New Article: Where the Bombs Are

B83 thermonuclear bombs at Barksdale Air Force Base,
Louisiana.                     Image © Paul Shambroom

Ever wondered where all those nukes are stored?

A new review published in the November/December issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists shows that the United States stores its nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads at 18 locations in 12 states and six European countries.

The article’s authors – Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists and Robert S. Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council – identified the likely locations by piecing together information from years of monitoring declassified documents, officials statements, news reports, leaks, conversations with current and former officials, and commercial high-resolution satellite photos.

The highest concentration of nuclear warheads is at the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific in Bangor, Washington, which is home to more than 2,300 warheads – probably the most nuclear weapons at any one site in the world. At any given moment, nearly half of these warheads are on board ballistic-missile submarines in the Pacific Ocean.

Approximately 1,700 warheads are deployed on Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines operating in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and about 400 warheads are at eight bases in six European countries – Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and Great Britain (for more information on U.S. warheads in Europe, go to http://www.nukestrat.com/us/afn/nato.htm). The United States is the only nuclear weapon state that deploys nuclear weapons in foreign countries.

Consolidation of U.S. nuclear storage sites has slowed considerably over the past decade compared to the period between 1992 and 1997, when the Pentagon withdrew nuclear weapons from 10 states and numerous European bases. Over the past decade, the United States removed nuclear weapons from three states – California, Virginia and South Dakota, and from one European country – Greece.

The overview finds that more than two-thirds of all U.S. nuclear warheads are still stored at bases for operational ballistic missiles and bombers, even through the Cold War ended more than 16 years ago. More than 2,000 of those warheads are on high alert, ready to launch on short notice. Only about 28 percent of U.S. warheads have been moved to separate storage facilities. The largest of these, an underground vault at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, stores more than 1,900 warheads.

The 10 U.S. sites that currently host nuclear weapons are: the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific, Bangor, Washington; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming; Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana; Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota; Pantex Plant, Texas; Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana; Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri; and the Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic, Kings Bay, Georgia. (See map.)

Full-size map available here. Full article available from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists here.

Go on a Nuclear Google Trip

Based on the information in the Bulletin article, FAS and NRDC have created a virtual satellite image tour of the 18 nuclear weapons storage facilities in the United States and Europe. To take the tour you need to have GoogleEarth installed on your computer. (GoogleEarth is available for free here.) Once you’re set up, click here or on the link below the Google map below to begin. When GoogleEarth has finished loading, check the “Where the Bombs are, 2006″ box in the “Places” window to the left to activate the placemarks, click once on a placemark to get an overview of the nuclear weapons stored at the base, and click twice to zoom in on the facility.

The U.S. government refuses to disclose where it stores nuclear weapons, but the researchers emphasize that all the locations have been known for years to house nuclear weapons. Safety of nuclear weapons is determined not by knowledge of their location but by the military’s physical protection of the facilities and that the weapons cannot be detonated by unauthorized personnel.

Background: Where the Bombs are, 2006 | Status of World Nuclear Forces

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37 Responses to “New Article: Where the Bombs Are”

  1. DP November 14, 2006 at 3:42 am #

    DP: Are any of the nuclear weapons on submarines patrolling the Indian Ocean or Persian Gulf?

    Reply: Very little is known about the patrol pattern of ballistic missile submarines. They are thought to mainly operate in the North Pacific where their targets primarily are in China and Russia. North Korea is thought to be a lesser target.

    Yet targeting Iran from the Pacific would require a Trident missile to overfly China, India and Pakistan (and other countries) to reach its target in Iran. For this reason, targeting Iran would probably require the submarines to deploy to the Indian Ocean. Each patrol lasts more than 70 days, so there is plenty of time to reach the Indian Ocean, but I have not seen indications that ballistic missile submarines do so. Even if they did, I do not believe they would venture into the Persian Gulf.

    Having said that, however, the first Ohio-class submarine may soon enter the Indian Ocean – not with ballistic missiles but as a converted cruise missile and Special Operations Forces platform. In total, four Ohio-class submarines are being converted to this role. They are known as SSGNs, each equipped with up to 154 conventional Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles. The first will become operational early in 2007 and all four by 2008. Two SSGNs will be based in the Pacific and two in the Atlantic.

    The four surplus Ohio-class submarines became available because the Clinton administration decided to reduce the ballistic missile submarine fleet to 14. Instead of retiring the submarines, the Congress agreed to provide the billions of dollars to convert the submarines, accepting the Navy’s argument that the missile-boats are needed against rogue states and terrorists. Critics argue that the expensive SSGNs are unnecessary because hundreds of cruise missiles are already forward deployed on multi-mission cruisers, destroyers and attack submarines. For more information, go here.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  2. DB November 14, 2006 at 6:13 am #

    DB: How many people asked how the Federation of American Scientists credibly claims its implied intellectual ability while not mentioning the nukes in Alaska?

    Reply: There are no nuclear weapons in Alaska. The last nuclear weapons (about 24 B57 depth bombs) were removed from the state (Naval Air Station Adak) in the mid-1990s after the Pentagon decided to eliminate the nuclear anti-submarine warfare mission. For more information go here.

    Hans M. Kristensen

  3. MH November 14, 2006 at 10:19 am #

    MH: Why are there no nukes in Alaska or Hawaii? These are 2 strategic locales to say the least.

    Why are none on S America? or in the Bahamas?

    Why are none in Asia or Africa?

    Seems they need relocate these nukes.

    Afterall you have nukes in the axis of evil China, North Korea, Israel, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and possibly India who would turn.

