The United States is months ahead of schedule to meet its obligations in capping the U.S. nuclear arsenal under the bilateral New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia, according to a top Air Force official.
Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said on June 7 at a Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee hearing that the United States remains in compliance with New START limits, and that as of early June, “we are three months ahead of STRATCOM’s requested date” for compliance.
The agreement requires each country by February 2018 to cap its nuclear arsenal at 700 deployed ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers; 1,550 deployed strategic warheads; and 800 deployed and nondeployed long-range launchers.
While the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals have fluctuated as the two countries work to meet the terms of the deal, both sides are assessed to be in compliance.
Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs, said on June 7 that the service has completed the work necessary for treaty compliance for 13 of 14 ballistic missile submarines and will complete an overhaul of the remaining boat in July.
Four ballistic missile launch tubes on Ohio-class nuclear submarines are in the process of being deactivated so that each boat will carry 20 missiles instead of 24 to comply with New START numbers for both warheads and operational launchers.
New START is set to expire in 2021, which means the new administration must decide whether to exercise a five-year extension as allowed under the agreement, negotiate a new follow-on treaty, or abandon it altogether.
Robert Soofer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy, said during the hearing that the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review would consider the implications for New START of non-strategic nuclear weapons.
“It’s not so much what’s in the treaty but what’s not in the treaty that may present the problem,” he said. Tactical nuclear weapons are not covered by the treaty, which leaves a disparity between the couple hundreds of non-strategic nuclear weapons the United States deployed, and the thousands that Russia does.
This point has in part led critics of New START to argue that asymmetries in the two countries’ arsenals have caused the U.S. to make deeper cuts than has Russia.