Pentagon Review Would Reduce U.S. Nukes

The Pentagon on Friday recommended reducing the nation's nuclear missile stockpile by 10 percent, but left open where the reductions would be made.

In its Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon said the reductions would start in fiscal year 2007. Five hundred Minuteman III missiles are based at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.

Warren Wenz, an attorney who lobbies for Malmstrom, said Friday that the Montana base is a likely target for the cuts.

"The presumption is that it would be 50 from here," he said.

Wenz said that one of Malmstrom's missile squadrons, which includes 50 missiles, has a different operating system than all of the other squadrons. Because those missiles require some different parts and training, it could be the one that is cut, he said.

Though the missile operations are based at Malmstrom, the missiles themselves are spread over hundreds of miles around north-central Montana.

"It's going to have an economic impact, that's for sure," Wenz said.

Wenz estimated that about 300 military jobs could be lost if those missiles are decommissioned. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., estimated there could be a loss of 400-500 military and civilian jobs.

Baucus said the missile cuts could also mean a loss of approximately $3 million dollars in operating costs and federal funding for roads that access the missile sites.

"Cutting back on our missile defense at a time when we need a strong national defense system is foolish at best, and dangerous at worst," Baucus said.

Both Baucus and Montana's other senator, Republican Conrad Burns, have said they will contuniue fighting for new missions at Malmstrom if missile numers are reduced.

Burns "will not accept losing 50 missiles at Malmstrom without a reasonable benefit to offset that loss," said spokesman Matt Mackowiak.

Tucker Fagan, CEO of the Wyoming Business Council and an advocate for Warren, said that cutting the Malmstrom missiles makes the most sense.

"I have confidence that the Air Force will look at the business decisions and the military decisions of which is the right squadron to take down," he said.

The Pentagon's long-range plan also calls for the conversion of a small number of nuclear missiles aboard Trident submarines to non-nuclear ballistic missiles.

Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas, a Republican, said nuclear weapons are still relevant today and should be maintained.

"We need to focus not only on protecting our nation from the dangers of terrorists, but also rogue nation states," he said.

The Pentagon document, more than a year in the making, outlines broad plans to reshape the military into a more agile fighting force better able to fight terrorism, in what the document calls the Long War, while still preserving the ability to wage large conventional wars. The review, which does not call for the elimination of any of the largest weapons programs, as initially expected, will guide how dollars are spent within the Pentagon budget.