    And yes Israel is a part of the axis of evil and has 200 nukes at Diamona they would use on America and is the main reason nations like Iran wants them.

    Reply:The United States withdrew nearly all of its nuclear weapons from forward locations in 1991-1992. These were all tactical weapons intended to fight a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. After the demise of the Soviet Union and collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the first Bush administration decided that these missions were no longer needed. The Clinton administration canceled additional missions and denuclearized all surface ships.

    U.S. nuclear weapons have never been deployed in South America, although nuclear weapons frequently entered the region during the Cold War aboard warships and submarines. Nuclear weapons were also deployed in Africa (Morocco), but only for 10 years between 1953 and 1963.

    As for Asia, nuclear weapons were deployed in South Korea, the Philippines and Japan at various stages between 1954 and 1991. The last weapons were nuclear artillery shells and bombs withdrawn from South Korea in late 1991. Since then, nuclear weapons have also been withdrawn from Guam, Hawaii and Alaska.

    Only Europe still has U.S. nuclear bombs deployed on eight bases in six countries. But they are truly weapons without a mission. Go here for background.

    Neither the Pentagon nor the administration seems to have any interest in redeploying nuclear weapons to those areas. The assessment is that long-range nuclear weapons are more than adequately to deter anyone that can be deterred. The United States says that it retains a nuclear umbrella over Japan and South Korea.

    As for the Axis of Evil, that term included Iraq, Iran and North Korea when it was first articulated by the Bush administration in 2002. Since then, Iraq has fallen off the list.

    As for Israel, the number you use if probably too high. We estimate they have no more than 100 warheads. I don’t think America is a target for Israeli nuclear weapons, but you’re probably correct when saying that they are the main reason Iran wants them.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  4. BD November 14, 2006 at 11:57 am #

    The Ohio class trident submarines refurbished to carry Tomahawk cruise missals (redesigned SSGN) will be serviced at a little known Navy facility, Indian Island Naval Magazine about 50 miles from Bangor, Washington. NAVMAG Indian Island is on Port Townsend Bay where Puget Sound meets the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. Indian Island has been a munitions handling dock since World War II. Local activists are asking the Navy for an Environmental Impact Statement concerning the Navy’s recent changes at Indian Island. So far the Navy has refused. Rear Admiral William D. French, commander of Navy Region Northwest has also refused to allow Navy participation in a local public informational forum.

  5. DH November 14, 2006 at 12:21 pm #

    DH: Any nukes still deployed with the B-1s at Dyess AFB (Abilene, Texas)? The Where the Bombs Are link made no mention of it, but since I was stationed there in the mid-1980s I’m more than a little curious.

    Reply: No, the nukes were moved from Dyess AFB in 1997, after the B-1B was removed from the SIOP (Single Integrated Operational Plan). The aircraft was officially “denuclearized” although the Air Force continued to maintain a B-1 Nuclear Rerole Plan that could restore nuclear capability on the B-1B if so decided. I disclosed the existence of that plan in December 2001. Later that month, the Bush administration’s nuclear posture review (NPR) decided to cancel the Rerole Plan. The NPR Implementation Plan from March 2003 formally directed the Air Force to end the B-1 Nuclear Rerole Plan.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  6. JA November 14, 2006 at 3:33 pm #

    JA: Are there any weapons of mass destruction in Puerto Rico?

    Reply: No, but there used to be. The United States deployed nuclear weapons in Puerto Rico between 1956 and 1975. Two types of weapons were deployed in two periods: nuclear bombs (June 1956-June 1972), and nuclear depth charges (April 1961 through June 1975). For more information, go here.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  7. WU November 14, 2006 at 10:35 pm #

    WU: A very interesting topic, and a simple question: Why in the world do we still have 10,000 nuclear weapons and 2,000 on high alert? The Cold War ended 15 years ago, and the only conceivable value of nuclear arms would seem to be in deterring an offensive attack or invasion (nuclear or otherwise) on one’s own country.

    Our possession of nukes, after all, hasn’t made us any more capable of winning wars– our one major defeat (Vietnam) and smaller defeat in Lebanon, in 1983, as well as quite possibly two more major defeats (in Iraq and Afghanistan), have all occurred in spite of our nuclear arsenal. Indeed, we haven’t even been sheltered from attack: The September 11, 2001 attacks were the first attack by a foreign power on mainland US soil since the British in the War of 1812, and these occurred despite our nuclear arsenal!

    For this purpose, just having a few hundred nukes would probably deter any country from trying to invade, as e.g. France and Britain (and I suspect Iran!) are fully aware. This, again, seems to be the only true value of a state possessing nuclear weapons. Otherwise, our own possession of such a massive arsenal only makes us sound like hypocrites when we hector e.g. Iran to give up their own arsenals– we’re only helping to fuel further proliferation and the potential acquisition of nuclear arms by terrorists, which does not make us safer!

    10,000 nuclear weapons seems ridiculously excessive, to say the least, and the maintenance of such an overlarge arsenal is probably bankrupting us. Wouldn’t it make sense to more aggressively push reductions of this arsenal, in conjunction with Russia? At the very least, it seems we should be removing all of our nuclear weapons from Europe– they no longer serve any purpose on European soil!

    Reply: The 10,000 warheads stockpile is partly a leftover from the Cold War and partly a result of resistance to cut too deep too fast. It is interesting you say a couple of hundred warheads would be sufficient; that is also the number a Maryland University poll a couple of years ago found most Americans believe there are in the stockpile. Most thought we could do with 100.

