It has long been said that the US has a “nuclear triad” made up of nuclear weapons that could be delivered by three different means- bombers, ground based missiles, and submarine launched missiles. Is that even accurate any longer? The short answer is no, it isn’t.

Our ground based bombers are no longer available as a part of the triad. Sure, we still have deliverable warheads, but there is no alert force, no SIOP, and no organized plan for delivering them. In fact, the US only has 66 nuclear capable strategic bombers remaining in our inventory. The B-1 bomber used to be able to deliver nuclear weapons. Nope. Not anymore. The B-52 can, but those bombers are older than the grandfathers of the pilots who now fly them. The B-2 Spirit can, but there are only a handful of those. At best, we could drop a few weapons, but the truth is that there just isn’t a way to deliver enough warheads by bombers to make that a credible deterrent. Don’t believe me, ask the Air Force, who has said:

You’re going to need more aviators, you’re going to need more Security Forces [personnel],  more maintainers … more bombers … infrastructure improvements at the [alert] facilities, and you’re going to need more tankers.

What about the Air Force’s ground based ICBMs? You mean the LGM-30 that was designed with a 10 year lifespan, but has been in service for over 50 years? The Minuteman III began development in 1964 and entered service in 1970 with a force of 550 missiles. There are 440 of them left, and 400 of them are on alert. The missiles originally carried a total of 1,500 warheads- most had three warheads each. As of June 16, 2014, on Obama’s orders, the U.S. Minuteman III missiles have only a single warhead. Now they carry only 400- a 75% reduction in deliverable warheads by this leg of the triad.

What about from the sea? When I was in the Navy, we had the capability to launch nuclear strikes from aircraft carriers. That capability was completely taken from the Navy by George HW Bush. That capability is gone, and cannot be replaced. The training and knowledge was lost when we eliminated the personnel whose job it was to make that happen.

The Navy also had the ability to use Tomahawk cruise missiles to deliver nuclear warheads. That’s gone as well.

Then there are the much advertised SLBMs. There are 18 of the Ohio class submarines, but 4 of them have been rendered incapable of carrying SLBMs, leaving 14 nuclear capable submarines in the Navy. Scheduling means that only 4 of them are on station at any given time, for a total of 80 SLBMs on alert at any given moment. As for the missiles themselves, they can carry up to 14 warheads each, but in practice they each carry four warheads, on average. So the Navy can deliver 320 warheads at any given time.

In total, adding them up, the US is capable of delivering less than 750 warheads in response to an enemy surprise attack. In October of 2022, US intelligence estimated that the Chinese had 450 land based ICBMs. They also estimate that the Chinese will have more than 1500 warheads by 2035.

Categories: Military


BobF · April 13, 2023 at 9:06 am

Makes little difference when it’s all “led” by a shuffling old fool followed by a SECDEF who is proud of chaos and loss and a top general officer who has pledged to the enemy to give advance warning.

I began in SAC in 1964 — while ‘nuther picture then. Alert areas and Chrome Dome were very much alive then.

Aesop · April 13, 2023 at 11:11 am

True enough, but there’s only two other countries any of that matters to:
Russia, and China.

So maybe, break their forces down the same way, for an apples to apples comparison.

Charles Curtis · April 13, 2023 at 1:37 pm

What I want to know is where is all the money we’ve been spending on defense going? Hasn’t it been “more than the next twenty countries combined” for a very long while now?

I mean, how is it the Russians are supplying twenty times the number of artillery shells than we can supply the Ukrainians on one tenth of the budget? What are we spending that money on, if it hasn’t been used on maintaining the basic industrial base and logistical networks necessary to “fight two near peer competitors in two separate theaters at once?”

Is it all being spent on building F 35’s and aircraft carriers? What good is such “advanced” hardware without robust basic logistical support like adaquate supply of ammunition?

Anonymous · April 13, 2023 at 2:52 pm

Without “Chrome Dome” (Bombers in the Air 24/7/365) the Strategic Bomber is Useless. In 1964, when I was 5, my Father was in the Air Force, and my Grandparents lived in Utica, NY. The SAC Base at Griffiss AFB ran Bomber Patrols continuously like that- every 4 Hours Tankers and Bombers coming and going to keep the Chrome Dome Up.

It doesn’t matter now, as the Air Defenses of Russia make it Impossible for Subsonic Bombers to get anywhere near any Target in Russia- USAF knows this, too, which is why the Bomber Forces have been reduced to Cruise Missile Carriers. And that still doesn’t matter, because none of those old Buzz-Bombs are even slightly Supersonic.

