06 July 2018

The Nuclear Forces of the US

Sergiu Medar

The constant intensification of the discouragement capacities in a world dominated by unpredictability, in a world in which the chances of using a nuclear weapon grow, made the US able to quickly develop its own nuclear capabilities by increasing the old performances or by developing new weaponry. For this, Trump’s administration created Nuclear Posture Review in which they present the ideas and the developing directions of the Nuclear Forces of the US.

Image source: Mediafax

[ Romanian Version HERE ]


At the Security Conference from München 2018, they (US) made a direct warning regarding the threat that the nuclear weapons represent against the global security. This threat can easily be observed from the analysis bellow, which shows the declared nuclear weapons that the states known for possessing such nuclear weaponry have, in the quantities mentioned.




Focoase active/total focoase





Marea Britanie










Coreea de Nord


We do not see in this analysis Iran, known for possessing manufacturing technology of nuclear weaponry, but not being declared as having such nuclear weapons. This chart, as the ones mentioned about Iran, justifies the mentioning of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran as a threat against the US.

It is easy to see how Russia’s aggressivity grows, taking benefits of the ex-US administration’s policy. Trump’s administration, led by the “America’s First” principle, that controls all the American actions, from the beginning of his activity, gave a great attention to the budget allocated for defence, especially to maintaining the current nuclear weaponry, but also to achieving new ones.

Trough the National Security Strategy from 2015, Russia increases the importance of nuclear weaponry in assuring a defensive-offensive capacity, able to discourage the main enemies, NATO and SUA. Russia is the only nuclear state in the world that wants, according to its military doctrine and its national security strategy, to use nuclear weaponry even if its national territory would be threaten with only conventional weaponry. That is why, even having bad economy and receiving amendments, Russia spends a lot of money on the development and the upgrading of the nuclear forces, even if that means to violate the weaponry control treaty.

In the same time, China, North Korea and Iran, are, according to the US National Security Strategy from 2017, threats against the national security, as first of all, China and North Korea have nuclear weaponry, and second of all, Iran is a suspect (US says) of being able to make such weapons. In the same strategy it is mentioned that US will respond to an attack with nuclear weaponry only if US or its allies would be threatened with such guns. US commits, according to the last version signed by the states that owe these, to not use nuclear weaponry against the states that do not have such weapons, which is completely different from the Russia’s policy. 

In these circumstances, US has the obligation to assure a high level of nuclear military capabilities, so that they can discourage the nuclear threats mentioned above, but also to act if the case. Developing nuclear systems, it is made so that they can assure the necessary flexibility for a balanced fight back and also proportional with the attack. At the end of the Cold War, they thought the world was going to a peaceful direction, without the need of using nuclear weaponry. But the progresses in the last years, showed that other states saw US’s position as a sign of weakness, not related to owing nuclear weaponry, but how to use it. Trump’s administration changes the way we see this nuclear discouragement.

The fact that the US shows the same determination regarding its allies, means that the US looks for keeping the credibility against these. Trough its new nuclear strategy they are looking for being able to use nuclear weaponry flexible and adjusted to the attack (small collateral harm principle), when the discouragements is not enough.

If we go back in history, we can see that the US was the first state in the history that made a nuclear weapon and continues to be the only one that used it in the attacks from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To improve their performances, they made over 1000 nuclear tests over the nuclear charges and its wearers. Between 1940 and 1996 the US spent at least 9 trillion dollars for creating nuclear weaponry. In this way, they got to such performances that are able to assure the nuclear discouragement against potential threats. Through this, the US shows that they can assure the security of their citizens, but also of their allies’ citizens being able to discourage any enemy, but still, to take any political decision and to act if the case.

In comparison with the Cold War, the US reduced with around 87% its nuclear, biological and chemical weaponry, and did not developed nuclear capabilities in the last 20 years.

The modernization of the nuclear weaponry of the US leads to the capability developments of the nuclear triad of the US, which means weaponry launched from submarines, from the ground but also strategical bombers. The ballistic rackets that were the main discouragements factor during the “cold war”, were modernized in 1960, spending 17,1% from the defence budget, in the 1980 spending 10,6% from the defence budget, and now by spending 6,4% from the 2018 budget.

Being a global power, the US permanently developed the strategic nuclear weaponry triad of the main army forces categories: Naval, Air and Terrestrial Forces. The marine infantry it is seen also as an army forces category, but being used on littoral areas, does not have strategical nuclear weaponry.

 The US nuclear strategical Naval Forces means using submarines (SSBN), that have ballistic racket launcher (SLBM). There are 14 operational submarines from the Ohio (fig.1) class that carry these conditions. The Ohio submarines class have a displacement of 18.750 tones, being the third in the world, after the Typhoon class that has 48.000 tones, and the Bore (Russia) that has 24.000 tone. With the actual plan of maintenance and modernization, it will be kept operational this type of submarine, until they will introduce the 12 submarines from the Columbia class (fig.2). The construction of this type of strategical submarine, able to launch ballistic nuclear rackets will begin in 2021 and will be operational in 2031. Its displacement will be of 20.810 tones.



