon developed this extensive
network of installations over the past six decades in order to ensure
the survivability of its nuclear arsenal. Post-Cold War base closures
and arms reductions led to the consolidation of weapons at the
current facilities; the number of weapons and their locations will
change as the Pentagon implements the June 2004 Nuclear Weapons
Stockpile Plan and the "New Triad."

Pinpointing the whereabouts of all U.S. nuclear weapons, and
especially the numbers stored at specific locations, is fraught with
many uncertainties due to the highly classified nature of nuclear
weapons information. Declassified documents, leaks, official
statements, news reports, and conversations with current and former
officials provide many clues, as do high-resolution satellite images
of many of these facilities. Such images are available to anyone with
a computer and internet access, thanks to Google Earth and commercial
satellite imaging companies such as DigitalGlobe. This development
introduces important new tools for research and advances citizen
verification. The statistics contained in this article represent our
best estimates, based on many years of closely following nuclear
issues.

The nuclear weapons network shrank during the past decade, with the
Pentagon removing nuclear weapons from three states (California,
Virginia, and South Dakota) and the size of the stockpile decreasing
from about 12,500 warheads to nearly 10,000. Consolidation slowed
considerably compared with the period between 1992 and 1997, when the
Pentagon withdrew nuclear weapons from 10 states and several European
bases, and the total stockpile decreased from 18,290 to 12,500
warheads. (For a detailed accounting of the location and distribution
of U.S. nuclear weapons in the 1990s, see "Where the Bombs Are,
1992," September 1992 Bulletin; and "Where the Bombs Are, 1997,"
September/October 1997 Bulletin.)

Approximately 62 percent of the current stockpile belongs to the air
force and is stored at seven bases in the United States and eight
bases in six European countries; the navy stores its weapons at two
submarine bases, one on each coast. None of the other services
possesses nuclear weapons.

The ballistic missile submarine base at Bangor, Washington, contains
nearly 24 percent of the entire stockpile, or some 2,364 warheads,
the largest contingent. The Bangor installation is home to a majority
(nine) of the navy’s nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and
a large number of surplus W76 warheads that will eventually be
retired and disassembled. Its counterpart on the Atlantic coast,
Kings Bay Submarine Base in Georgia, is the third-largest contingent,
with some 1,364 warheads. Each base stores approximately 150 nuclear
sea-launched cruise missiles.

Minot Air Force Base (AFB) in North Dakota, with more than 800 bombs
and cruise missiles for its B-52 bombers and more than 400 warheads
for its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile wing, has
the largest number of active air force weapons. The other B-52 wing
at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana has more than 900 warheads, and
Whiteman AFB in Missouri has more than 130 bombs for its B-2 bombers.

The large underground facility at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, New
Mexico, stores more than 1,900 warheads that are either part of the
inactive/reserve stockpile or awaiting shipment across Interstate 40
to the Pantex Plant outside of Amarillo, Texas, for dismantlement.
The 970-acre facility at Nellis AFB, Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas,
performs a similar function, storing approximately 900 warheads in 75
igloos—"one of the largest stockpiles in the free world," according
to the air force.

During the Cold War, the United States deployed a large percentage
(up to one-third) of its nuclear weapons in other countries and at
sea. At its peak arsenal size in the late 1960s, the United States
stored weapons in 17 different countries. By the mid-1980s, there
were about 14,000 weapons in 26 U.S. states, 6,000 more at overseas
U.S. and NATO bases, and another 4,000 on ships at sea.

The United States terminated many nuclear missions after the end of
the Cold War and retired the weapons. It withdrew all of its nuclear
weapons from South Korea in 1991 and thousands more from Europe by
1993. The army and Marine Corps denuclearized in the early 1990s, and
in 1992 the navy swiftly off-loaded all nuclear weapons from aircraft
carriers and other surface vessels. By 1994, the navy had eliminated
these ships’ nuclear capability, and many air force, navy, and army
bases and storage depots closed overseas as a result. Today, perhaps
as many as 400 bombs remain at eight facilities in six European
countries, the last remnant of a bygone era (see "U.S. Nuclear
Weapons in Europe, 1954-2004," November/December 2004 Bulletin).

