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Mattis changes his mind, says ICBMs are still necessary

Sept 15,2017
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday he has become convinced that the United States must keep all three pillars of its nuclear forces rather than eliminating one as he previously suggested.

“I cannot solve the deterrent problem by reducing it from a triad,” he was quoted by the AP as telling reporters in-flight on his first trip to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. “If I want to send the most compelling message, I have been persuaded that the triad in its framework is the right way to go.”

Minot Air Force Base is home to two parts of the U.S. nuclear triad ? strategic bombers and about 100 land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The third way to deliver nuclear weapons is by Navy submarine. Minot also hosts the 91st Missile Wing, which operates 150 Minuteman III ICBMs, and the 5th Bomb Wing, which flies the nuclear bombers.

This includes the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, a long-range, heavy bomber that can launch nuclear cruise missiles and can fly at high subsonic speeds at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet. The United States has flown B-52 bombers over the Korean Peninsula as a show of force after North Korean provocations.

At Minot, Mattis toured a missile alert facility used to control ICBMs and a storage area where airmen maintain ICBM warheads. The nuclear triad program is currently under review, and before taking his post as defense chief, Mattis questioned the need to keep all three pillars, suggesting that ICBMs be eliminated. But he told reporters flying with him that his view has changed.

“You want the enemy to look at it and say, this is impossible to take out in a first strike,” said Mattis, so that they would not do so in fear of U.S. retaliation. “That’s how a deterrent works.”

His three-day trip also includes visits to another key American nuclear weapons base, U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom) in Omaha, Nebraska, as well as Mexico City.

Stratcom, the military headquarters that would run a nuclear war, uses nuclear, space, cyberspace, global strike, missile defense and other capabilities for deterrence and assurance, according to the Department of Defense. At the command, Mattis was expected to receive classified briefings on U.S. assessments of the North’s sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3, which may have been a hydrogen bomb.

On Aug. 9, Mattis visited Naval Base Kitsap in Washington, which maintains the other leg of the U.S. nuclear triad, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

The visits were scheduled prior to North Korea’s sixth nuclear test earlier this month, but serve as an opportunity for Mattis to highlight the Pentagon’s always-ready nuclear forces.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]