USA nuclear warheads in Europe

translation: L. Salimbeni

There are 12 air bases, located in 7 countries, that are able to lodge atomic warheads under US control. In 2005 the nuclear weapons amounted to 480 units. The details of the Agreements regarding nuclear deployments in NATO countries are classified. The bombs are managed through a Weapons Storage Security System, that was established during the Cold War and planned to store the nuclear warheads, together with conventional arms, in underground vaults equipped with time locks. These vaults have been built since 1987 under the hangars that lodge the airplanes able to carry those warheads. Completed in about ten years, each one of these vaults can hold 4 warheads. In some bases, their care and maintenance are assigned to the so-called Munitions Support Squadrons (MUNSS), with up to 150 personnel each.

The full picture is the following:

1. Kleine Brogel Air Base (from now on, AB) in Belgium – where F-16s of the Belgian Air Force operate – has 11 vaults for a capacity of 44 warheads. It lodges 20, entrusted to the 701° MUNSS’ care.
2. Buchel AB in Germany – where German Tornados operate – has 11 vaults and 20 warheads, looked after by the 702° MUNSS.
3. Norvenich AB in Germany – with German Tornados – has 11 vaults but no warhead. Until 1995 there were 20, then relocated to Ramstein.
4. Ramstein AB in Germany – home to United States F-16s and German Tornados – has 55 vaults for a total capacity of 220 warheads. In 2005 there were 130, later we’ll try to explane what has probably happened in the following years.
5. Araxos AB in Greece – where A-7s of the Greek Air Force operate – has 6 vaults but no warhead. The 20 present until spring 2001 (when Greece unilaterally retreated from the “NATO Nuclear Strike Mission”) have been probably transferred to Ramstein in Germany.
6. Aviano AB in Italy – home to United States F-16s – owns 18 vaults and 50 nuclear warheads.
7. Ghedi Torre AB in Italy – where Italian Tornados operate – has 11 vaults and lodges 40 warheads, under the care and maintenance of the 704° MUNSS.
8. Volkel AB in Netherlands – home to F-16s of the Dutch Air Force – has 11 vaults and 20 warheads, left to the cares of the 703° MUNSS.
9. Akinci AB in Turkey – where Turkish F-16 operate – has 6 vaults, but no warhead.
10. Balikesir in Turkey – home to Turkish F-16s – has 6 vaults. The 20 nuclear warheads, present until 1995, have been relocated to the Incirlik base.
11. Incirlik AB in Turkey – where United States F-16s operate – has 25 vaults and 90 warheads.
12. to wind up with a flourish, Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, which is formally a RAF (Royal Air Force) base, is home only to United States F-15s. It owns 33 vaults and holds as much as 110 nuclear warheads: so this is very probably the place in Europe that lodges today the greatest number of United States nuclear weapons.

We must actually underline that in January 2007 the United States Air Force (USAF) has removed the Ramstein base from the list of the installations that receive periodic inspections of the nuclear weapons, probably as a result of the transfer to the United States of the existing warheads. If this is the case, the number of the warheads deployed in Europe can be reduced to 350, about the equivalent of the whole nuclear arsenal of France (but anyway still higher than the total of the Chinese warheads and than the sum of those held by the three countries – India, Israel and Pakistan – that haven’t signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

According to an anonymous official from the German Defence, quoted by the newspaper Der Spiegel, the United States have removed temporarily (and discreetly) the nuclear warheads from Ramstein beacuse of important works of restoration; the above-mentioned removal of the base from the list of the periodic inspections seems to mean that the decision has become definitive.

In spite of the apparent reduction, the NATO Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) has reasserted – in June 2007 – the importance of the deployment of US-nuclear weapons in Europe. Their purpose should be “to keep the peace and to avoid threats and every kind of war”, even though NATO doesn’t specify who is the enemy against whom these weapons should be used. It asserts instead that the nuclear warheads symbolize “an essential political and military link between the European and North American members of the Alliance”.

Have you taken the hint?

Italian version