Less Nuclear B-52Hs

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US intends to retain “all 18” operational B-2A bombers, but will convert some B-52Hs to a conventional-only role under the planned changes in nuclear force posture to conform to the New START Treaty limits. The US is drawing down each leg of its nuclear triad to some degree, but Gates said these moves do not require changes to current or planned basing arrangements. For example, he said, the Air Force will retain “up to 420” deployed single-warhead Minuteman III ICBMs at the three current missile bases (F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., Malmstrom AFB, Mont., and Minot AFB, N.D.). Gates said New START allows the US “complete flexibility” to deploy, maintain, and modernize its strategic nuclear forces to meet national security needs. This includes the Air Force incorporating a long-range strike replacement at some point, he added. (Gates prepared statement)