Nuclear Information: US nuclear weapons in Europe
The United States is currently the only country to store nuclear weapons on the territory of other nations. There are currently nuclear weapons stored in the following countries in Europe.
The more recent report U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe by Hans M. Kristensen of the Natural Resources Defence Council, uses a range of sources to create a catalogue of American nuclear weapons that are currently deployed in Europe through NATO.
There are 480 such weapons, 20 of which are housed at Kleine Brogel, the weapons base in the north-east of Belgium.
The original and only remaining US nuclear storage site in Belgium, having been joined briefly by Florennes Air Base in the 1980's during the short-lived deployment of the Ground-launched Cruise Missile (GLCM).
Today, Kleine Brogel is a 1100 acre Belgian Air Force main operating base located near the city of Meeuen in the northeast part of the country. It is host to the 10th Tactical Fighter Bomber Wing (10 W TAC) (Wing Tactique) flying F-16aircraft. The Wing is home to four squadrons(Smaldelen) of F-16s, including the two nuclear-certified units, 23 "Devil" and 31 "Tiger" Smaldelen.
Kleine Brogel became an operational air base in 1953 and the 10th Wing was established, consisting of three fighter squadrons "the 23rd, 27th, and 31st (the 27th squadron was disbanded in1960)"equipped with F-84 Thunderjets. In 1964, the first F-104 Starfighters were delivered and in1981, the 23rd Squadron was the first non-U.S. unit to convert to the F-16. Since April 1984, both squadrons have been fully operational with the F-16 in the nuclear strike role.
In 1962, the first USAF custodial unit "Detachment 0600" was activated at Kleine Brogel to support the 10th Wing. Detachment 0600 came under the 306th Munitions Maintenance Squadron and was the first American military unit to be assigned to Belgium with a combat mission since the end of World War II. That mission was to receive, store, and maintain nuclear weapons, and to provide custody and control of nuclear weapons until receipt of U.S. authority to release them. InJuly 1964, Det 0600 came under the 7332nd Munitions Maintenance Group and became Det 1 under the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing (Bitburg AB, Germany) in 1967. On April 1, 1972, Det 1 was designated the 7361st Munitions Support Squadron (MUNSS). The Squadron was transferred to the 52ndTactical Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem, Germany in July 1976. In October 1992, the 32nd Fighter Group at Soesterberg AB in the Netherlands took command as the support base for Kleine Brogel. A year later, in October 1993, support reverted back to the 52nd at Spangdahlem. In July 1993, the7361st was redesignated the 601st MUNSS, to be further designated the 617th MUNSS in July 1994.In July 1996, the 52d Munitions Support Squadron was activated, reflecting direct subordination to the U.S. 52nd Wing under the post-Cold War nuclear weapons regional basing scheme.
The 52nd MUNSS is made up of about 110 members and cares for the nuclear warheads stored in the Weapons Storage and Security System (WS3) vaults located within Hardened Aircraft Shelters on the base. The WS3 vaults at Kleine Brogel reached initial operational capability on April 3, 1993 and eleven vaults are operational today. The MUNSS and the 10th Wing received excellent and outstanding ratings in their 1995 Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI). Geographically separated units of the 52nd Wing again underwent Quality Air Force Assessments (QAFA) and nuclear surety inspections on April 7-11, 1997.
Nuclear weapons are stored at two locations in Germany (Büchel and Ramstein), a marked contrast with an estimated 75 distinct nuclear storage facilities in the mid-1980's. But with the withdrawal of Army nuclear weapons, the closure of numerous Air Force main operating bases, and consolidation of nuclear custodial units (with the closure of U.S. sites at Lechfeld, Memmingen, and Norvenich), only two sites are left.
Ramstein Air Base, located seven miles west of Kaiserslautern, is the main nuclear storage site in Germany, despite the fact that it no longer hosts a U.S. tactical fighter unit. It began as an occupation base of French authorities in April 1951. The first U.S. unit, Detachment 1 of the 86th Fighter Bomber Wing (FBW) arrived from Neubiberg AB in February 1952. On August 5, 1952, USAFE took control of the base, with the south side named Landstuhl and the north side, which included HQ Twelfth Air Force, named Ramstein, the two sides separated by an autobahn. The bases were consolidated as Ramstein-Landstuhl on December 1, 1957, into the largest NATO controlled air base on the continent, and the name was shortened to Ramstein on August 15, 1958.
