US nuclear forces, 2012

Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear weapons does the US have?

Though the size of the US nuclear stockpile has changed little over the past year, the arsenal continues to evolve under influences that include President Barack Obama!s vision of nuclear disarmament and US obligations under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Since the Pentagon!s unprecedented May 2010 declaration that the nuclear stockpile consisted of 5,113 warheads (as of September 2009), official comments seem to confirm that the level has not changed much: In March 2011, the US national security adviser said the stockpile included “approximately 5,000 warheads” (Donilon, 2011), and in November 2011, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy said the level has “dropped slightly” from 5,113 (Parrish, 2011). The administration has unfortunately revealed neither how many warheads have been dismantled since September 2009 nor how many retired warheads await dismantlement.

Despite this, the administration made a positive stride in the direction of nuclear transparency in December 2011, when it released its full unclassified aggregate data under New START.1 The data include a breakdown of the numbers of US weapon delivery systems but not a breakdown of the warhead distribution. Perhaps the data release—which reversed the administration!s unfortunate June 2011 policy of disclosing only very basic New START data—was influenced by our appeal for improved transparency.2

As of early 2012, the United States maintained an estimated 2,150 operational warheads. The arsenal is composed of roughly 1,950 strategic warheads deployed on 798 strategic delivery vehicles, as well as nearly 200 nonstrategic warheads deployed in Europe. In addition, the United States maintains approximately 2,800 warheads in reserve, bringing the total stockpile to nearly 5,000 warheads…

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The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists and Robert S. Norris, a senior fellow with the FAS. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987.


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