    Aesop · April 14, 2023 at 1:07 pm

    Oh please.
    A German teenager landed in Moscow next to Red Square at the height of the Cold War, and got there in a frickin’ Cessna 172. It took all of Russia’s considerable might to down an off-course Korean airliner that was lit up like a Christmas tree, FFS. “Russian air defense” is a bigger tri-oxymoron than Meals Ready To Eat, and your info on their actual capabilities is demonstrably about 50 years out of date. At the height of the VN War, with the thickest Russian air defenses ever emplaced on the planet guarding Hanoi, they could only stop about 8% (16/207) of the B-52s after a week and a half of trying, which is why NVN was dragged to the peace talks after just 11 days. You could look it up. If those had been nuke-armed, there’d have be nothing alive but cockroaches from China to the DMZ by noon on Day One. Unlatch from Putin’s nethers. We stopped buying manned bombers by the thousands after that because we realized we could take anyone out with a fraction of the SAC force from the 1960s.

      Michael · April 15, 2023 at 7:33 pm

      Aesop your knowledge of Russian Air Defense is Awesome. You must have spent a lot of time researching and studying reports from many useful sources.

      Please post a few current (as in past 4 years) links to show just how “Poor” Russian Air Defense is. I’m sure your research has several easily at hand.

      I have a few Air Force relatives that have a rather different viewpoint than you do. One of the is active duty in the Israelis Airforce. The Israelis seem to take even the upgraded ex-soviet Anti-Air seriously.

        Aesop · April 19, 2023 at 7:56 pm

        I take it as seriously as needs be.
        Which isn’t very, and a far cry from “invincible”.

        As already noted, at the height of the Cold War, with ten times the available forces they have today, and all the marbles on the table 24/7/365, their ADIZ was successfully penetrated by a Cessna 172 which landed yards from the Kremlin.
        [Pro tip: they have not become better and more capable after ten years of draconian drawdowns and rusting in place post-Soviet collapse, to a fraction of their former size. As the last year should have illustrated even to the Helen Keller Strategy Association.]

        The obvious failures and shortcomings of their equipment in VN not being recent enough for you, perhaps you’ll recall having heard how the sixth largest army in the world, replete with the cream of their equipment, fared in 1991, and again in 2003. When last I looked, we dismantled their entire air defenses within hours, both times, with a fraction of our own available forces.

        Russia has spent the last year getting punked by COTS drones with re-purposed grenades and mortar shells. Their entire air farce has been notable by its almost complete absence from the skies during the entire conflict. There’s no way to sugarcoat that, and not enough lipstick to dress up that piggie.

        Israel has so punked Russian air defences times beyond counting, you should have hesitated to even mention them, unless you wanted to make my case for me. Nonetheless, their country is so geographically small, their planes are subject to hostile air defense from the moment they leave the ground, and within enemy SA and SS missile range, and in many cases tube artillery range, even when they’re parked.

        None of that applies to us. So much for comparing apples to pineapples.

        Meanwhile, the B-52s we own are liable to still be in active service past their 100th birthday, in all likelihood, and the Bones and B-2s are more capable than that.
        Draw your own conclusions.

        When you notice our own Air Farce is neither screaming for new bombers, nor offering to scrap the ones they have because of uselessness and obsolescence, you’ll be getting warmer.

        Try doing your own research. And unless one of your relatives writes air battle doctrine and strategy, their opinions on the topic are worth what you paid for them.

          Michael · April 20, 2023 at 8:31 pm

          So typical Aesop reply.

          No links

          Given the time to type out your reply IF you really had any Factual Links, you could have posted them. QED as you say.

          No facts, plenty opinions. I was going to be ruder but Divemedic dislike flames.

          And Sadly, it’s going to be grim when real world US Aircraft meet up with the pathetic Russian Anti-air.

          But, but, but their SCARED of Our Nukes, Ok I already gave your standard answer. So, stand down and pretend you didn’t read this post.

Jonesy · April 14, 2023 at 9:55 am

The real question is this: what is the ratio of our available warheads to China’s or Russias that make MAD no longer a deterrent?

If they someday decide that they can wipe us out and feel the the damage we can inflict in return is acceptable, then we are in trouble.

EN2 SS · April 14, 2023 at 9:02 pm

All anyone needs is two EMP blasts just inside the east and west coastlines, this country is dead. Thanks to the demoncrats, Korea and Iran will be able to do that when they want too.

Joe Texan · April 17, 2023 at 12:37 pm

I was at JSTPS in the late 1980s and worked on the targeting databases for the Peacekeepers. Now they’re all gone. What a waste.

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