Baucus, Tester team up with colleagues to push support for ICBMs
Senators ask Defense Secretary to keep land-based missile force strong
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) –Max Baucus and Jon Tester are teaming up with a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, pushing the U.S. Secretary of Defense not to cut the number of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls operates, maintains and guards 150 ICBMs. The long-range nuclear missiles are housed in silos throughout central Montana.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Baucus and Tester—along with Senators from other states that maintain the nation’s land-based missile force—this week asked the Pentagon not to make any further cuts to the number of ICBMs.
The senators want to send a clear message to the military as it considers possible changes to its force structure.
“We would strongly oppose a reduction below the current force structure of 450 missiles, divided into three wings (Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota) of 150 missiles each,” the Senators wrote. “We believe this structure represents the optimal number of missiles and the optimal organization.”
Baucus and Tester also said maintaining the nation’s current land-based missile force is a relatively inexpensive way to strengthen national security. Any further cuts would create problems in recruiting and retaining highly skilled Airmen and officers, they added.
“We are certain that the ICBM force as currently constituted provides an extraordinary benefit to our national security while delivering high value to the taxpayer,” the senators wrote to Gates.
In addition to Malmstrom, Air Force bases in Wyoming and North Dakota each maintain 150 ICBMs. Hill Air Force Base in Utah serves as a missile maintenance center. Effective December 1, Louisiana’s Barksdale Air Force Base will serve as command center for all of the Air Force’s nuclear operations.
The senators’ letter to Secretary Gates appears below.
The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Gates:
We write to commend your leadership on the vital issue of maintaining the nation’s nuclear force. The renewed attention that you and Air Force Secretary Donley have shown in particular to the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise already has instilled renewed confidence in this mission. As negotiations with Russia and the Nuclear Posture Review and Quadrennial Defense Review continue, we urge you to retain the land-based leg of our nation’s strategic nuclear deterrence force at current levels.
As you know, our ICBM force is the most stabilizing in our nuclear arsenal. As nuclear warhead levels decrease, this stabilizing effect becomes even more profound. The U.S. and Russian Joint Understanding of July 2009 has limits of 1,500-1,675 warheads and 500-1,000 delivery vehicles. While we are pleased to see this further reduction in the nuclear arsenal, of some concern to us is the wide range of delivery vehicles. If this level falls much below 1,100, there is the potential to damage decades of U.S. arms control efforts for both a stabilizing triad and our ability to respond as world events change. The 450 Minuteman ICBM force creates a widely dispersed single warhead target that adds significant stability to a crisis.
We are proud that the ICBM force provides the United States with the most highly cost-effective and operationally effective nuclear deterrent in the triad. As we have indicated to the president, we would strongly oppose a reduction below the current force structure of 450 missiles, divided into three wings of 150 missiles each. We believe this structure represents the optimal number of missiles and the optimal organization. We are concerned that any reduction below the current three-wing structure would run counter to the Air Force’s renewed attention and care to the nuclear enterprise. Additionally, reductions below the current structure would pose significant challenges to the recruitment and retention of highly skilled Airmen and officers. We need to keep the best and brightest in the nuclear force.
In light of the current economy, the cost-effectiveness of the ICBM force is another issue that we believe deserves particular attention. ICBMs cost less than $1 billion annually to maintain, and the ICBM program has nearly completed a modernization program that will allow the Air Force to move forward with its proposal to maintain the ICBM program to 2030.
While we many not oppose modifications or some reductions to our nuclear force, we are certain that the ICBM force as currently constituted provides an extraordinary benefit to our national security while delivering high value to the taxpayer. We strongly urge you to maintain a strong land-based strategic nuclear deterrent with 450 single-warhead ICBMs.
Michael B. Enzi (Wyo.)
John Barrasso (Wyo.)
Kent Conrad (N.D.)
Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.)
Orrin G. Hatch (Utah)
Robert F. Bennett (Utah)
Mary L. Landrieu (La.)
David Vitter (La.)
Mike Johanns (Neb.)