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Lawmakers to Hagel: Stop ICBM study

Feb. 21, 2014 - 09:50AM   |  
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About New START

The New START treaty limits the United States and Russia to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads; 800 deployed and nondeployed ICBM launchers; submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and heavy bombers; and to reduce their deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments to no more than 700.
According to data the State Department released in September, the U.S. has 809 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers; Russia has 473. The U.S. has 1,688 warheads on deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and nuclear warheads that count on deployed heavy bombers; Russia has 1,400.
The U.S. has 1,015 deployed and nondeployed launchers of ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers; Russia has 894.
The last B-52G accountable under New START was destroyed just before Christmas by sawing off the plane’s tail, rendering it useless.
Work is also underway to eliminate the 50 previously deactivated ICBM silos at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Members of Montana’s congressional delegation sent letters to the Pentagon on Thursday asking the Defense Department to immediately cease what it perceived as renewed efforts to do an environmental assessment on the intercontinental ballistic missile force, which includes the 150 ICBMs at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Montana’s Rep. Steve Daines, a Republican, joined with representatives from Wyoming and Colorado in sending a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel asking the Defense Department to “categorically cease from pursuing this misguided and premature action.”

Montana Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh also sent a letter to Hagel on Thursday.

“We write to make very clear our strenuous opposition to any attempt by the Department of Defense to circumvent existing law to proceed with an Environmental Impact Study or an Environmental Assessment on the elimination of Minuteman III silos,” Tester and Walsh wrote. “If the Defense Department is in fact pursuing such a course, we demand the legal justification for how it could so directly contradict recently enacted law and the repeatedly stated will of Congress.”

The Air Force has said the environmental study is required to develop options for the nuclear reductions required under the New START treaty, ratified by the Senate in 2010. The treaty deadline is Feb. 5, 2018.

Congressional staffers told the Tribune on Thursday that staff at the House Armed Services Committee had heard the Air Force was moving forward with the environmental study, prompting the letters to Hagel.

As of Thursday afternoon, Pentagon and Air Force officials had not confirmed that the environmental study was moving forward or that it was using current fiscal year funds.

Congress passed the omnibus spending bill in January that prohibited the Defense Department from using any funds to conduct the study related to ICBMs.

“In addition to compromising the most stabilizing and visible constant in our nuclear posture, it would directly represent a breach of faith. And any attempts to move forward with such an environmental study would greatly undermine the historically constructive and cooperative nature of our working relationship,” Tester and Walsh wrote.

Congressional staffers have said the measure prevents the Air Force from considering eliminating an entire ICBM squadron, and lawmakers, including the Montana congressional delegation, have said the study was a backdoor attempt by the Obama administration to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

In February, Cynthia O. Smith, a Defense Department spokeswoman, told the Tribune that the lack of funding for the study “adds an unhelpful impediment to the options available to the president and Department of Defense. The United States will meet its obligations under the New START Treaty by the 2018 deadline and will work with the Congress to achieve this in the manner that best meets U.S. national security requirements.”

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