The second element of the nuclear forces triad is the ballistic rackets that will be launched from the ground (ICBM). The US possess 400 nuclear warheads having as wearer the Minuteman III racket (fig.3), from 1970. These are held in underground hoppers in different stated of the world. This type of racket, appeared after the Minuteman I racket (1962), and Minuteman II (1965). The Minuteman III has, according to the information, a long range of about 13.500 km.




The Minuteman program will be replaced by the year 2029 with the program Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), made by the company Lockheed Martin, that will allow the US army to have 450 launching ramps and 400 nuclear warheads.

The third element of the triad is using the Military Air Forces of the US as a wearer of nuclear weaponry. In this category we have first of all the 46 bombers B-52H type, and 20 B-2A Stealth bombers type.

The US initiated a program regarding the creation of new B21 Raider bombers type (fig.4). These new bombers will be available for the Air Forces of the US in 2020.

Starting with 1982, the US Air Forces had the B-52H bombers with ALCM rackets, being able in this way to launch air-ground rackets from distance, avoiding the anti-aerial defence. As the anti-aerial defence systems developed, there were repeatedly processes of modernization of the bombers, but also of the rackets.  The ALCM rackets will slowly be replaced with LRSO (Long Range Stand Off) cruise rackets. These were offered simultaneously to the companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, so that by the end of 2022 the Defence Department of the US, decides which of the two project methods is the right one.

Besides the strategical nuclear weaponry, essentially for keeping the global force balance that assures the discouragement of a nuclear cataclysm, must be considered also the tactical and operative nuclear weaponry. This way, through the fix using of the two types of nuclear equipment, the operative or tactical superiority can be maintained, to guarantee the local or regional military supremacy.

 To discourage this Russian tendency, the US developed an extended and diversified non-strategical nuclear capabilities program to allow herself not being the first to use the nuclear weapon. If any country would use any capabilities over the US or its allies, the americans reaction would be devastating. For this, the US dislocated in many parts of the world capabilities of launching rackets with a long-range of 2000 km and 5000km from planes, submarines and terrestrial ramps.

In this weaponry category with tactical or operative range of action, the Air Forces of US have bombers with capabilities of launching warhead nuclear rackets, but also gravitational bombs with nuclear charges. These are situated in strategical points over the globe, to be able to action over potential targets, if the international level of relations or the security situation from the area reaches some critical point.

US Air Force has 58 B-52-H bombers that, depending on the position of the aerial bases from which they can lift off, can hit any target, anywhere around the globe. B-1B Lancer, which is the strongest bomber from the USAF, completes these performances. To have the full view of the aerial capabilities of the US to launch nuclear charges, we must mention also the B-2 Spirit Stealth Radar subsonic bomber, that, unlike B-1B Spirit, it is less vulnerable at detecting radar equipment. All of these are mostly located on the Pacific Ocean, South Korea or Guam bases, but also on other parts of the world. In this category we also have the F35 planes, all being supported by anti-aerial capabilities. This is the solution mostly used in Europe.

Guaranteeing the global efficacy of the nuclear discouragement effect through attack capabilities of any potential target on the globe can be made also with the US submarines fleet. The advantages of these are firstly that it does not need the support of any country in keeping the launching base logistic. The SSLB or SLMC nuclear rackets can be launched from the Ohio-Trident class submarines, as well as from the Typhoon class, the biggest from the US submarine fleets.

With the modernization of the current capabilities or the development or another nuclear weapons or wearers, the US gave attention, but also money, to the modernization of the NC3 system (Nuclear Command, Control and Communication) through extending their capabilities and performances. The systems used in the present belong to the Cold War period and were successively upgraded by developing the capabilities of processing the provided information by satellites and radar equipment’s, research planes, fixed and mobile command stations, as well as other command and control nuclear systems of control compounds. Upgrading the NC3 systems, involves the increasing of protection against the cybernetic threats, the improvement of the protection against space threats, fixing the capacity of threats and tactical level warnings, improving the command and communication links, increasing the technological level of the decisional softs, integrated planning and operative administration.

Through developing nuclear military capabilities, the US tries to offer to diplomats the military power that stays behind the words, essential in the preventive diplomacy and most of all in the coercive diplomacy.

Among developing its nuclear capabilities, the US continues to say that it is important the weaponry control, including the nuclear one, and on a mutual principle, the US respects this control.



The US initiated a new program regarding the creation of new types of B21 Raider bombers (fig 4). These new bombers will be available for the Air Forces of the US from 2020.


All of these refers to attacking with nuclear weapons by hitting with nuclear bombs the terrestrial targets. Gravitational B83-1 and B61-11 bombs are not enough precise regarding the protected targets. Starting with 2020, the strategical bombers will have B61-12 bombers less vulnerable to target protection systems.