MX Missile Decision

June 5, 1981

Report Outline
Politics and Passions
Impact on Arms Control
Alternative Weapon Policies
Special Focus

Politics and Passions

Expected Reagan Decision on Deployment

By the end of the summer, President Reagan is expected to decide whether and how to build what would be the deadliest and costliest weapon in the U.S. arsenal. Under plans inherited from the Carter administration, the United States would build 200 new land-based missiles — the “MX” for “missile experimental” — and deploy them on mobile launchers. The proposed MX complex could cover an area as big as Pennsylvania, and its cost is expected to be over $30 billion. Just half of the 200 missiles would be capable of killing 30 percent of the Soviet population, roughly 75 million people, and destroying 70 percent of Russian industry. The missile is designed mainly for precision strikes against military targets, however, and it is meant to enable the United States to fight a nuclear war without being defeated.

Those who believe that the United States has become militarily weak say that it is imperative for the Reagan administration to move ahead quickly on the MX. They say the United States must have the missile in place by the mid- to late-1980s if it is to avoid the possibility of having to choose between abject capitulation and nuclear annihilation. Critics of the MX, on the other hand, say the missile will threaten Russia unnecessarily, upset the balance of power and bring the world one big step closer to doomsday. Even among residents of the western United States, who ordinarily can be counted on to take a hard line on defense policy, proposed plans for deploying the MX have run into sharp opposition.

Under the plan selected by the Carter administration, which the Joint Chiefs of Staff still favor, the MX would be based in Utah and Nevada. Each missile, weighing about 190,000 pounds, would carry about 10 warheads, each with a probable yield of 335 kilotons of nuclear explosives. Giant trucks would shuttle the missiles around at random among 4,600 launch sites (23 sites per missile). The trucks would serve as launching platforms for the missiles, and the underground shelters would be little more than unusually elaborate garages. The idea of this basing plan would be to confuse the Russians about where the missiles were located.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Jul. 29, 2016  Modernizing the Nuclear Arsenal
Mar. 08, 2002  Weapons of Mass Destruction
Jan. 31, 1997  Chemical and Biological Weapons
Jun. 24, 1994  Nuclear Arms Cleanup
Jun. 05, 1992  Nuclear Proliferation
Jun. 29, 1990  Obstacles to Bio-Chemical Disarmament
Apr. 22, 1988  The Military Build-Down in the 1990s
May 24, 1987  Euromissile Negotiations
Jul. 11, 1986  Chemical Weapons
Apr. 27, 1984  Reagan's Defense Buildup
Jun. 04, 1982  Civil Defense
Jul. 17, 1981  Controlling Nuclear Proliferation
Jun. 05, 1981  MX Missile Decision
Aug. 15, 1980  The Neutron Bomb and European Defense
Sep. 07, 1979  Atomic Secrecy
Mar. 17, 1978  Nuclear Proliferation
May 27, 1977  Chemical-Biological Warfare
May 13, 1977  Politics of Strategic Arms Negotiations
Nov. 15, 1974  Nuclear Safeguards
Jul. 01, 1970  Nuclear Balance of Terror: 25 Years After Alamogordo
Jun. 18, 1969  Chemical–Biological Weaponry
Jun. 30, 1965  Atomic Proliferation
Mar. 21, 1962  Nuclear Testing Dilemmas
Aug. 16, 1961  Shelters and Survival
Oct. 12, 1959  Chemical-Biological Warfare
May 13, 1959  Nuclear Test Ban
Dec. 04, 1957  Scientific Cooperation and Atlantic Security
May 15, 1957  Changing Defense Concepts
Jul. 03, 1956  Civil Defense, 1956
Nov. 16, 1955  International Arms Deals
Oct. 04, 1954  Industrial Defense
Apr. 15, 1954  National Defense Strategy
Feb. 10, 1954  New Aproaches to Atomic Control
Oct. 10, 1953  Atomic Information
Apr. 11, 1952  Biological Warfare
Oct. 03, 1951  World Arms Race
Feb. 04, 1948  International Control of Atomic Energy
Dec. 06, 1946  International Inspection
Aug. 27, 1943  Gas Warfare
Jul. 24, 1937  The New Race in Armaments
May 05, 1932  Abolition of Aggressive Weapons
Defense Technology and Force Planning