By Marina Malenic

The Obama administration yesterday unveiled its overarching nuclear strategy, which retains the U.S. nuclear triad of submarines, bombers and ICBMs but allows for only one warhead on the ICBMs.

“After considering a wide range of options for the U.S. strategic nuclear posture, including some that involved eliminating a leg of the triad, the NPR concluded that…the United States should retain a smaller triad of [submarine-launched ballistic missiles], ICBMs and heavy bombers,” the Nuclear Posture Review states. “Retaining all three triad legs will best maintain strategic stability at reasonable cost, while hedging against potential technical problems or vulnerabilities.

The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the first completely unclassified document of its kind, also states that Washington will keep tactical nuclear weapons forward deployed in Europe on fighters and bombers and will proceed with a “full scope life extension” for the B-61 bomb. The Tomahawk nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missile (TLAM-N), however, will be retired.

Further, all ICBMs will be “de-MIRVed” to a single warhead each to increase stability. Defense Secretary Gates and top brass told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday that the United States will also continue the practice of “open-ocean targeting” of all ICBMs and SLBMs so that, in the event of an accidental launch, the missile would land in the open ocean.

The United States has 450 ICBMs based on land and 336 based on submarines. It also has 44 and 16 nuclear-capable B-52 and 16 B-2 bombers, respectively. That amounts to a total of 846 launchers. While the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia permits only 800 launchers, it limits each country to 700 deployed at any given time.

The NPR was released two days before President Barrack Obama’s trip to Prague, where he is expected to sign a new START with Russia. And next week, over 40 world leaders are expected in Washington for a nuclear security summit.

The document states that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that are in compliance with non-proliferation obligations. Such countries would instead face a “devastating conventional military response” if they attack the United States or allied nations with chemical or biological weapons.

In order to hone such capabilities, Pentagon officials said yesterday that the department will focus on developing long-range strike capabilities.

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that there is a “mix of long-range strike systems now under consideration that will inform the FY ’12 budget submission.”

This year’s NPR also focuses on curbing nuclear proliferation and preventing nuclear terrorism. And while administration officials reaffirmed that the United States considers nuclear capabilities “weapons of last resort,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others said the NPR sends a “strong message” to both Iran and North Korea.

“We carve out states that are not in compliance” with international treaties, Clinton said. Regarding such states, “all options are on the table,” she added.

But even in the case of nuclear and non-compliant states, the United States would use nuclear weapons only in extreme circumstances, the review states.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, said that the military “fully supports” the new review, which he said lays out a “more balanced mix” of nuclear and non-nuclear forces.

Mullen also said that the United States “must invest more wisely and more generously” for maintenance of its aging nuclear stockpile. The department is proposing expenditures of some $5 billion to maintain the arsenal over the next several years, in addition to the $2.7 billion already requested by the administration for the Energy Department to bolster its scientific staff in the FY ’11 budget.

In addition, the United States will continue its moratorium on nuclear testing and will not develop any new nuclear warheads. Nuclear weapon service life extension programs will use previously tested designs and will not provide for new military capabilities.

Mullen also said that some command and control capabilities were “tightened up” to give the president more time and flexibility to make decisions regarding nuclear weapons use.