U.S. pursuing 5-year extension to New START, treaty that regulates ICBMs

The Biden Administration is seeking a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, which is set to expire on Feb. 5.

New START, ratified by Congress in 2010 and entered into force in February 2011, limits strategic nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Russia, including the intercontinental ballistic missiles at Malmstrom Air Force Base and those at Minot and F.E. Warren AFBs.

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“Russia’s compliance with the treaty has served our national security interests well, and Americans are much safer with New START intact and extended. We cannot afford to lose New START’s intrusive inspection and notification tools. Failing to swiftly extend New START would weaken America’s understanding of Russia’s long-range nuclear forces,” John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said in a Jan. 21 statement. “Extending the treaty’s limitations on stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons until 2026 allows time and space for our two nations to explore new verifiable arms control arrangements that could further reduce risks to Americans.  And the Department stands ready to support our colleagues in the State Department as they effect this extension and explore those new arrangements. Just as we engage Russia in ways that advance American interests, we in the Department will remain clear-eyed about the challenges Russia poses and committed to defending the nation against their reckless and adversarial actions.”

In 2017, the Air Force pulled the last of 50 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles as part of a plan to meet requirements under the New START arms control treaty with Russia.

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The last missile was pulled from a silo in the F.E. Warren Air Force Base missile complex in Wyoming, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.

New START limited deployed launchers to 700 across ICBM complexes, submarines and bomber aircraft by February 2018.

The Pentagon announced in April 2014 that it would retain all 450 ICBM silos, including the 150 at Malmstrom, but to meet the New START requirements, would remove missiles from 50 silos total from Malmstrom, Warren and Minot AFB in North Dakota. The silos will remain in a warm status, meaning they can be rearmed at any time.

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The empty silos will be distributed among the three missile wings and will rotate depending on maintenance and operational needs. Some of that maintenance is going on this summer across Malmstrom’s missile complex.

Other treaty limits are:

  • 1,550 nuclear warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments (each such heavy bomber is counted as one warhead toward this limit);
  • 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.

“The New START Treaty reflects an agreement between the Russians and the U.S. regarding how many nuclear weapons are required to maintain our deterrence while managing the costs and manpower associated with the operations, security and maintenance of the weapons,” said Rex Ellis, chief of Warren’s Treaty Compliance Office.

As of Dec. 1, The U.S. had 675 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers; 1,457 warheads on those deployed launchers; and 800 deployed and non-deployed launchers, according to the U.S. State Department.

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Russia had 510 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers; 1,447 warheads on those deployed launchers; and 764 deployed and non-deployed launchers, according to State.

The first missile was pulled in May 2015 from Minot and the effort took several years of planning and preparing to store the missiles and their components before removing any missiles, according to AFGSC.

To meet the 700 limit, the Pentagon removed the 50 missiles bringing the total of deployed ICBMs to 400; 60 deployed bombers and 240 deployed SLBMs.

The empty launch facilities are spread equally between all of the missile wings.  Each empty launch facility remains connected to the ICBM network and fully operational. All maintenance and security requirements will be performed at the empty sites.

As part of the drawdown, the Air Force began reducing the number of warheads on each missile in 2012 and completed the project in June 2014.

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According to AFGSC, the drawdown process was completed nine months ahead of schedule and $30 million under budget.

“Transitioning the Minuteman III silos involved multiple specialty teams and several days of intense effort, often battling extreme weather and winds at the northern tier missile bases,” Ken Vantiger said in a release. He’s the senior arms control analyst for AFGSC.

Three different maintenance teams were required to remove the warhead, the mid phase and the boosters. Security Forces personnel secured the front section and warhead via convoys, and a logistics team at the main base prepared the components to be transported to their final destinations.

The process has also allowed missile wings to inspect the silos and conduct full scale refurbishment, according to AFGSC.

ICBMs undergoing first round of depot maintenance

The Air Force says that despite reduced nuclear assets, the U.S. nuclear triad is still “fully effective and operational in support of the nation’s strategic defense.”