A healthy nuclear deterrent without a large, healthy intercontinental ballistic missile force just isn’t possible. The Air Force currently has 450 missiles on three bases, spread out across five states, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, deputy commander of US Strategic Command. Without those, a potential adversary could launch an attack focused on the small number of bomber bases and submarine bases, and effectively take out the US nuclear option. During a 2013 visit to China, Chinese officials said North Korea had 10 missiles, a number that potentially could destroy the intellectual capability at national laboratories, along with the production, delivery, and weapons storage of nuclear bombs. “I think having a very affordable deterrent capability, like today’s ground-based deterrent … makes great sense to our country,” Wilson said. “It means an adversary has to go all in with a large number of weapons.” (See also: Moving Forward on GBSD and Needed Nuclear Investment)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.