Peacekeeper, Minuteman I and Minuteman III ICBMs on display near F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. The Defense Department announced April 8 that 50 Minuteman II missiles will be removed from three Air Force bases, including Warren. (US Air Force)
The Pentagon announced Tuesday that it will remove 50 Minuteman III missiles from its silos to meet nuclear reductions called for under an arms-reduction treaty with Russia.
The empty silos will remain in warm status, meaning they will remain fully operational and can be armed with missiles at any time.
The Air Force and U.S. Strategic command will determine which 50 missiles will be pulled from the 450 silos currently deployed across the three missile fields operated by Malmstrom, F.E. Warren and Minot Air Force bases.
The empty silos count toward the non-deployed launcher limit of 800 under the New START treaty, which was ratified by the Senate and entered force in 2011.
The determination of which missiles will be removed hasn’t been made yet and there’s currently no timeline for that decision other than the New START deadline of February 2018.
To keep all 450 silos, the military has to make other cuts to the nuclear force to meet the limits of 800 non-deployed and 700 deployed launchers.
The Navy will convert 56 launch tubes, or four on each of its 14 nuclear submarines, so they can’t be used to carry nuclear weapons. They will also remove weapons from 40 launch tubes and keep 240 armed, for a total of 280 counted toward the New START limit of 800.
The Air Force will also convert 30 B-52H bombers to conventional aircraft so that they cannot carry nuclear weapons.
The Air Force will maintain 66 nuclear-capable bomber aircraft.
Because the silos will remain fully operational, no ICBM squadrons will be cut, according to defense officials. An environmental assessment also is no longer needed.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Monday night that the plan is good for Montana and good for national defense strategy. He also said ICBMs continue to be the most cost-effective leg of the nuclear triad.
“Right now, for the dollars spent, the ICBMs are the most effective component,” he said. “No ifs, ands or buts about that.”
Keeping 50 silos empty at all times allows the Air Force to conduct more thorough maintenance without disrupting normal operations, Tester said. The empty sites will also continue to be secured by Air Force security units.
“[ICBMs] are still our ace in the hole, and we need to make sure that’s there so that our country has a strong defense,” Tester said. “We have got these assets, we don’t ever want to have to use them, but if we need to use them, they’re there.”