The Future of the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal

Editor's note: In an interview with WKAR on the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Steven Pifer, co-author of The Opportunity, discusses prospects for future international arms negotiations as well as the stability of the U.S. and Russian bombs, submarines and planes. Read an excerpt below.

WKAR: Before we get into the details, can you give us a sense of the scale we’re talking about here? I’m sure the exact number is a guarded secret but about how many nuclear warheads does the U.S. maintain?

Steve Pifer: Well actually it’s not a secret. In 2010 the United States released a number and said that as of September 2009 the total American stockpile was 5,113 weapons.

WKAR: Okay

Pifer: Which is a huge decrease from the Cold War, at the height of the Cold War there were 25,000- 30,000 weapons. But you still have to ask the question; does that number make sense twenty years after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union?

WKAR: What about the dollar cost of maintaining that arsenal?

Pifer: The dollar cost in terms of maintaining them, on a day to day status, is estimated at say thirty to forty billion dollars a year. So it’s a part of the defense budget…


Pifer: But where the costs get really big is if you look, say five or seven years down the road, where the Navy’s going to have to start building a new ballistic missile submarine to replace the Ohio class submarines which have to be retired in about 15 years and then you’re talking about an estimate of $6 to $7 billion dollars, per boat, not counting the missiles or torpedoes.

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