U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal

April 27, 2022 - 17:20

Research has shown that global military expenditure reached a record level last year despite the second year of the pandemic. 

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) says in 2021, world military spending continued to increase, reaching an all-time high of $2.1 trillion, making it the seventh consecutive year that spending on military has grown.

SIPRI says “even amid the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, world military spending hit record levels.”

Dr. Diego Lopes da Silva, Senior Researcher with SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Program noted “there was a slowdown in the rate of real-term growth due to inflation. In nominal terms, however, military spending grew by 6.1 percent.”

Topping the list once again is the U.S. with total spending on military purposes amounting to a massive $801 billion.

Between 2012 and 2021, U.S. funding for military research and development rose by 24 percent, with SIPRI pointing out ‘the U.S. Government has repeatedly stressed the need to preserve the U.S. military’s technological edge over strategic competitors.”

Whether that “technological edge” is effective considering American weapons’ use by other countries that have purchased the equipment is open for debate. 

Amid increasing global tensions analysts would argue it's natural for nations to increase their military expenditures. 

What’s not natural is the amount America is spending on weapons. What’s also not natural is the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. 

It is worth highlighting SIPRI’s latest research on U.S. nuclear weapons. 

According to the prominent independent research institute, as of January 2021, the U.S. maintained a stockpile of at least 3800 nuclear warheads. 

Approximately 1800 of these, consisting of about 1700 strategic and 100 tactical warheads, were deployed on aircraft, ballistic missiles, and submarines. 

In addition to the 3800 nuclear warheads, about 2000 were held in reserve, and around 1750 retired warheads were awaiting dismantlement (250 fewer than the estimate for 2020), which means Washington as of early 2021 had a total of at least 5550 nuclear warheads.

However, as SIPRI notes, these estimates are based on information made available publicly by the U.S.  on its nuclear stockpile. 

In 2010, for the first time, the U.S. reportedly declassified the entire history of its nuclear weapon stockpile size.

However, since 2019 there has been a lack of transparency by the Pentagon on this sensitive global security matter.

SIPRI says this was evidenced by the fact that in 2020, as had been the case in 2019, the administration of former President Donald Trump declined to declassify the number of nuclear weapons in stockpile and the number of retired warheads that had been dismantled over the year.

To make matters worse, the refusal to declassify was not explained and provided political cover for some other nuclear ­armed states to be less transparent.

The end result made an accurate independent assessment of the U.S. nuclear arsenal significantly harder, which means the figures can be higher. 

These figures also do not count warheads stored at warplane bomber bases.

So what do we know before the U.S. began hiding its information again from the public domain? 

U.S. nuclear offensive weapons include heavy bomber warplanes, land­ based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and Sub-surface ballistic nuclear, a nuclear-powered submarine carrying and launching ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons (SSBNs). 

These forces, together known as the triad, changed little during 2020. SIPRI estimates that a total of 3570 nuclear warheads are assigned to the triad, of which an estimated 1700 warheads are deployed on missiles and at bomber bases.

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) operates a fleet of at least 169 heavy bombers, of which 66 are capable of firing nuclear weapons. 

The B­2A heavy bomber can deliver gravity bombs and the B­52H heavy bomber can fire air­ launched nuclear cruise missiles. 

SIPRI estimates that almost 850 war­ heads are assigned to strategic bombers, of which about 300 are deployed at bomber bases and ready for delivery on short notice.

Both the B­2As and B­52Hs are undergoing modernization intended to improve their ability to receive and transmit secure nuclear mission data. 

This includes the ability to communicate with the Advanced Extreme High Frequency (AEHF) satellite network used by the US president and military leadership to transmit launch orders and manage nuclear operations.

The development of the next­ generation-long ­range strike bomber, known as the B­21 Raider, is well underway and the first two test aircraft are being constructed

The B­21 will be capable of delivering two types of nuclear weapons: the guided nuclear gravity bomb, which is nearing full­scale production and will also be deliverable from shorter ­range non­strategic aircraft as well as a longer range nuclear which is in development. 

The new B­21 bomber is scheduled to enter service in the mid-2020s.

The number of U.S. nuclear bomber bases with nuclear weapon storage capacity is expected to increase from two as of January 2021 to five by the early 2030s.

USAF is planning to acquire at least 100 (but possibly as many as 145) B­21 bombers by the mid-2030s.

As for land­based nuclear missiles and as of January 2021, the U.S. deployed 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in 450 silos across three missile wings. 

The 50 empty silos are kept in a state of readiness and can be reloaded with stored missiles if necessary. Each Minuteman III ICBM is armed with one warhead.

SIPRI estimates there are at least 800 warheads assigned to the ICBM force, of which 400 are deployed on the missiles.

USAF awarded a $13.3 billion contract to upgrade the nuclear-armed ICBMs with the purpose of “increased accuracy, extended range, and improved reliability.”

SIPRI notes Washington has yet to publicly provide a rationale for why these enhanced capabilities are needed for the ICBM mission? 

The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, operates a fleet of 14 Ohio­class SSBNs, of which 12 are norm­ally considered to be operational and two are typically undergoing refueling and overhaul at any given time. 

Each Ohio­class SSBN can carry up to 20 Trident II D5 submarine­ launched nuclear ballistic missiles (SLBMs). 

Since 2017, the U.S. Navy has been replacing these SLBMs with an enhanced version. The upgrade is scheduled to be completed in 2024.

U.S. tactical nuclear forces include nuclear bombs delivered by several types of short­range fighter­bomber aircraft, as well as potentially a future nuclear ­armed SLCM.

The U.S. has one basic type of air­delivered tactical weapon in its stockpile, the B61 gravity bomb, which exists in two versions.

SIPRI estimates that the U.S. deploys approximately 100 of the bombs for potential use by fighter­bomber aircraft at six air bases in five other member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO): Kleine Brogel in Belgium; Bushel in Germany; Aviano and Ghedi in Italy; Volkel in the Netherlands; and İncirlik in Turkey.

The remaining B61 bombs are thought to be stored at Kirtland AFB in New Mexico for potential use by U.S. warplanes in support of allies outside Europe, including in East Asia.

The U.S. is also close to completing the development of the B61­12 guided nuclear bomb, which will replace all existing versions of the B61 (both strategic and tactical). 

Delivery is expected to take place this year. The new version is equipped with a guided tail kit that enables it to hit targets more accurately, meaning that it could be used with a lower yield and potentially produce less radioactive fallout.

Experts say the U.S.’s very existence is based on launching and instigating military conflicts around the globe yet has a disturbing stockpile of nuclear warheads. 

And the country has used and tested nuclear weapons on too many occasions, including 67 times against the natives of the Martial Islands. 

How much of a danger does the nuclear-armed U.S. pose to future global security and co-existence? 

Meanwhile, consecutive U.S. administrations allege without any evidence Iran (which has not launched a military conflict against another country for hundreds of years) seeks a nuclear weapons program, despite the U.S. intelligence community begging to differ. 

In 2019, the White House publicly clashed with the U.S. intelligence community’s own assessment that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

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