    The large number is also a result of warhead dismantlement having slowed down considerably compared with the 1990s. Less than 100 retired warheads are dismantled annually today compared with 1,000-1,500 each year during the 1990s. With the June 2004 decision to cut the stockpile “nearly in half” to about 6,000 warheads by 2012, even more retired warheads will pile up and the future stockpile will remain high. Since warhead life-extension and rebuild have priority, dismantlement of the retired warheads will take a very long time.

    Unfortunately, because of this decade-and-a-half hesitation to cut deep, Russia and China have also reassessed their future arsenals on the basis that the United States will continue to have thousands of nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future. All this “hedging” has prevented everyone from making a commitment to deep cuts and a clearly reduced role of nuclear weapons, and given proliferators a powerful excuse to reject criticism of their own nuclear aspirations. Not a smart policy.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  8. BB November 14, 2006 at 11:53 pm #

    BB: Were there ever any nuclear weapons stored at the joint Canadian/US air force base in Comox (on Vancouver Island, Canada)?

    Reply: Yes. The Genie air-to-air missile was deployed at CFB Comox from 1965 to 1984. The history of nuclear weapons in Canada is described in detail in John Clearwater, Canadian Nuclear Weapons, The Untold Story (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998). A brief outline of Clearwater’s findings is here, and information from the Pentagon itself is here.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  9. SS November 15, 2006 at 7:58 am #

    SS: I live now with my wife in Ukraine. It is said the UA has no longer any nukes on its soil is this true?
    It is said Israel has nukes as you said above maybe 100 or so. Now the public info says they have zero. Do you think other regions or states in the MID EAST have nukes besides Pakistan and India? And would it really be difficult to buy or trade nuke weapons from these places. I often think of Iran and how the media says they want to build a bomb…. Why not just buy one? Would that not be easier?

    Reply: Yes, there are no longer any nuclear weapons Ukraine. A brief history of Russian nukes in Ukraine is available here.

    As for the Middle East, only Israel is thought to possess nuclear weapons (Pakistan and India are not considered Middle East but South Asia). Yet nuclear weapons are also present in Turkey, where the United States stores roughly 90 nuclear bombs at Incirlik Air Base near the border with Syria. Go here for background.

    You’re right that buying a nuclear weapon would be easier than building one. However, trading nuclear weapons fortunately has proven far less problematic than was feared after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The good news is that countries that build nuclear weapons seem to want to keep them. The bad news is that if a nuclear weapon state breaks up, you can’t be certain the weapons won’t end up in the wrong hands. North Korea and Pakistan are the two nuclear weapon states where some fear such a scenario could potentially happen.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  10. T November 16, 2006 at 4:46 am #

    T: Would an electro-magnetic pulse bomb have any effect if detonated in the vicinity of a nuclear warhead?

    Reply: The EMP vulnerability of U.S. nuclear warheads is classified and not known, but all warheads and their delivery systems are through to be hardened against EMP.

    There is currently a debate about the vulnerability of military forces in general and the civilian infrastructure (financial and energy) more broadly to EMP, although it is less clear what the implications are. Because the military is becoming increasingly dependent on computer systems, and since the civilian infrastructure generally is not hardened, some argue that a “rogue” state or a well-organized terrorist organization could achieve a disproportional effect if they somehow managed to acquire a warhead and detonate it high in the atmosphere. Others dismiss this as a worst-case scenario that is very unlikely and argue that it would be too expensive to harden all military forces and the civilian infrastructure anyway.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  11. MS November 17, 2006 at 12:37 am #

    MS: I was assigned to 10th Aviation Sq in Morocco 1956-57, APO 113 NY NY, I wore a radiation detector while working around the weapons. About 7 or 8 times my radiation detector turned red, and I was told they were defective. [excerpt]

  12. NY November 19, 2006 at 5:00 am #

    NY: How were these areas originally chosen, there appears to be a void in the North east area of he U.S.?

    Reply: The locations were chosen largely based on the characteristics and capabilities of the weapon systems, although political “favors” also have played a role.

    In the early years, the bases for long-range nuclear bombers, for example, were determined by the range and speed of the aircraft and the proximity to the targets in the Soviet Union and China. In the 1950s, a crescent of bases were built stretching from the United Kingdom, Morocco, Guam, Japan, Alaska and Greenland. In the 1960s, as new bombers with longer range and an operational refueling capability became available, the aircraft were largely pulled back to bases in the United States. Throughout the Cold War, long-range bomber bases were scattered across the United States – including several in the North East. Most of these were no longer needed after the Cold War ended, and today there are only three bomber bases with nuclear capability: Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, Minot AFB in North Dakota, and Whiteman AFB in Missouri.

    Similarly, land-based ballistic missiles had to be deployed to locations where they would be within range of their targets. Initially, the United States deployed medium-range ballistic missiles in the United Kingdom and Turkey. With the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, the basing changed to the northern and central parts of the United States. The new missiles were almost entirely focused on the Soviet Union. Today they are still focused on Russia and based at three bases in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado.

    The ballistic missile submarines obviously needed a port, but in addition to bases in the United States, forward bases were established in Guam, Scotland and Spain to limit the time each submarine had to sail to get within range of its targets in Russia and China. As sea-launched ballistic missiles with true intercontinental range were developed, the forward bases were no longer needed and all were closed when the Cold War ended. Today, only two bases remain: Bangor in Washington, and Kings Bay in Georgia.

