Based on the capabilities of its delivery systems—missiles, aircraft, and submarines—and the current and future threat landscape, the Department of Defense (DOD) generates the military requirements for U.S. nuclear weapon systems. DOD works closely with the Nuclear Weapons Council and the National Nuclear Security Administration on these requirements (which may range from new weapons designs to modifications of existing weapons) to ensure the United States is able to continue to credibly deter foreign adversaries.
Once they are in DOD hands, nuclear weapons can be deployed in three ways: atop U.S. Air Force intercontinental ballistic missiles; from U.S. Air Force bomber and fighter planes, and atop U.S. Navy submarine-launched ballistic missiles. This three-pronged capability provides the United States with methods to attack by land, sea, or air, and reduces the possibility that all of the United States’ nuclear weapons could be destroyed in a single attack.
The following 10 military bases play particularly important roles in planning and executing the missions that involve nuclear weapons. ★
Headquartered at the Pentagon, DOD is the nation’s largest government organization and encompasses all branches of the United States Armed Forces, including the Air Force and the Navy, both of which are custodians of nuclear weapons.
Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay
St. Marys, Georgia
This base is home to eight Ohio-class submarines, six of which carry Trident II ballistic missiles that can be topped with Los Alamos–designed W76 or W88 nuclear warheads. The other two submarines are armed with cruise missiles. Starting in 2027, Ohio-class submarines will be replaced with Columbia-class submarines.
Barksdale Air Force Base
Headquartered at Barksdale, Air Force Global Strike Command oversees the aerial and land aspects of the nuclear triad—including the Barksdale-based 2nd Bomb Wing, home to B-52H bombers, which can carry the Los Alamos–designed and Livermore-maintained W80-1 warhead. Barksdale also oversees the development of three new delivery systems: the B-21 Raider stealth bomber (which will replace the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber), Sentinel missiles (which will replace Minuteman III missiles), and the Long Range Standoff nuclear-armed missiles (which will phase out older cruise missiles).
Whiteman Air Force Base
Knob Noster, Missouri
Whiteman is home to the 509th Bomber Wing and its 20 B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, which can wield the Los Alamos–designed B61 or the Livermore-designed B83 gravity bombs.
Offutt Air Force Base
Headquartered at Offutt, United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) integrates and coordinates the strategic capabilities of the five branches of the military to deter strategic attacks or plan and execute nuclear military missions. The STRATCOM commander is part of the Nuclear Weapons Council.
Minot Air Force Base
Minot, North Dakota
Constructed in 1957, Minot Air Force Base operates two prongs of the nuclear triad. As one of two bases maintaining B-52H bombers, Minot has an air-based nuclear deterrent in the 5th Bomb Wing. Minot also has a land-based nuclear deterrent in its 150 Minuteman III missiles, operated by the 91st Missile Wing.
Malmstrom Air Force Base
Great Falls, Montana
The 341st Missile Wing resides at Malmstrom, which was the first base to activate Minuteman missiles in 1962. Minuteman III missiles are equipped with either Los Alamos–designed W78 or Livermore-designed W87 warheads.
Francis E. Warren Air Force Base
The oldest continuously active United States Air Force military installation, Francis E. Warren Air Force Base was built in 1867 and became the nation’s first operational intercontinental ballistic missile base in 1959. The 90th Missile Wing now controls the base’s missile system and operates Minuteman III missiles capable of being armed with Los Alamos–designed or W78 Livermore-designed W87 warheads.
Kirtland Air Force Base
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Because of Kirtland’s proximity to Los Alamos, the base became a shuttling point for people and materials involved in the Manhattan Project. In 2006, Kirtland’s Nuclear Weapons Center was created as Air Force Materiel Command’s nuclear-focused center. The Nuclear Weapons Center helps synchronize aspects of nuclear weapon systems management across all Air Force nuclear facilities.
Naval Base Kitsap
This base is home to 10 Ohio-class submarines, eight of which carry Trident II ballistic missiles that can be topped with Los Alamos–designed W76 or W88 nuclear warheads. The other two submarines are armed with cruise missiles. Starting in 2027, Ohio-class submarines will be replaced with Columbia-class submarines.