NATO’s nuclear sharing program is in trouble. The United States has continuously maintained nuclear weapons in Europe since March 1954 (and NATO has agreed to this policy since December of that year). Since 1991, the only U.S. nuclear weapons in NATO’s arsenal have been B61 gravity bombs, designed for delivery to target by “dual-capable” fighter-bomber aircraft (DCA). These aircraft are rapidly reaching the end of their normal service lives, however, and are the only means by which NATO shares the threat of nuclear attack on potential opponents in times of crisis among several Allied nations.
This new report outlines the choices facing the NATO alliance. It examines examines how much longer current DCA airframes can reasonably be expected to serve before being replaced and the three options available to NATO in dealing with its aging DCA assets as well as the status of the DCA debate in each of four current DCA host nations. The report also identifies the problems with the F-35, at the moment the only potential replacement for current-generation DCA and the limitations to, and potential costs of, exploring further life extension programs for NATO’s current DCA. Finally, the report suggests a course of action for NATO to avoid the pitfalls noted above.