    Military alliances and commitments made to other countries also influenced these deployments, and continue to do so today. Following the North Korean nuclear test in October 2006, for example, the United States reaffirmed the “nuclear umbrella” over Japan and South Korea. And several hundred nuclear bombs are still deployed in Europe.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  13. MS November 19, 2006 at 8:39 pm #

    MS: Would the US military strike a rouge nation such as North Korea or Iran with tactical or strategic nuclear weapons in the event of a limited nuclear conflict ? Would launching an SLBM with MIRV be viewed as “over kill” by the world community ? Is it possbile that US attack submarines carry nuclear SLCM’s for the purpose of a limited nuclear response to a rouge nuclear state ?

    Reply: It’s obviously hard to predict. The declaratory policy and the nuclear capabilities are certainly in place that would allow such an attack against North Korea or Iran under the right circumstances. And the leaders in either country would be foolish to gamble that a nuclear attack would not happen.

    But there are, fortunately, also many other important constraints that work against use of nuclear weapons. The nuclear “taboo” – the fact that nuclear weapons have not been used since 1945 and the overwhelming international condemnation that would follow any use – is still an important constraint. Radioactive fallout from an attack is another, as is the limited military and political utility of using nuclear weapons. Simply speaking, nuclear weapons work best when they’re not used.

    Unfortunately, one of the most persuasive constraints from the Cold War – the risk of world destruction – is largely missing from today’s regional nuclear scenarios. Any use of nuclear weapons in those days carried with it a very real risk of escalation to a strategic exchange of thousands of nuclear weapons between the United States and the Soviet Union, an exchange that in less than an hour would have rendered much of the Northern Hemisphere uninhabitable.

    In contrast, most potential use of nuclear weapons against North Korea and Iran would – although horrifying – be very limited and probably not result in nuclear escalation. This lack of global constraint has, in my view, led some nuclear weapon states including the United States to create nuclear strike scenarios against regional nuclear powers that are poorly thought through and increasingly view nuclear weapons as just another tool in the toolbox. This option-hungry mindset assumes that the United States’ overwhelming nuclear capability is not sufficient to deter anyone that can be deterred, and that deterrence will fail sooner or later.

    In any regional scenario, to answer your second question, a U.S. attack with a sea-launched ballistic missile equipped with multiple nuclear warheads would probably be viewed as overkill by the international community. The reason is that such a strike would be unnecessary for a country that possesses overwhelming conventional capability, and because the survival of the United States was not at stake. Nuclear retaliation would therefore probably be condemned as nothing more than barbaric punishment.

    As for the attack submarines, the United States does not deploy nuclear weapons on its attack submarines. All nuclear Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles are stored on land. Less than a dozen attack submarines occasionally undergo nuclear weapons certification inspections, but they are decertified after they pass the inspection to avoid waisting resources on a non-essential mission. More than two-thirds of the Tomahawk missiles are inactive. Three years ago, the Navy proposed to retire the nuclear Tomahawk missile but was overruled by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which valued the attack submarines’ ability to sneak in off the coast of another country and conducting a surprise nuclear attack. Whether that involved North Korea or Iran is not known, but why anyone can get away with arguing such a mission requires a nuclear weapon is beyond me.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  14. HG November 25, 2006 at 5:53 pm #

    HG: I wonder if similar imagery can be used for security and international mapping? How precise are these instruments?

    Reply: The resolution of the images on GoogleEarth varies: Most seem to have a resolution of 0.6-1 meter, but a few have been posted with a resolution down to 0.25 meter. In a few cases, facilities have been blurred or deleted entirely, but that seems to be the exception.

    The capability of Google Earth is limited. Resolution is not high enough to confidently identify vehicles or small aircraft. The images are not “real-time” but rarely updated and only on an infrequent basis. Moreover, although GoogleEarth provides frames showing images taken each year, the frames overlay so much that it is difficult to determine the exact date of the image that’s displayed.

    Some people say GoogleEarth gives away military and other secrets to potential enemies. But arguing against publication of GoogleEarth images is like saying we shouldn’t have maps because they show enemies where to go. Security of military facilities is determined by the physical protection of the sites, not whether people know where they are. And those who really want to known have their own satellites with much higher resolution.

    For “civilians” like myself, GoogleEarth is truly a unique and exciting tool. Only a few years ago, one would have needed national security clearance to see such images. Now we can all go verify.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  15. R November 27, 2006 at 11:39 am #

    R: Are Russia’s remaining nuclear missiles still targeting the same locations as they were at the end of the Cold War?

    If Iran tested a nuclear warhead, how likely would Israel be to respond with nuclear force?

    What would be the first steps that would need to be taken to ‘harden’ the US civilian grids and networks against an atmospheric EMP blast? Or is it even practical at this point in the information age?

    Does NORAD really have a nuclear self-destruct capability as seen in popular sci-fi shows, or is it just fictional indulgence?

    Reply: Nuclear targets change frequently because facilities and force structures change. And Col. Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, the chief of the Russian general staff, said in December 2005 that Russia had “long stopped preparing for large-scale nuclear and conventional wars. We will continue to prepare for the defense of our territory, but we will not be preparing for a war on foreign land.“ Even so, Russian plans to retain several thousand nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future suggests that the primary drivers of that force level still are the United States and China.

    Concerning your question about whether Israel would respond with nuclear force to an Iranian nuclear test, this seems highly unlikely. That’s not to say that Israel wouldn’t take some form of direct action, but nuking Iran in response to an Iranian test would – regardless of what one may think of such a development or the Iranian regime in general – completely isolate Israel and throw the region into nuclear anarchy.

