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No plans to boost nukes

The Pentagon has no current plans to increase the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In fact, it can barely sustain the existing force, which is decades old and is in some respects almost decrepit.

The arsenal is far from being in the "perfect shape" that President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants to see under his watch. That is why the government is planning to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a top-to-bottom "modernization," or replacement of the three major categories of nuclear weapons — as well as their command and control systems — in coming decades.

Those new weapons would replace, not add to, currently deployed forces such as the 400 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles that stand ready for short-notice launch in underground silos in North Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.

Trump was asked during an Oval Office photo shoot whether he sought a big increase in the size of the nuclear force, as NBC News reported.

"No, I never discussed increasing it," he said. "I want it in perfect shape." He suggested he thinks the U.S. already has enough weapons. "We don't need an increase, but I want modernization and I want total rehabilitation," he said, apparently referring to replacing weapons and support systems that have grown old.

"I want to have absolutely perfectly maintained — which we are in the process of doing — nuclear force," he said. "But when they said I want 10 times what we have right now, it's totally unnecessary."

The U.S. has an estimated 4,000 nuclear weapons, of which about 1,800 are deployed on missiles and at bomber and fighter bases, according to Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert at the Federation of American Scientists. The others are held in reserve. The exact number of active and reserve weapons is an official secret.

The U.S. is constrained by a 2010 arms deal with Russia known as New START, which limits each country to a maximum of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. As of Sept. 1, the U.S. reported that it had 1,393 and Russia had 1,561; both are required to be at or below the 1,550 mark by February 2018. That limitation will expire in 2021, however, unless an extension is negotiated.



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