United States nuclear forces, 2018

Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear warheads does the United States have?

At the beginning of 2018, the US Defense Department maintained an estimated stockpile of 4,000 nuclear warheads for delivery by more than 800 ballistic missiles and aircraft. Since September 2009, when the United States announced that the nuclear arsenal contained 5,113 warheads, the stockpile has decreased by 1,113. The most recent cut was announced in January 2017 by Joe Biden, then the vice president, who said the stockpile as of September 2016 had included 4,018 warheads (Kristensen 2017). Since January 2017, a small number of additional warheads has probably been retired, leaving a stockpile of approximately 4,000 warheads.

Most of the warheads in the stockpile are not deployed, but rather stored for potential upload onto missiles and aircraft if so decided. Many are destined for retirement. We estimate that approximately 1,800 warheads are currently deployed, of which roughly 1,650 strategic warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles and at bomber bases in the United States. Another 150 tactical bombs are deployed in Europe. The remaining warheads – approximately 2,200, or 55 percent of the total – are in storage as a so-called hedge against technical or geopolitical surprises. Several hundred of those warheads are scheduled to be retired before 2030.

In addition to the warheads in the Defense Department stockpile, approximately 2,550 retired but still intact warheads are stored under custody of the Energy Department and are awaiting dismantlement, for a total US inventory of roughly 6,550 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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