    As for the hardening of U.S. civilian grids and networks against EMP, this would be an enormous undertaking and very expensive. Even if it was decided to improve the hardness, the effort would almost certainly not be broad but focused on limited “nodes” of particular vital sectors. Beyond the cost and practicality, a decision would first require an assessment of how likely it is that the United States will be subject to a successful out-of-the-blue EMP attack, or whether the country should spend its resources on more credible threats.

    Whether NORAD has a nuclear self-destruct capability or not, I don’t think so. But the command likely has plans for destroying sensitive material if necessary.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  16. LM November 29, 2006 at 5:55 pm #

    LM: The notion that North Korea and especially Iran would not develop nuclear weapons if the US were to scrap it’s nuclear weapons is foolhardy. After all, the President of Iran has said that Israel is to be destroyed, that terrorists acts are to be committed against the US. Religious fanaticism and for the sake of this argument, Muslim extremists do not want a world with a non Muslim United States in it.

    Reply: Persuading North Korea and Iran not to develop nuclear weapons would, I agree, take a great deal more than the United States scrapping its weapons. Unfortunately, both North Korea and the United States seem determined to keep their nuclear weapons, as do all the other nuclear weapon states, and many suspect Iran wants them too. Breaking this cycle is difficult, but it is impossible if everyone insists they need nuclear weapons for their national security. Holding on to nukes while insisting that others can’t have them is not a credible foreign policy.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  17. JM January 11, 2007 at 7:48 pm #

    JM: What would be the tactical applications of the nuclear depth charges and air-to-air missiles you mentioned? Wouldn’t weapons of such vast power contribute to the death of the ship or plane that deployed them? Or a disaster if they failed to hit their target?

    Reply: Depending on the range of the delivery system, absolutely! The nuclear Mk-45 ASTOR (Anti-Submarine Torpedo) deployed aboard U.S. submarines between 1958 and 1976 carried a W34 warhead with a yield of 10-15 kilotons. The weapon was wire-guided and had a range of 10-12 miles. These factors gave rise to the joke that ASTOR had a “kill probability” of two: its target and its launcher.

    Nuclear weapons, such as ASTOR, depth charges and air-to-air missiles, were part of the Cold War fallacy that it was possible to fight (and win) nuclear wars. Very early on in the Cold War (1950s and 1960s), such weapon proliferated wildly in both the U.S. and Soviet arsenals, and even included nuclear backpacks carried by two people to blow up bridges. Some of the weapons remained deployed until the very end of the Cold War.

    Today the United States has eliminated most of its tactical nuclear weapons, except Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles and B61 bombs (several hundred of which are still deployed in Europe). Britain has eliminated all its nuclear bombs and depth charges. France has several dozen air-launched cruise missiles (but considers them strategic), and China might have some tactical nuclear weapons (although little is known about them). Russia, on the other hand, continues to retain a wide range of non-strategic nuclear weapons, ranging from torpedoes, surface-to-air missiles, bombs, to sea-launched cruise missiles.

    Israel, India and Pakistan all have what could be called tactical nuclear weapons due to their limited range. It is not known if North Korea has weaponized its nuclear capability.

    An overview of world nuclear forces is available here.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  18. LM January 19, 2007 at 8:54 am #

    LM: I saw your reply about the Americans deploying nuclear weapons in the Philippines, which is why many Filipinos protested against the American bases in 1991. What type of nuclear arsenal was deployed here?

    Reply: There were no nuclear weapons deployed in the Philippines in 1991, although nuclear-armed warships routinely visited Philippine ports such as Subic Bay. Actual deployment of nuclear weapons in the Philippines took place between December 1957 and June 1977. This included seven bombs (two kinds), depth bombs, air-to-air missiles, surface-to-air missiles (two kinds) and anti-submarine rockets. The number exact number is classified, but is known to have involved more than 140 weapons.

    This information became public in 1999, when a major DOD study was partially declassified under the Freedom of Information Act and released to the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Security Archive. The page that includes the Philippines is here.

    Additional information about the mission of the nuclear weapons deployed in the Philippines has recently become available in a new study (see chapter 3) on Chinese nuclear forces and U.S. nuclear war planning in the Pacific region.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  19. KL January 21, 2007 at 10:25 am #

    KL: What kinds of nuclear bombs and how many were deployed in south Korea? And what do you think the meaning [is] of extended deterrence against North Korean nuclear weapons?

    Reply: At the peak in 1967, there were approximately 950 U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea, including bombs, artillery, surface-to-surface missiles, rockets and landmines. For a detailed description, go here.

    According to U.S. declaratory policy (see recent example) and the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, the United States maintains extended deterrence against North Korea for two reasons: 1) to deter attack against South Korea and Japan, and 2) to dissuade North Korea from developing weapons of mass destruction.

    The second part of the policy has obviously failed, because North Korea has recently conducted a nuclear test. As for the first part of the policy, many assume that nuclear weapons have deterred North Korea from attacking South Korea and Japan, but there is – to my knowledge – no publicly available information that confirms that assumption.

    As for the future, if the objective is to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, the challenge is to reduce as close to zero the role of nuclear weapons in the region. That requires constraint by all countries in the region.

  20. JJ January 21, 2007 at 3:02 pm #

    JJ: I am personally for the nuclear arsenal that the United States has. Nuclear war is survivable and I live in an area of the U.S. where it is feasible.

    That being said, I worry more about the Israeli arsenal more than any other. Most of their missiles are aimed at European cities because of the peculiar neurosis of the jews in dealing with Europe.

    I wonder why, though, the U.S. decided via treaty to pull the Peacekeeper out of use instead of the older Minuteman systems. The fifty Peacekeepers with MIRV technology makes more sense because any exchange the U.S. has with Russia or China is going to be an all or nothing nuclear war. I don’t see it as any kind of limited strikes.

