10 Sobering Facts About The US Nuclear Arsenal

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10 Sobering Facts About The US Nuclear Arsenal

The United States was the first country to manufacture nuclear weapons, and is the only country to have used them in combat, with the separate bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War 2. Before and during the Cold War, it conducted over a thousand nuclear tests and tested many long-range nuclear weapons delivery systems.

Between 1940 and 1996, the U.S. government spent at least $8.78 trillion in present-day terms on nuclear weapons, including platforms development (aircraft, rockets and facilities), command and control, maintenance, waste management and administrative costs.

10. It’s Only The Second-Largest Arsenal

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Many assume that the US has the largest arsenal, but it never has. That dubious honor goes to Russia, the former Soviet Union.

At its peak in the mid-1980s, the USSR had 45,000 warheads. Today, Russia’s inventory is only a fraction of this at 8,500, compared to about 7,700 held by the US. However, the US edges out Russia in the number of deployed warheads—those ready to be launched at a moment’s notice—with about 2,000 to Russia’s 1,800.

9. The Many Types Of Weapons

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Photo credit: Military.com

Many of these deployed warheads could be delivered by Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, 400 of which stand ready at 11 different launch silos scattered across the US. These missiles could target virtually any country on the globe, but they are not the only option for a US nuclear strike.

The United States maintains a fleet of nearly 100 nuclear-capable bombers, many of the stealth variety and all capable of delivering devastating payloads. But perhaps the most terrifying delivery device is the Ohio-class submarine.

8. It’s Not Included In The Defense Budget

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Photo credit: National Priorities Project

In 2015, the US will have a declared military and defense budget of $601 billion, which is more than the next 7 highest spending countries combined.

7. Its Maintenance Is Privatized

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Photo credit:time.com

The amount to be spent on maintenance of the US nuclear arsenal is currently estimated at about $1 trillion over the next 30 years. This includes funds for “modernization” of the arsenal—upgrading features like the targeting radius of some missiles.

Although such upgrades may provide little benefit in terms of actual security or deterrence, many private, nongovernment entities will reap a decades-long windfall from their implementation. These firms contract with the Department of Energy, and even the smallest contracts run into millions of dollars.

6. Much Of It Is Stored In Other Countries

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Photo credit:washingtonpost.com

In addition to deploying weapons on its own soil, during the Cold War, the United States also stationed nuclear weapons in 27 foreign countries and territories, including Okinawa, Japan(during the occupation immediately following World War II), Greenland,Germany, Taiwan, and French Morocco then independent Morocco.

5. We’ve Reversed Course On Disarmament

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Photo credit: NBC News

Barack Obama calls for a ‘nuclear-free world’ at G7 summit during Hiroshima visit and his initial proposals for spending on maintenance reflected this. The somewhat paradoxical idea was that refurbishment of the nuclear arsenal would lead to increased confidence in it, which would lead to more disarmament treaties and fewer missiles. In the geopolitical climate of the last decade or so, this has not panned out.

4. Many Bombs Have Been Lost And Never Recovered

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Photo credit: US Air Force

Since the beginning of the Cold War, several nuclear weapons, their vital components, or both have been lost permanently. Even more disturbing, nobody can seem to agree on just how many have been lost, perhaps due to the highly sensitive nature of such incidents.

Most sources put the number at somewhere between 6 and 11. There have been dozens more such “broken arrow” incidents which resulted in the recovery of the weapons.

Among the more alarming occurrences: the mysterious sinking of the USS Scorpion nuclear submarine in 1968 with two unspecified nuclear warheads, the 1956 disappearance of a B-47 bomber carrying two nuclear cores, and the 1961 crash of a B-52 bomber in a North Carolina swamp, resulting in the loss of a uranium core.

3. Nuclear Strikes Have Almost Been Ordered

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Photo via Wikimedia

Between 1945 and 1949, the US drew up nine detailed plans for a “first strike” nuclear attack against the Soviet Union even though the US nuclear arsenal was severely limited at that time. The 1949 Operation Dropshot plan might have begun on January 1, 1957, if the Soviet Union had not tested its own nuclear weapon later in 1949.

Other “first strike” options were almost implemented, too. A year before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev threatened to take control of West Berlin. In response, Pentagon officials devised a highly detailed plan to use nuclear bombers to eradicate the Soviet nuclear arsenal, the Kremlin, and other strategic targets.

This “Berlin Crisis” led directly to the situation in Cuba. After Kennedy all but threatened a nuclear strike against the USSR in a public speech, Khrushchev resolved to place missiles in Cuba to gain military leverage.

2. The ‘Nuclear Football’

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Photo credit:wikipedia.com

The nuclear football (also known as the atomic football, the president’s emergency satchel, the button, the black box, or just the football) is a briefcase, the contents of which are to be used by the President of the United States to authorize a nuclear attack while away from fixed command centers, such as the White House Situation Room. It functions as a mobile hub in the strategic defense system of the United States

1. The President Has Near-Unilateral Authority

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There are practically no protocols in place to prevent a sitting US president from unilaterally ordering a nuclear strike.If this sounds crazy, consider the words of then-Vice President Dick Cheney in 2008:

[The president] could launch a kind of devastating attack the world’s never seen. He doesn’t have to check with anybody. He doesn’t have to call the Congress. He doesn’t have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in.