The initial U.S. host squadron at Ramstein was the 7030th Air Base Group (ABG), activated August 5, 1952. The 86th FBW was fully active on the base on January 1, 1953 and was redesignated a Fighter Interceptor Wing (FIW) in August 1954. On November 10, 1957 HQ Twelfth Air Force was replaced by an advanced echelon of HQ USAFE, which was in turn replaced by HQ Seventeenth Air Force on November 15, 1959. Also on November 10, 1957 HQ 4ATAF (a NATO command) moved to Ramstein from Trier.
Over the years, the 86th Wing underwent numerous redesignations with changes in aircraft deployments. It was elevated to the 86th Air Division (AD) on November 18, 1960 and the 7030th ABG was elevated to a Wing on July 15, 1962. On October 5, 1966 the 26th TRW was also assigned to Ramstein from France, absorbing both the 7030th and the 86th and becoming host unit, until the 86th was again reactivated November 14, 1969 as the 86th TFW at Zweibrucken AB. On January 31, 1973, the two units exchanged designations with the 26th TRW moving to Zweibrucken and the 86th again becoming the host unit at Ramstein.
HQ Seventeenth Air Force also moved to Sembach AB in October 1972 to make room for a move of HQ USAFE from barracks in the town of Weisbaden to a new headquarters complex completed in March 1973. Headquarters Allied Air Force Central Europe (AAFCE) (NATO) was also established at Ramstein on June 28, 1974 with HQ 4ATAF eventually moving to colocate with HQ CENTAG at Heidelberg in August 1980.
The 86th Wing flew nuclear-certified F-4 Phantom aircraft starting in 1969, to be replaced by F-16's in 1986. Nuclear weapons were stored at a central Weapons Storage Area (WSA) and a pair of aircraft were maintained on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) with nuclear bombs loaded. Weapons Storage and Security System (WS3) vaults reached initial operating capability on January 24, 1992. A total of 54 vaults are operational in Hardened Aircraft Shelters at Ramstein, the most of any base in Europe.
On October 1, 1994, the 86th TFW was redesgnated the 86th Airlift Wing, and the F-16 aircraft were relocated to Aviano AB in Italy. The 86th Airlift Wing is nuclear certified, though not in relation to its primary mission, which is operating and maintaining C-130, C-9, C-20, and C-21 transport aircraft. The certification is to maintain nuclear capability for aircraft that would deploy from the U.S. A wing officer was recipient of the 1995 Lieutenant General Leo Marquez Award for Outstanding Munitions Maintenance, Ramstein being the Air Force's largest Weapons Storage and Security Systems account. That year, Ramstein passed a combined DNA/USAFE Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI). The 86th Security Police Squadron received an excellent/outstanding rating in its NSI. On May 12, 1997, USAFE undertook another Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI) at Ramstein. From August 11-26, 1997, the 86th Wing also received a Quality Air Force Assessment (QAFA) and functional inspection.
Büchel Air Base, a Luftwaffe main operating base host to the 33rd Fighter Bomber Wing flying Tornado strike aircraft, is located near the city of Cochem, about 35 miles from Spangdahlem. Nuclear weapons for use by the 33rd Wing are under the control of the 817th MUNSS, a unit of the 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing. The 817th was formerly the 603rd MUNSS (its name was changed in 1995) and before that the 7501st MUNSS.
The 817th MUNSS is the largest of the Air Force's MUNSS, with about 135 members assigned. It is now the sole custodial base for nuclear weapons held on behalf of the Luftwaffe, becoming a regional center with the 1994 closure of permanent nuclear sites at Memmingen (605th MUNSS) and Norvenich (604th MUNSS) ABs. Büchel was also the first location to receive the USAFE's Weapons Storage and Security System (WS3) vaults, which achieved their initial operational capability on August 9, 1990. Eleven are operational at Büchel, and eleven remain at Memmingen and at Norvenich for dispersal of nuclear-capable aircraft in a crisis or wartime.
The 817th MUNSS was awarded the USAF Nuclear Surety Plaque in 1994 "for distinguished performance" and "for demonstrating outstanding capability to support a nuclear airlift mission," presumably the consolidation of nuclear weapons from outlying closed sites in Europe. It again received excellent and outstanding ratings during the 1995 Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI), and an officer of the squadron received the Air Force Lance P. Sijan Leadership award for the effort to transform Büchel into the regional center for nuclear operations.
There are no longer NATO nuclear weapons in Greece.