    I do find your site informative, though I tend to be a pronuke kind of guy. I would also like to mention siloworld.com, which is an excellent resource for anyone with an interest in the U.S. ICBM program from the Atlas days to the present.

    Reply: It is important to be able to debate the issues even – or especially – if we disagree. You’re one of the lucky few who believe they would survive a nuclear war, especially given that you conclude that any exchange with Russia or China would be an all-out war.

    I agree that the Israeli arsenal is of particular interest, although not for the reasons you mention (which I think are plain wrong and with a nasty touch of racism). My sense is that Israeli nuclear thinking is entirely focused on its neighbors (Iran, Syria and Pakistan). The future dynamic of an Israeli-Iranian arms race or stand-off is a serious concern, one I know is shared among U.S. nuclear planners as well.

    The nuclear world of today is a different one than the Cold War, and nuclear planning has changed too. It doesn’t matter anymore to have Peacekeeper ICBMs with 10 MIRVs each – even though the Russians maintain such weapons. Single or double warhead loading on 450 Minuteman IIIs will do just splendid, and is considered much more flexible and capable of solving the targeting requirements in today’s warplans.

    Although limited nuclear strikes may be hard to envision in a potential U.S.-Russia clash, the concept is very much at the center of how the nuclear planners envision dealing with regional adversaries such as North Korea and Iran. Because those scenarios do not concern the survival of the United States, the question of if and when to use nuclear weapons inadvertently will be different than in the big scenarios involving Russia and China. – HK

  21. G January 21, 2007 at 3:02 pm #

    G: You mention that “the use of nuclear weapons would likely not be necessary because advanced conventional weapons and special operations forces would be able to destroy or disable Iranian offensive forces and facilities with far less collateral damage” in an earlier reply.

    I don’t see how conventional bombs can target Iran’s underground facilities successfully.

    Many of Saddam’s underground military facilities and bunkers which were built thousands of feet underground with reinforced concrete and blast doors capable of preventing even nuclear explosions from penetrating each room (in case one room was affected) targeted by US “Bunker buster” earth penetrating bombs weren’t affected and some even survived without a scratch.

    It is rumored that Iran has many underground nuclear facilities besides those 4 sites above ground that are already known by pretty much everyone and being mentioned publicly. [excerpt]

    Reply: So what? If the mission is to prevent an Iranian nuclear attack, then the last thing you need to do is to destroy Iran’s centrifuges. Instead the overwhelming focus would be on finding and disabling offensive weapon systems such as missiles and aircraft that would deliver the weapons. Another target group would be critical command and control facilities needed to carry out the nuclear attack.

    Today’s targeting is about effects, and to a greater and greater extent net-centric effects. The objective is less about ensuring complete destruction of a particular facility than to make sure it doesn’t work anymore, or that destruction of a number of associated facilities make it useless. Even if missiles or command centers are hidden underground, destroying them by digging a 1500-foot wide crater with a nuclear weapon would be overkill and significantly complicate the battlefield and the political situation.

    Effective targeting of underground facilities with conventional weapons would focus on blowing up tunnel entrances, ventilation shafts, and electronic in- and outlets. So what if some rooms hundreds of feet below the surface survive if people and equipment can’t get out or in and if communication has been effectively cut off.

    If the war objective is not prevention of a nuclear attack but simply destroying Iran’s nuclear bomb-making capability, then I find the nuclear option both unnecessary and unrealistic.

    It is unnecessary because Iran building nuclear bombs is not – despite statements about “wiping Israel off the map” – an imminent threat. An imminent threat is clear intelligence that Iran has a missile loaded with a nuclear warhead on the launch pad and is making preparations to fire, combined with intelligence that an order to launch may have been given, is about to be given, or has been given. But in that case, why use nukes? Just send a Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile.

    It is unrealistic, I think, because the country that launched a preemptive nuclear attack against something that was not an imminent threat, and where there was not clear evidence that could be held forward justifying the attack, would be subject to worldwide condemnation and likely find itself completely isolated. I may be naive, but I think that still matters.

    Now, this is not to say that there are not people somewhere in the system that have been preparing nuclear strike options against Iran’s underground facilities – just in case. After all, we cannot rule out any options and the president must have many options to chose from, so they say. But that probably reflects mission-creep based on vague guidance and poor Congressional oversight more than it shows political intentions. If I’m wrong, then we’re in deep trouble. – MK

  22. RF March 9, 2007 at 5:00 pm #

    RF: The nuke storage map mistakes the town of Kirkland NM, outside Farmington, for Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque. The GoggleEarth is correct however.

    Reply: Thanks for pointing that out. I am aware of the error and have already asked the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to correct the map. – MK

  23. DC March 24, 2007 at 6:34 am #

    DC: What is the most likely nuclear strike scenario today?

    Reply: Predictions are very difficult, especially about the future, a smart man once said. But if I have to make the prediction you ask (and I assume you mean US strike scenarios), I’d say that no nuclear strike scenario is very likely. But two seem to stand out: 1) a strike in response to a “rogue” state nuclear attack on the United States or its allies, and 2) an accidental launch. – HK

  24. CS July 2, 2007 at 5:57 am #

    CS: Hello to all at FAS – very useful stuff. May I reproduce some for the newsletter I’m putting together on nuke weapons around the world? Also, I remember hearing that when George Bush sr. (and then Clinton) removed nuclear weapons from surface ships, the option was left open to reverse that order if the ship was being deployed into a conflict zone, such as would have been the case during the recent invasion of Iraq. Such a reversal would keep the president’s option open, wouldn’t it? And are all nuclear weapons off all USS surface ships?

