How many nuclear weapons does the United States have? That’s a secret, again, thanks to the Trump administration. The number, which has been declassified every year for nearly a decade, is once again classified and not for public knowledge. Exactly why that number will remain classified for 2018 is a good question.
The Department of Energy, responding to a petition to declassify the number of U.S. nukes for Fiscal Year 2018, responded, “After careful consideration. . . it was determined that the requested information cannot be declassified at this time.” The Department of Energy controls many aspects of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Both the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense needed to bless declassification of the numbers--according to the Federation of American Scientists, the DoE agreed to declassify but the DoD did not.
Since 2010, the U.S. government has made annual disclosures of the number of nuclear weapons in America’s arsenal. The practice, begun by the Obama Administration, was a sign of openness and helped arms control groups keep track of the stockpile. The number was not particularly damaging to national security as outside groups were able to make pretty good informed guesses: In 2010, the Federation of American Scientists the number of U.S. nuclear warheads at 5,200--very close to the actual number of 5,113 revealed through declassification that year.
Why the sudden turnaround? Hans M. Kristensen is the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, it could be part of the “chaos and incompetence” of the Trump Administration, Trump’s reflexive tendency to reverse any and all Obama policies, the government’s embrace of a new Cold War attitude, or just “because it can”. Steven Aftergood, also at FAS, one government official who said that the openness policy did not lead to a similar openness mindset from Russia--or China for that matter.
The latest U.S. nuclear figures , showed 3,822 nuclear weapons in 2017 with 345 nuclear weapons dismantled. Of that number, approximately are deployed on Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic heavy bombers, and ballistic missile submarines at sea. A further 2,250 are stockpiled and held in reserve, and another 150 are on short-range delivery systems--likely B61 bombs delivered by fighter jets such as the F-16. Finally, 2,650 warheads were awaiting dismantlement.