The Air Force anticipates beginning soon the process of eliminating out-of-service B-52 bombers and Peacekeeper ICBM silos so that they are not counted against the allowable US launcher totals under the New START agreement with Russia. “The treaty calls for us to eliminate what we call ‘phantom systems’ that weren’t accountable under the old [START] regime and now are accountable,” Maj. Gen. William Chambers, Air Staff lead for nuclear issues, told reporters last week at the Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference held just outside of the nation’s capital. He continued, “They are not deployed systems. So it is getting rid of basically old bombers and old Peacekeepers.” Chambers said this is “a fairly simple process,” but will take some time to complete because of the number of phantom systems. “We are probably going to start this fall,” he said. Addressing the phantom launchers is one of the several drawdown actions that the Air Force will undertake—along with reducing the sizes of the current B-52H and Minuteman III ICBM forces—so that the United States meets New START’s launcher caps by February 2018.
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.