    Reply: Go ahead and reproduce the material, provided that the printed material clearly credits the Federation of American Scientists.

    The decision in 1991 to withdraw nuclear weapons from surface ships initially included the option to redeploy some of the weapons if necessary. This included bombs for aircraft carriers and cruise missiles for surface ships and attack submarines. However, the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review decided to remove the nuclear capability from all surface ships. As a result, U.S. surface ships today do not have a capability to launch nuclear weapons.

    A dozen or so attack submarines still retain an almost dormant capability to launch nuclear cruise missiles (Tomahawk), but these weapons are all stored on land. The Navy considers this mission to be a waste of time and resources and would prefer to see the Tomahawk scrapped, but a small group of Cold Warriors in the Pentagon and National Security Council insist that the weapon in still needed.

    Despite many unsubstantiated rumors, there is no indication that nuclear weapons were deployed in connection with the current war in Iraq. HK

  25. Steven August 30, 2007 at 11:29 am #

    Steven: Thanks for the informative discourse, providing a background on US and World nuclear weapons, deployements and (assumed) intentions. These discussions should be aired in other public [fora] as well for greater effect, possibly the only way we could alleviate confusion, mission creep and, ultimately, [achieve] nuclear disarmament. [edited]

  26. Parimal September 10, 2007 at 1:07 pm #

    Parimal: I have an honest question! Can the United States destroy all (literally every single one) Russian strategic launchers in a first counterforce attack as argued by Keir Lieber and Daryl Press at this moment?

    Reply: The main weapons in the arsenal (ICBMs and SLBMs) certainly were developed with a first-strike counterattack scenario in mind – although not necessarily against “every single one.” First strike scenarios have been an important element of “damage limitation” planning for decades. In fact, most of the attack options in the 1969 SIOP were preemptive rather than retaliatory.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that the United States was set on attacking the Soviet Union first, only that if a nuclear war happened or was seen as imminent, the planners had large-scale strike options ready to attempt to wipe out as many of the Soviet offensive forces as possible.

    We’re all here, so it obviously didn’t happen. But whether it would have worked is another matter. In any attack plan, many warheads will not make it through to their targets due to technical or atmospheric issues, so the planners compensate by assigning more weapons and warheads per target – especially the important targets.

    Russia today contains roughly 500 individual offensive nuclear force targets: ICBM silos, strategic submarine bases, and air bases for long-range bombers and other nuclear-capable aircraft. Other non-offensive targets include nuclear warhead storage sites, command and control facilities, and ballistic missile defenses.

    Those are the facilities that U.S. planners aim at, which in turn (together with potential targets in China and a small number of “rogue” states) determine how many nuclear weapons the Pentagon says we need. Unless the White House changes the guidance that requires such excessive nuclear planning, the posture will not change substantially.

    Today Russia is not considered “an immediate contingency” for nuclear planning, but it is still a potential contingency. So planning continues, although it is now more focused on “net-centric” targeting agains critical nodes of infrastructure rather than necessarily destruction of every single target. Another effort is trying to use advanced conventional weapons for some of the targeting.

    As the number of nuclear weapons are reduced – but not the requirement to hold at risk the full range of targets in a counterforce strategy – the planners will naturally attempt to compensate for the capability lost through reductions by improving the flexibility and effectiveness of the remaining weapons. This self-competing cycle is, in my view, what currently keeps the United States locked in a Cold War nuclear posture. HK

  27. jack September 10, 2007 at 7:00 pm #

    Jack: I think it is very unwise to give countries like China, Russia, Iran etc. info as to where these nukes are stored considering we dont know where they store the ones they have. [shortened, ed.]

    Reply: The overview is an estimate based on unclassified information released by the U.S. government over many years. As such, the countries you mention probably have an even better idea of what the locations are. Likewise, I suspect the U.S. intelligence community has a faily good idea of where the overwhelming majority of those countries’ nuclear weapons are stored. As for Iran, it is not yet thought to have nuclear weapons. HK

  28. VE September 22, 2007 at 10:08 am #

    VE: Maybe you can settle a friendly argument between a friend and me over Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, California: I say they de-nuclearized in the early 1980′s, he says 1991 – Who is right, or at least closest?

    Reply: Most of the facilities in Southern California lost their nuclear certifications after 1994 when the surface ships were denuclearized and the weapons pulled back to central storage sites for dismantlement. The exception was Naval Air Station North Island, which retained its nuclear certification as a storage facility for approximately 150 nuclear-tipped Tomahawk cruise missiles. In April 1998, however, North Island’s nuclear certification was allowed to expire after the Tomahawks had been transferred to Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific near Bangor, Washington. They are still stored at SWFPAC, the only facility on the West Coast that is nuclear weapons certified. HK

  29. Happy October 27, 2007 at 9:54 am #

    Happy: Concerning the missile shields that the US wants to build in Eastern Europe, how would the US respond if Russia target its missiles (maybe with nuclear warheads) against Poland and czech Republic.

    Reply: Politically there hopefully would be some attempt to defuse the situation. On the military side the US would probably try to counter it by developing plans of its own, if necessary, although not necessarily nuclear plans. But Russia probably already has incorporated US missile defenses in Alaska into its targeting plans. Although doing so seems out of line with today’s world, targeting even limited missile defense systems is quite common in strategic planning (see here). HK

  30. Kristen March 29, 2008 at 5:22 am #

    How safe is it to have this published on the web where our facilities are and how many are there in each facility….I know you say that they are well guarded but we thought so was the pentagon. What if this information gets in the wrong hands? I live in one of those towns that house the nukes. How much do I need to worry about it.