Nuclear Notebook is prepared by Robert S. Norris of the Natural
Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Hans M. Kristensen of the
Federation of American Scientists. Inquiries should be directed to
NRDC, 1200 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 400, Washington, D.C., 20005;
202-289-6868.

November/December 2006 pp. 57-58 (vol. 62, no. 6) © 2006 Bulletin of
the Atomic Scientists

Locations of U.S. nuclear weapons, 2006

Warhead/Weapon Total Location (Weapon)

STRATEGIC FORCES

Bomber weapons
B61-7 bombs 439 35 at Whiteman AFB, MO (B-2); 210 at
Barksdale AFB, LA (B-52H); 194 at Minot AFB, ND (B-52H)

B61-11 bombs 41 Whiteman AFB, MO (B-2)

B83-1, -0 bombs* 626 60 at Whiteman AFB, MO (B-2);
130 at Barksdale AFB, LA (B-52H); 130 at Minot AFB, ND (B-52H); 306
at Nellis AFB, NM (storage)

W80-1/ALCM 1,411 500 at Barksdale AFB, LA (B-52H); 200
at Minot AFB, ND (B-52H); 711 at Kirtland AFB, NM (storage)

W80-1/ACM 400 100 at Barksdale AFB, LA (B-52H); 300
at Minot AFB, ND (B-52H)

SLBMs
W76/Trident II D5 1,712 1,100 at Bangor, WA; 612 at
Kings Bay, GA

W76/Trident I C4 1,318 850 inactive at Bangor, WA;
468 inactive at Kings Bay, GA

W88/Trident II D5 404 264 at Bangor, WA; 140 at Kings Bay, GA
ICBMs

W62/Minuteman III 580 46 warheads in 46 Warren AFB
silos, CO; 85 warheads in 85 Warren AFB silos, NE; 19 warheads in 19
Warren AFB silos, WY; 20 spare warheads in Warren AFB, WY; 150
warheads in 50 Malmstrom AFB silos, MT; 10 spare warheads in
Malmstrom AFB, MT; 250 warheads in storage at Kirtland AFB, NM

W78/Minuteman III 805 200 warheads in 100 Malmstrom
AFB silos, MT; 150 warheads in 50 Malmstrom AFB silos, MT; 25 spare
warheads at Malmstrom AFB, MT; 300 warheads in 100 Minot AFB silos,
ND; 100 warheads in 50 Minot AFB silos, ND; 30 spare warheads at
Minot AFB, ND

W87/MX 553 553 warheads in storage at Kirtland AFB, NM

NONSTRATEGIC FORCES**

B61-3 386 200 in Europe; 186 at Nellis AFB, NV
B61-4 404 200 in Europe; 204 at Nellis AFB, NV
B61-10* 206 206 at Nellis AFB, NV
W80-0/SLCM 294 150 at Bangor, WA; 144 at Kings Bay, GA

WARHEADS IN RESERVE

W84/GLCM 383 383 in reserve at Kirtland AFB, NM

RETIRED WARHEADS AWAITING DISMANTLEMENT

Several types of warheads await dismantlement; schedule unknown

Total 9,962

ACM: advanced cruise missile; AFB: air force base; ALCM: air-launched
cruise missile; ICBM: intercontinental ballistic missile; GLCM:
ground-launched cruise missile; SLBM: submarine-launched ballistic
missile; SLCM: submarine-launched cruise missile

* All B61-10 and 83-0 bombs are inactive. ** Presidential Decision
Directive 74 of November 29, 2000, authorized deployment of 480 (+/-
10 percent) B61 bombs in Europe. Whether the full number was deployed
is unclear. Since 2000, the United States withdrew weapons from two
former nuclear bases (Araxos in Greece and Memmingen in Germany) and
placed all B61-10s in the inactive stockpile

