CHEYENNE — Nuclear launch crews stand ready every minute of every day within underground bunkers spread out over 9,600 square miles of Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado.
The 150 intercontinental ballistic missiles maintained by F.E. Warren Air Force Base rest quietly, just waiting for the moment that no one wants to happen.
This is the way it has been for 50 years.
But anti-proliferation groups, some world leaders and even some top military commanders are increasingly questioning the base’s mission and whether the land-based portion of the country’s nuclear triad should be downsized or eliminated altogether.
“There is a growing political and cultural influence of nuclear abolitionists … along with powerful political agendas that are driving forcefully for further and immediate reductions in our strategic nuclear forces,” said Retired Maj. Gen. Timothy J. McMahon, who is a former commander of the 20th Air Force, which is responsible for the nation’s ICBM arsenal. “Absent immediate, thoughtful and public support, I believe the ICBM forces are not facing just another significant reduction, but the real possibility of elimination all together.”
Ploughshares estimates the country will spend $640 billion on nuclear weapons in the next decade.
Blair, with Nuclear Zero, said he, too, predicts a more moderate drawdown.
He said the next START treaty with the Russians will likely bring about more cuts to each leg of the triad.
“The question, though, is if you reach a tipping point where you then seriously start thinking about eliminating entirely one of the legs,” he said. “And, if so, the Minuteman missiles will be an attractive candidate because of the acute limitations of its mission.”
Larry Korb, a military expert with the Center for American Progress, said, he, too, thinks the country will reduce the nuclear arsenal in the next 10 years.
He said it is even possible that one of the three bases could be eliminated.
“It could depend on a lot of things,” he said. “But I think the sequestration really got people’s attention this time.”
Read more at F.E. Warren’s nuclear future could be in jeopardy