The Increasingly Inefficient Triad

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A new Congressional Research Service report contains this interesting chart, which tracks the sharp reduction in the nation’s strategic nuclear warheads alongside the scant reduction in its strategic nuclear launchers.

The Obama Administration, in its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, said the launchers – the nuclear triad of bombers, land-based missiles and submarine-launched missiles — is the best way to preserve the nation’s nuclear deterrence:

Each leg of the Triad has advantages that warrant retaining all three legs at this stage of reductions. Strategic nuclear submarines (SSBNs) and the SLBMs they carry represent the most survivable leg of the U.S. nuclear Triad…Single-warhead ICBMs contribute to stability, and like SLBMs are not vulnerable to air defenses. Unlike ICBMs and SLBMs, bombers can be visibly deployed forward, as a signal in crisis to strengthen deterrence of potential adversaries and assurance of allies and partners.

The CRS study, using data from the National Resources Defense Council, shows just how little we’ve been asking our triad to do lately:

— In 1991, there were 9,300 warheads carried by 1,239 bombers, subs and ICBMs – 7.5 warheads each.

— A decade later, in 2001, there were 6,196 warheads aboard 1,064 delivery vehicles – 5.8 warheads each.

— Now, after more than another decade, the U.S. has 1,950 warheads on 832 subs, bombers and ICBMs – 2.3 apiece.

President Obama is proposing, in a speech Wednesday in Berlin, to cut U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear stockpiles by a third. Be a pity if the desire in some quarters to retain the triad’s three legs acts as a brake on further reductions.

h/t Steven Aftergood, FAS.