Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear weapons does the US have?
At the beginning of 2019, the US Department of Defense maintained an estimated stockpile of 3,800 nuclear warheads for delivery by more than 800 ballistic missiles and aircraft. Most of the warheads in the stockpile are not deployed, but rather stored for potential upload onto missiles and aircraft as necessary. Many are destined for retirement. We estimate that approximately 1,750 warheads are currently deployed, of which roughly 1,300 strategic warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles, 300 at strategic bomber bases in the United States, while another 150 tactical bombs are deployed at air bases in Europe. The remaining warheads – approximately 2,050 – 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.
Through 2018, the Trump administration followed the Obama administration’s practice of declassifying the size of the stockpile and number of dismantled warheads. In April 2019, however, the Defense Department – presumably under guidance from the White House – rejected declassifying the numbers. The decision reverses US nuclear transparency policy and will, if not reversed, create uncertainty and mistrust about the size of the US nuclear arsenal (Kristensen 2019). In addition to the warheads in the Department of Defense stockpile, approximately 2,385 retired – but still intact – warheads are stored under custody of the Department of Energy and are awaiting dismantlement, giving a total US inventory of an estimated 6,185 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 Matt Korda, a research associate with the project. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987.
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