Senators Respond to Pentagon Letter that Suggests ICBMs could be Eliminated to Meet New Budget Levels, nCall on Defense Department to Find Alternative Cuts

(Washington, D.C.) – Montana’s Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester have called on the Department of Defense to refrain from cutting the nation’s ICBM force in the face of necessary defense spending cuts. The senators told Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that cuts to America’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fleet would be disastrous for national security and fail to deliver significant budget savings over the next ten years.

Their letter to Panetta is part of the senators’ continued fight to keep Malmstrom Air Force Base’s ICBM fleet intact. Malmstrom houses 150 of the nation’s 450 ICBMs.

“Cutting Malmstrom’s ICBM force is a no-go in my book, and I’ll keep fighting to make sure we keep our ICBMs,” Baucus said. “We must make smart budget cuts to get our fiscal house in order, but cutting our ICBM force would jeopardize our national security, and wouldn’t make a scratch on the surface of our national deficit. I’ll keep pushing on Secretary Panetta and the Department of Defense to include funding for our ICBMs in the 2013 budget.”

“Malmstrom’s ICBMs are part of our nation’s most powerful and cost-efficient nuclear deterrent. If the Defense Department is serious about identifying meaningful ways to save taxpayer dollars, it needs to look at our decades-old overseas bases we no longer need,” said Tester, who is spearheading an effort in the Senate to close obsolete overseas bases. “This nation needs real solutions to get our deficit under control, but eliminating a cost-efficient military asset that keeps our nation safe isn’t the way to go.”

Text of today’s letter to Panetta is included below and also available online HERE.

Baucus and Tester have long fought for Malmstrom and the ICBM force. Recent timeline included below:

• December 7, 2011 – Baucus and Tester argue Secretary Panetta should not eliminate ICBMs to meet new budget constraints.

• November 18, 2011 – ICBM Coalition files amendment to Defense Authorization Act requiring preservation of 450 ICBM silos and 420 alert missiles.

• October 13, 2011 – Baucus and Tester led a bipartisan group of Senators warning the Obama Administration against any significant reduction in America’s ICBM force. (Text of the letter available online HERE.)

• July 27, 2011 – Sen. Tester meets with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to urge him to maintain 450 ICBM silos and 420 alert missiles as part of New START implementation and to reconsider departure of F-15s from MANG.

• June 15, 2011 – Baucus met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to urge him to understand Montana priorities, including protecting the ICBM force at Malmstrom, as a key part of America’s national security.

• May 19, 2011 – Letter to President Obama expressing strong support for the ICBM fleet.

• February 3, 2011 – Sen. Tester meets with Undersecretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton to discuss impact of New START on personnel at Malmstrom

• December 22, 2010 – Baucus and Tester fight to ensure Malmstrom will continue to play a key role in U.S. national security for decades to come with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the U.S. and Russia.

• June 15, 2010 – Baucus and Tester meet with Major General Don Alston, Commander of 20th Air Force urging him to make minimal missile reductions at Malmstrom.

• April 30, 2010 – Baucus and Tester join ICBM coalition in letter to President Obama expressing ongoing support for ICBMs.

• March 16, 2010 – Tester and Baucus meet with Vice President Joe Biden urging him to minimize cuts to ICBMs.

• November 4, 2009 – Baucus meets with Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Dr. James Miller to ensure that the Nuclear Posture Review emphasizes the importance of ICBMs to national security.

• November 4, 2009 – ICBM Coalition White Paper released outlining the importance of ICBMs

• September 25, 2009 – ICBM Coalition letter to Defense Secretary Gates expressing support for ICBMs.

• July 21, 2009 – Sen. Tester meets with Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, head of Global Strike Command expressing support for Malmstrom and the ICBM mission.

• May 14, 2009 – Letter to President Obama voicing opposition to ICBM reductions.

• February 2009 – Letter to Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III expressing opposition to ICBM reductions.

• January 2009 – Baucus meets with Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III to outline opposition to ICBM reductions.

• February 4, 2008 – Baucus letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates voicing opposition to ICBM reductions.

Text of the letter to Panetta:

December 7, 2011

The Honorable Leon Panetta
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon, Room 3E880
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Panetta:

We write to express concern about the letter you sent to Senators McCain and Graham on November 14th stating that the Department of Defense would consider eliminating America’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fleet if defense spending is cut to levels required under the Budget Control Act’s sequester mechanism. We believe eliminating the ICBM wing would be disastrous for national security and fail to deliver significant budget savings over the next ten years. We hope to work with you to make the cuts required by our nation’s financial constraints without jeopardizing national security or gutting critical national assets such as the ICBM force and we urge you to include robust funding for the ICBM wing in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

We appreciate the fiscal challenges facing the Department of Defense in the coming years, but ICBM reductions are not a smart way to achieve budget savings. ICBMs are by far the most cost-efficient leg of the nuclear triad. The ICBM fleet provides a critical deterrent because of its considerable survivability. Unlike an attack on the submarine or bomber leg of the triad, an enemy would be required to strike deep within the continental United States in order effectively eliminate ICBM strike capability. Such a visible, highly dispersed force creates a powerful disincentive for any adversary while also providing clear reassurance to our allies, many of whom have chosen not to pursue their own nuclear arsenal because of the security provided by America’s nuclear umbrella.

Also, the ICBM force is in the final stages of a decade-long modernization effort. It will be extremely cost effective to maintain the Minuteman III fleet through 2030 as is now planned. It is doubtful that the Department could achieve $8 billion in savings – as estimated in your November 14th letter – by eliminating the ICBM force. The large costs associated with closing down large installations, such as environmental remediation and other costs associated with dismantling nuclear infrastructure, would likely offset most potential savings.

We have long held that a deep reduction or abandonment of our ICBM force would create unacceptable strategic risks for the United States. We have urged the Department of Defense to maintain at least 420 ICBMs on alert and preserve all 450 existing ICBM silos in warm status. The 1251 report submitted to Congress in May of 2010 along with the New START treaty confirmed that retaining this force structure is allowable under the treaty.

Deficit reduction is a high priority of ours. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen cited debt as America’s the top national security threat. As Congress works to balance our nation’s books, we want to work with you to make sure the Defense cuts are smart and that we continue to make the investments needed to strengthen the best military in the world. We appreciate you taking these issues under careful consideration and thank you for your service to our country.