The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment offered by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., to the Department of Defense appropriations bill that blocks the administration from eliminating operational U.S. nuclear missile silos.
The amendment bars the Defense Department from conducting environmental studies to reduce the number of active silos containing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The U.S. currently fields 450 Minuteman III ICBMs. Of the 450 ICBMS, Minot Air Force Base's 91st Missile Wing has 150 Minuteman IIIs in underground facilities in the Minot missile field.
The administration may choose to reduce that force to comply with the terms of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ratified in 2011. President Obama recently called for deeper nuclear cuts that could also involve a reduction in ICBMs. Obama's fiscal year 2014 budget request included a request to study the elimination of silos that contain those ICBMs.
"Keeping silos functional, even if they lack a missile to launch, can still contribute to America's nuclear deterrent," Hoeven said. "Retaining operational silos helps to keep potential adversaries uncertain about which silos hold missiles, increase the readiness level of the missile force and discourage nations, like Iran, with nuclear ambitions from pursuing weapons in the face of overwhelming nuclear superiority. The nation's nuclear forces have kept us safe for more than 60 years, and we must look at any attempt to weaken that deterrent with the greatest level of caution."
In an April meeting with Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, Hoeven said he intended to oppose funding for the study to reduce nuclear missile silo numbers when the Appropriations Committee considers the fiscal year 2014 budget for the Department of Defense. The senator said the New START reductions should preserve as much of the nation's deterrent capability as possible.
"That means minimizing any reductions to the ICBM force, preserving all existing ICBM squadrons and ensuring all 450 silos remain fully functional," he said.