Until 16th January 2001 there were approximately 10 NATO "B-61" nuclear weapons stationed at Araxos military base in Greece. The authorities had always refused to comment on the presence or absence of these bombs, throughout the time that they were based there.
Around 16th January, there was much media speculation about strange movements at the base. Reliable sources have since confirmed that all the nuclear weapons stored there have been removed. They were transported to Aviano, Italy, although the final destination is unknown.
This decision came at a time of massive popular opposition within Greece to NATO, particularly following intervention in Kosov@. Nikos Charalambides, Campaign Director for Greenpeace Greece said "Although the relevant authorities, once more, denied to comment, they leaked to the press their relief. Everybody is happy in the country, after so many demonstrations, press releases, discussions."
Similar nuclear weapons remain stationed at NATO air bases around Europe, at Kleine Brogel (Belgium), Lakenheath (England), Volkel (Nederlands), Büchel, Ramstein (Germany), Aviano, Ghedi-Torre (Italy) and Inçirlik (Turkey).
The Taking Stock report, published in 1997, said the following about Araxos...
Greece was once host to a variety of Army nuclear weapons, including artillery, Honest John short-range rockets, and Nike Hercules surface-to-air missiles. These weapons were withdrawn or retired, and today, there is a single nuclear storage site in the country, located on the Greek Air Force base at Araxos.
Araxos Air Base, located on the Ionian Sea coast, approximately 20 miles west of Patras (Greek's third largest city), is a main base of the Hellenic Air Force (Elliniki Aeroporia), hosting ex-U.S. Navy A-7E nuclear certified aircraft. Araxos is host to the 116th Combat Wing (Pterix), made up of the 335th "Olympus" and 336th "Tigreis" squadrons (Mira). The base is split between two facilities, the so-called Diasporo and the Aerodrome. The Diasporo is located about six miles from Kato Achaia near the town of Kalamaki and contains administrative and support facilities. The Aerodrome is located another five miles west of the Diasporo near Araxos and contains the nuclear facilities.
The USAF mission was first established at Araxos on July 14, 1962. It followed from a Top Secret agreement between the United States and Greece (codenamed "Sheepskin") concluded at the end of 1959 that allowed the deployment of nuclear weapons in the country. The two initial sites were at Elevsis for U.S. Army nuclear weapons kept in custody for Greek ground forces, and Araxos for Air Force weapons.
On April 1, 1972, the 7061st MUNSS was activated as a custodial unit at Araxos. As a result of numerous post Cold War reorganizations, the 7061st MUNSS was redesignated as the 761st MUNSS effective June 1, 1993, the 716st MUNSS effective July 1, 1994, and finally the 731st MUNSS effective July 19, 1996. The 31 designation reflects subordination to the parent headquarters, the 31st Fighter Wing, located at Aviano AB, Italy. Six WS3 vaults are operational at Araxos.
The 731st is composed of approximately 130 personnel providing administrative, personnel, finance, communications, supply, transportation, security, munitions maintenance, and command and control support. The squadron received excellent and outstanding ratings during its Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI) in December 1995.
Please note, there are no longer NATO nuclear weapons in Greece.
Nuclear weapons are stored at two locations in Italy: Aviano AB, a U.S. facility in the north, and Ghedi-Torre Air Base, an Italian air force base on the Adriatic coast. This is a marked change from 19 nuclear bases in Italy at the end of the Cold War, including U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy nuclear weapons, the only European country to host all three services nuclear weapons.
Aviano Air Base, located two miles north of downtown Aviano near Udine at the northern end of the Po Valley, was originally established in 1911 and served as an airfield for Italian aerial operations in the First World War. The base served as a Luftwaffe base from 1943-1945 and was occupied by allied forces on May 15, 1945 and later served as an RAF base. After the war Det 1 of HQ Seventeenth Air Force arrived at Udine in November 1954 and the base was activated for U.S. use in February 1955 under the 7207th Air Base Squadron (ABS), which began hosting rotational tactical fighter squadrons on December 13, 1955.
The 40th Tactical Group was activated at Aviano on April 1, 1966 to handle the rotational units from the United States on a permanent basis. With the closure of U.S. operations at Torrejon in Spain in 1992, the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing moved to Aviano, supplanting the 40th Tactical Group. The 401st was further redesignated the 31st Fighter Wing in April 1994. Two F-16 fighter squadrons moved to Aviano from Ramstein AB in Germany to permanently equip the Wing. Headquarters for the 16th Air Force, also at Aviano, is responsible for the southern region of NATO and the Mediterranean.