    Reply: Depending on what “your” facility is, keep in mind that these nuclear weapon sites have existed for decades. They were targets for Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War when we (and everyone else) constantly live 30 minutes from nuclear annihilation, and they are probably targets for Russian nuclear weapons even today. Terrorists have been blowing up US buildings (but mostly those of other countries) overseas for decades, but never a nuclear weapons facility. If anything, US nuclear weapons facilities are probably safer today than they were 10 years ago. I don’t think there is any need for you to worry about repercussions “if this information gets in the wrong hands.” Our information is based on declassified and publicly available information. If the facilities are indeed unsafe, then the solution is not to prohibit people from talking about them, but to remove the weapons and store them somewhere safer. Since there is no strategic threat against the United States today that I can see necessitates nuclear weapons being deployed on alert or on operational bomber, missile and submarine bases, I would recommend you ask the government why the nuclear weapons are still there. HK

  31. ron May 10, 2008 at 4:58 pm #

    I’m told that there was once a facility on Midway Island in the Pacific that housed nuclear weapons, possible the MK45 Astor. The facility was called an “underwater weapons” facility. Have you ever come across any information on it?

  32. nj June 2, 2008 at 9:30 pm #

    Were Nuclear weapons stored at Naval Weapons Station Earle in NJ at one time? Are there any stored there currently?

    Reply: Yes, NWS Earle was one of two primary naval nuclear weapon storage sites on the Atlantic coast (the other being NWS Yorktown in Virginia. When the Navy retired the Terrier, ASROC and SUBROC weapons in the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, Earle lost its main role. And with the retirement of nuclear depth charges and denuclearization of the surface fleet in 1994, all remaining naval nuclear weapons (Tomahawk and Trident) for East Coast forces were consolidated at Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic at Kings Bay in Georgia in 1997. HK

  33. Dan Kyle August 2, 2008 at 2:01 am #

    First, I have appreciated your website for years – Thanks for the informative viewpoint! I realize that it is (supposedly) non-classified information, or deduction/speculation, but am still surprised at the open availability in the post-Sept. 11th world. Perhaps that is a good thing?

    I am a Canadian, living near the prime target of Bangor, WA. My biggest worry has always been the loose control or outright theft/sale of Soviet nuclear weapons, such as suitcase bombs, after the break-up of the USSR. And the possibility of their being sold to and used by rogue states, and/or terrorists. We see this as a movie plot often, but how likely is it, and do you think there are many “missing” weapons? Since there has been no further attack on US soil after 9/11, is it possible that the government has actually prevented a nulear-terrorist incident? It would seem that such a thing would be hard to keep secret.

    Reply: Until I see anything that suggests otherwise, no, I don’t think there are any missing nuclear weapons – that is other than the ones we and the Russians lost in the oceans during the Cold War. It is a valid concern, and it would be a serious matter indeed if one ended up in the wrong hands. But so far I haven’t seen anything but worst-case scenarios and unsubstantiated rumors. Be careful not to leap from 9/11 to a nuclear terrorist incident; the first was a hijacking of airliners, while the second probably hasn’t happened because no terrorist organization has managed to steel or build a nuclear weapon. The reasons may be many, but is it is very hard to build one, and counterintelligence and monitoring has probably improved security since 9/11. Also, distinguish between nuclear weapons and nuclear materials. While nuclear countries guard their nuclear weapons viciously, it is probably a great deal easier to obtain small amounts of radioactive materials. Far less powerful, but still messy. HK

  34. PF October 3, 2008 at 12:00 pm #

    They may not mention it or admit to it, Attu Island has some facilities that are very likely to hold Nukes. While I cannot say for certain at this time, I know factually that they did house nukes there during the Cold War.

    Reply: It would be interesting to hear more about how you know they housed nuclear weapons on Attu Island during the Cold War. As far as I recall, nuclear depth charges for anti-submarine aircraft were housed further to the east on Adak Island. HK

  35. Javier Roman August 18, 2009 at 11:33 am #

    Hi, someone asked a while back the question pasted below, but the reference given is offline. Could you point me back to it please?

    THANKS!

    JA
    November 14th, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    JA: Are there any weapons of mass destruction in Puerto Rico?

    Reply: No, but there used to be. The United States deployed nuclear weapons in Puerto Rico between 1956 and 1975. Two types of weapons were deployed in two periods: nuclear bombs (June 1956-June 1972), and nuclear depth charges (April 1961 through June 1975). For more information, go here.

    Hans M. Kristensen.

  36. Joel Skousen September 24, 2009 at 9:29 pm #

    Hans, During the mid 1990s, I remember reading a news report of President Clinton offering to keep 50% of our SSBN fleet in port at any one time to reassure the Russians. Do you remember this and can you post a source?

    Reply: I don’t, but will certainly look for it. Does anybody else remember? HK

  37. Skyler Krantz February 17, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    What about the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in TN, one of the labs built for the Manhattan Project? Does it have nuclear weapons or other nuclear material there?

    Reply: Good question. The Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge stores highly-enriched uranium and so-called secondaries (Cased Sub-Assemblies), the second stage of a thermonuclear weapons (the stages that provides most of the yield). But these are weapons components, not intact weapons. Weapons assembly and disassembly takes place at the Pantex Plant in Texas. Therefore, Oak Ridge is not listed on the map of nuclear weapons locations. HK

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