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July 27, 2011—
The United States has not yet determined what its ultimate nuclear force mixture will be once it fully implements the provisions of the New START agreement with Russia, said Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of US Strategic Command, Tuesday during a speech in Washington, D.C.

"There is a balance here between keeping the force operational and reconfiguring the operational force," said Kehler during a National Defense University Foundation-sponsored event on Capitol Hill. "We are working on the plans, but we have not made the final decisions."

Under the terms of the treaty, the United States and Russia must each limit their strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads, 700 deployed launchers (i.e., ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers), and 800 deployed and non-deployed launchers within seven years of the agreement entering into force, which occurred on Feb. 5.

Kehler said the seven-year deadline may sound like a long time, "until you actually lay out all the things we would have to do to reconfigure the force to get the mixture that we want."

The Obama Administration already has decided to reduce the number of warheads on each Minuteman III ICBM to one, said Kehler. The plan is to remove any extra warheads from them "over a period of several years," working in conjunction with normal maintenance cycles, he said.

Officials still have to figure out a way to account for the "phantom" ICBM silos and bombers that are no longer in use, he said.

The United States announced in June that, as of Feb. 5, its strategic nuclear force consisted of 1,800 nuclear warheads on 882 deployed launchers, with a total of 1,124 deployed and non-deployed launchers.

The Administration's nuclear force structure, unveiled in May 2010, calls for the United States to maintain up to 60 deployable nuclear-capable bombers, up to 420 deployed Minuteman missiles, and no more than 240 deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

That's a total of up to 720, meaning that US officials still have to decide where they will shed 20 more deployed launchers to comply with the treaty by February 2018.