Nuclear weapons have been stored at Aviano since at least the late 1950's. They were initially stored at a secluded Weapons Storage Area (WSA), known as "Area D." Weapons Storage and Security System (WS3) vaults achieved initial operational capability on January 22, 1996 supplementing Area D. Eighteen are operational at Aviano. The 31st Fighter Wing was awarded excellent and outstanding ratings in its 1994 Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI.) It also received a USAF Nuclear Surety Plaque in 1994 "for demonstrating outstanding capability to support a nuclear airlift mission." The Wing underwent a two-week Functional Inspection/Quality Air Force Assessment in December 1995, including subordinate dispersed elements with nuclear responsibilities: 31st Munitions Support Squadron Supply Support Element and the 731st Munitions Support Squadron Custody Flight, both at Araxos AB, Greece. In May 1996, the Wing underwent a full NSI, earning six awards of excellence. In July 1997, the Air Force director of security forces conducted an inspection of Aviano and Ghedi-Torre AB.
Ghedi-Torre Air Base is a main operating base of the Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare Italiana), near Brescia. It is home to the 6th Wing (Stormo), made up of 102 and 154 squadrons (Gruppo) flying the Tornado strike aircraft. Ghedi-Torre is the sole custodial facility remaining in Italy, with the closure of the U.S. site at Rimini-Miramare. Eleven WS3 vaults are operational on base.
The first custodial unit was established at Ghedi in 1963 as Detachment 1200 of the 7232nd Munitions Maintenance Group. Over the years, the 7232nd was redesignated the 7402nd MUNSS (activated April 1, 1972), and then the 616th MUNSS. The current designation, 31st MUNSS represents the close relationship with the parent unit, the 31st Wing at Aviano. The squadron underwent its initial Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI) in June 1997.
Cold War nuclear deployments in Holland included artillery shells and Lance missile warheads (there were also nuclear weapons kept for Dutch forces in Germany). For a short time Woensdrecht air base hosted ground-launched cruise missiles. Today there is a single nuclear base remaining
Volkel Air Base is a main operating base of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (Koninklijke Luchtmacht), hosting the F-16A/Bs, equipping nuclear certified 311 and 312 Squadrons. Volkel is located two miles from the town of Uden and about 85 miles south-east of Amsterdam. It was originally established by the German occupation forces in 1941 and was virtually completely destroyed prior to its capture at the end of the war. In 1945, it became a training unit base for Dutch Marines prior to their assignment to Indonesia, before being turned over to the Royal Netherlands Air Force in 1950. In the early 1960's, the first U.S. nuclear custodial unit was established, providing support for the Dutch 1st Fighter Bomber Wing.
The U.S. custodial unit is the 752d MUNNS, subordinate to the 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem. The Squadron is made up of over 100 American personnel. Its predecessor unit, the 717th MUNSS was awarded the nuclear surety plaque in 1994 "for distinguished performance." Geographically separated units of the 52nd Wing also received Quality Air Force Assessments (QAFA) and nuclear inspections on April 7-11, 1997. The Weapons Storage and Security System (WS3) vaults reached initial operational capability at Volkel on September 13, 1991. Eleven are operational.
During the Cold War Turkey ranked behind Germany, the U.K and South Korea as the four largest nuclear repository overseas. At the height there were ten separate storage sites with some 500 warheads. Army nuclear weapons (artillery and Honest John warheads) were eventually retired and air bases were consolidated, leaving only Inçirlik Air Base today.
In December 1950, the U.S. and Turkish Air Forces began work on Inçirlik, the activity started under the innocuous name "The U.S. Engineering Group (TUSEG)." The name was later changed to The U.S. Logistics Group (TUSLOG), a euphemistic code which served to keep the military profile of U.S. nuclear weapons and intelligence operations in Turkey at a low level during the Cold War.
Inçirlik Air Base, located seven miles east of the city of Adana, on the northern Mediterranean coast, is the sole storage location for nuclear weapons in Turkey. The 7216th Air Base Squadron (TUSLOG Det 10) initially arrived at Inçirlik (then called Adana AB) to operate the base late in 1954, with the main contingent coming from Wheelus Air Field in Libya on February 20, 1955. From the beginning, the base's mission was nuclear support, particularly for rotational Strategic Air Command (SAC) B-47 medium-range bombers. The Squadron was upgraded to the 7216th Air Base Group (ABG) on May 1, 1958 and the name of the base changed to Inçirlik about this time. After use as a staging base for Lebanon operations in July 1958, Tactical Air Command (TAC) began keeping permanent rotational fighter squadrons at Inçirlik until May 1966, when USAFE assumed the mission. The 39th Tactical Group (TG) was activated on April 1, 1966, still publicly called TUSLOG Det 10.
