The US nuclear weapons ‘triad’

Filed on November 11, 2011

WASHINGTON — Nuclear-armed submarines, intercontinental missiles and strategic bombers make up the US atomic “triad” created during the Cold War, which the Pentagon is considering scaling back under budget cuts.

The triad is comprised of the following elements:

Land-based missiles:

The United States has 450 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in silos on American territory, according to the authoritative Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Each missile contains a warhead of 300 kilotons, equivalent to 300,000 tons of TNT, or 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Ballistic missile submarines:

The US Navy has 14 Ohio-class submarines, or SSBNs, armed with ballistic missiles. Each sub carries 24 Trident II missiles, and each missile can carry up to eight nuclear warheads, according to the Navy.

The firepower of each warhead is estimated at 100 to 450 kilotons.

The fleet of nuclear-powered Ohio-class submarines is due to be replaced around 2030 by a new generation of subs.

Strategic bomber aircraft:

The military has two bombers designed to carry out a nuclear attack: the venerable B-52, which has been in service since the 1960s, and the B-2 stealth bomber with its distinctive flying wing design, designed to penetrate air defenses.

The United States has 93 B-52s, of which 44 are deployed. The planes can also carry Tomahawk missiles fitted with nuclear warheads ranging from five to 150 kilotons.

The military also has 20 B-2 bombers, which can be armed with two types of atomic bombs, one with a maximum yield of 340 kilotons and another with 1.2 megatons.

The Pentagon announced plans in early 2011 to launch a new long-range bomber program to replace the B-52 and B-2 aircraft.

In total, the United States currently has 1,790 deployed warheads. The START treaty signed with Russia imposes a ceiling of 1,550 warheads for each country.

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