Locations of U.S. nuclear weapons overseas:
Belgium;
Germany; Italy; Netherlands; Turkey; Britain;

Where they were

Alaska*, Canada
Chichi Jima
Cuba
France
Greece
Greenland
Guam
Hawaii*
Iwo Jima
Japan (non-nuclear)
Johnston Island
Kwajalein Atoll
Midway Islands
Morocco
Okinawa
Philippines
Puerto Rico
South Korea
Spain
Taiwan
* Deployed prior to 1959 statehood

— 

U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe

New report provides unprecedented details (February 2005)

The United States continued to deploy roughly 480 nuclear bombs in
Europe, more than double the number normally estimated by the media
and non-governmental analysts. The deployment was detailed in the
report "U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe" published by the Natural
Resources Defense Council. The weapons are all B61 gravity bombs and
are deployed at eight bases in six NATO countries: Belgium, Germany,
Italy, Netherlands, Turkey and the United Kingdom (see map below).

The 480 nuclear bombs in Europe are the last of a huge arsenal of
forward-deployed weapons that NATO and the Warsaw Pact used to deploy
in Europe during the Cold War. The Soviet Union deployed nuclear
weapons in Eastern European countries, but all of these weapons have
been withdrawn to Russia. On the NATO side, the stockpile peaked at
some 7,300 nuclear warheads in 1973 and gradually declined over the
subsequent years (see table). In 1991, the U.S. government decided —
and NATO agreed — to withdraw almost all of the remaining weapons,
but left 480 air-delivered bombs in place.

Today, the United States is the only nuclear power that continues to
deploy nuclear weapons outside its own territory. The approximately
480 nuclear bombs in Europe are intended for use in accordance with
NATO nuclear strike plans, the report asserts, against targets in
Russia or countries in the Middle East such as Iran and Syria.

The report shows for the first time how many U.S. nuclear bombs are
earmarked for delivery by non-nuclear NATO countries. In times of
war, under certain circumstances, up to 180 of the 480 nuclear bombs
would be handed over to Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and
Turkey for delivery by their national air forces. No other nuclear
power or military alliance has nuclear weapons earmarked for delivery
by non-nuclear countries.

Although the United States retains full control in peacetime, this
quasi-nuclear status of non-nuclear NATO countries violates the
objective of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The U.S. and
NATO argue that there is no violation because the U.S. retains
control of the weapons. But the allied nuclear role is far from
dormant in peacetime, with host country pilots practicing nuclear
strikes and their aircraft being maintained ready to delivery the
nuclear weapons if necessary. Besides, the strictly legal argument
misses the bigger point: equipping non-nuclear NATO countries with
the means to deliver nuclear weapons if necessary contradicts the
non-proliferation standards that the U.S. and Europe are trying to
impress upon other countries such as Iran and North Korea.

Satellite images of the bases are available for download in the right-hand bar.

The report reveals that although the U.S. in 1994 and 1996 withdrew
Munitions Support Squadrons (MUNSS) from five national bases in
Germany, Italy and Turkey, the weapons at the bases were not returned
to the United States but instead moved to the main U.S. operating
bases in those three countries. Moreover, the weapons continued to be
earmarked for delivery by host nation aircraft. MUNSS number
designations were changed in 2004 and logistics concentrated at
Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany for the remaining four nuclear
weapons custodian units deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy and the
Netherlands.

Nuclear Weapons For U.S. And NATO Forces

Note: Of the weapons listed at Ramstein Air Base, 40 may have been
returned to the United States.