Today, the 39th Wing is the host and nuclear custodian at Inçirlik. The 39th Logistics Group of the Wing previously was made up of the 39th Munitions Squadron, the 39th MUNSS at Balikesir; and the 739th MUNSS at Akinci. Nuclear weapons in support of the Turkish Air Force (Turk Hava Kuvvetleri) were stored at Balikesir, Erhac, and Murted/Akinci. On April 25, 1996, the last two custodial detachments (Balikesir and Akinci) were deactivated and the nuclear mission was consolidated at the U.S. main operating base in Inçirlik. Twenty-five WS3 vaults are operational at Inçirlik and six each are maintained at Akinci and Balikesir in stand-by status. When activated, the 39th Wing also is tasked to maintain a Supreme Allied Command Europe Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) force of nuclear laden aircraft.
The 39th Wing received the USAF Nuclear Surety Plaque for 1993 for "distinguished performance." The Wing again received a USAF Nuclear Surety Plaque in 1995 for "outstanding achievements" and "contributions" to nuclear security. The 39th Security Police Squadron received excellent and outstanding ratings during the inspections. The Wing is scheduled to receive its next inspection from August 17-25, 1998.
The U.K. hosted the first U.S. nuclear weapons overseas, an assortment of bombs for various types of bombers and aircraft. Britain has also uniquely been involved in the long term support of strategic nuclear forces hosting the largest overseas ballistic missile submarine base at Holy Loch. At the height of the Cold War the U.S. had twice as many warheads stored in Britain than were in the British arsenal. Tactical naval nuclear weapons stored in Britain were allocated for use by Dutch forces as well as British and American. Today the sole remaining base is at Lakenheath.
RAF Lakenheath, located 20 miles northeast of Cambridge, is two miles from the village of Lakenheath. Established by the RAF in November 1941 as a satellite base of RAF Mildenhall, it was closed for expansion from May 1944 to April 1947 and then allocated for U.S. use in July 1948. The 2d Bomb Group of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) arrived with B-29 bombers in August 1948. On January 16, 1951, when six B-36 bombers made their first deployment to Europe, Lakenheath was the host.
The initial U.S. unit at Lakenheath was the 7504th Base Completion Squadron assigned January 17, 1949. The Squadron was elevated to an Air Base Group (ABG) on January 28, 1950 and to a Wing (ABW) on September 26, 1950. When the base was formally transferred to SAC on April 28, 1951, it was placed under the 3909th ABG, which was activated May 16, 1951. The 3909th moved to RAF Greenham Common in 1954 and was replaced by the 3910th ABG, redesignated a Combat Support Group (CSG) on January 1, 1959 and inactivated January 1, 1960. SAC returned RAF Lakenheath to USAFE control on October 1, 1959 as part of Operation "Red Richard," and the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) arrived from Chaumont AB in France on January 15, 1960.
Lakenheath has always been the primary and most important tactical nuclear bombing base in Europe, hosting long-range F-111 fighter bomber aircraft through the early 1990's, and today, hosting the F-15E Strike Eagle. The Weapon Storage and Security System (WS3) vaults at Lakenheath reached initial operational capability on November 19, 1994. Thirty-three are operational.
The 48th Fighter Wing received two USAF nuclear surety plaques in 1994, one "for demonstrating outstanding capability to support a nuclear airlift mission" and the other "for distinguished performance." The Wing again received a USAF Nuclear Surety Plaque in 1995 for "outstanding achievements" and "contributions" to nuclear security. That year, an officer within the 48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron received the USAF Lt. General Leo Marquez Award for outstanding munitions maintenance. The citation stated that the officer "led the squadron and wing to an `Excellent' rating on their Joint Defense Nuclear Agency and Headquarters United States Air Forces in Europe Nuclear Surety Inspection and then initiated a cross-functional wing working group to address the wing's conversion to the Weapons Storage and Security System." In 1996, the Wing was again recognized when it won the Department of Defense Phoenix Award as the most exceptional maintenance unit in the DOD. The Wing is scheduled to receive its next functional inspection from May 4-12, 1998.
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