While President Donald Trump has suggested that the United States must expand its nuclear arsenal, many experts say U.S. nuclear forces are unrivaled and will remain so as they undergo a modernization program that could cost more than $1 trillion.
In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Trump said the United States has "fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity." He pledged to ensure that, "We're going to be at the top of the pack."
While Moscow currently deploys 200 more strategic nuclear warheads than the United States does, both countries are bound by the 2010 New START treaty to slash their deployed strategic warheads to no more than 1,550 each by February 2018, the lowest level in decades. The accord also limits their deployed land- and submarine-based missiles and nuclear-capable bombers.
However, nuclear weapons experts say, the 30-year modernization program, which maintains many existing weapons and their computers, communications, electronics, and other systems, is more important than having as many warheads as Russia has.
Trump "says we can't fall behind. Fall behind who and how?" said Stephen Schwartz, an independent nuclear weapons expert. "It is not clear to me, and it's not clear to many of my colleagues" what the president is talking about when he pledges to expand U.S. nuclear weapons capacity, Schwartz said.
Moreover, the U.S. advantage is based not on the numbers of warheads it can field compared to Russia , but on more advanced delivery systems.
Most of Moscow's nuclear force - now being modernized, as well - is comprised of land-based ICBMs whose locations it discloses to Washington under arms control accords, said Schwartz, former publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists leading journal.
The United States maintains an "invulnerable" fleet of nuclear-armed submarines beneath the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that are immune from detection, he said.
In contrast, Russia 's accident-prone missile submarines rarely conduct their "deterrence patrols" far from their docks.