The report also provides new insight into the logistics of the
nuclear weapons deployment in Europe, including the capacity and
characteristics of the Weapons Storage and Security System (WS3) used
to store the weapons underground inside Protective Aircraft Shelters
at the individual bases. It also highlights the fleet of Weapons
Maintenance Trucks (WMTs) dispersed to the bases to provide on-site
maintenance of the nuclear bombs. Because this maintenance program
occasionally disassembles weapons inside the Protective Aircraft
Shelter, the report reveals, the U.S. Air Force discovered in 1997
that the procedure created a risk of inadvertent nuclear explosion if
a disassembled weapon was struck by lightning.

Risk of Inadvertent Nuclear Explosion at NATO Bases

A U.S. Air Force safety review determined in 1997 that lightning
could cause an accidental nuclear explosion during service of B61
nuclear bombs in NATO’s protective aircraft shelters.

Another finding of the report is that the the United States have
quietly modernized the B61 nuclear bombs in Europe over the last five
years to upgrade the bombs’ use-control and improve the stability of
the weapons’ during employment.

Recent Modernization of U.S. Nuclear Weapons In Europe

Between October 1998 and September 2003, the United States modernized
the nuclear surety capabilities and the trajectory spin control of
the B61 nuclear bombs in Europe.

The report also documents that the U.S. military in 1994 made
arrangements for nuclear targeting and use of nuclear weapons in
Europe outside European Command’s (EUCOM) area of responsibility. For
EUCOM, this means CENTCOM (Central Command) which incorporates Iran
and Syria (see 1994 documents in the right-hand bar). It is unclear
whether NATO parliaments are aware of arrangements to target and
potentially strike Middle Eastern countries with nuclear weapons
based in Europe. The arrangements may be the result of a general
broadening of U.S. nuclear policy after the Cold War to also target
proliferating nations with nuclear weapons.

A Role For NATO Nuclear Weapons Against Iran?

Documents partially declassified and released under the U.S. Freedom
of Information Act reveal that arrangements were made in the
mid-1990s to allow the use of U.S. nuclear forces in Europe outside
the area of responsibility of U.S. European Command (EUCOM). As a
result of these arrangements, EUCOM now supports CENTCOM nuclear
missions in the Middle East, including, potentially, against Iran and
Syria. (Download full copy of these two documents from the right-hand
bar)

The report concludes that the United States and NATO have been
incapable of articulating a credible mission for the nuclear weapons,
that the deployment needlessly continues a nuclear deterrence
relationship with Russia in Europe, and that equipping non-nuclear
NATO countries with the capabilities to delivery nuclear weapons
undercuts U.S. and NATO nonproliferation objectives in the 21st
century. The report asserts that NATO’s recent announcement that the
readiness level of nuclear-capable aircraft has been reduced to
"months" suggests that the nuclear electronic and mechanical
interfaces on the strike aircraft may have been removed from the
aircraft, in which case there is no operational need to keep the
nuclear weapons in Europe.

The principle of nuclear burden-sharing began to unravel in 2001 when
nuclear weapons were withdrawn from Greece. The inactivation of the
Munitions Support Squadron at Araxos Air Base was ordered in April
2001 after the withdrawal of the weapons was authorized by
Presidential Decision Directive/NSC-74 in November 2000. Greece’s
departure from NATO’s nuclear club contradicts the Alliance’s
Strategic Concept from 1999 which emphasizes widespread deployment of
nuclear weapons in European member countries. If Greece can withdraw
with no severe consequences for NATO deterrence or unity, so can the
other European host countries that currently perform the NATO nuclear
strike mission.

The report recommends that all the weapons should be withdrawn to the
United States, and that the U.S. and NATO should use the political
leverage from such a move to engage Russia to drastically reduce the
large number of Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons, as well as
revitalize efforts to create a nuclear weapons free zone in the
Middle East. Initiatives like these, the report concludes, would —
unlike continuing to maintain U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe —
provide real security benefits to NATO.

The full report is available from the right-hand bar along with a
number of documents released under FOIA. Also made available are
satellite photos of many of the European bases where U.S. nuclear
weapons are stored.

Posted for educational and research purposes only,
 in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 

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