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The 16 Most Likely Russian Nuclear Targets in the US

Artist's representation of a nuclear blast at a distance

With increased tension around the world, it has been said that nuclear war is once again a possibility in the near future. The U.S. has several enemies abroad that have extreme nuclear capabilities, and Russia is the biggest of them.

If Russia were to attack the U.S. with its nuclear missiles, where would they strike first? This list will make an educated guess as to what some of those top targets would be, in order of most likely, top priority targets down to somewhat lower priority targets.

1. Malmstrom Air Force Base (Cascade County, Montana)

Great Falls Montana marked with red pushpin on the United States map

In any pre-emptive nuclear strike like the one Russia is threatening with their new Zircon hypersonic missiles that they claim can reach targets in only 5 minutes, the goal is to cripple the enemy’s ability to counterattack as much as possible. The most obvious target in this hypothetical situation would be the launch sites of the U.S. LGM-30g Minuteman III missile systems. These intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, represent a crucial component of the nation’s strategic defense forces. The use of these missiles is under the jurisdiction of the Air Force Global Strike Command.

These weapons are strategic in nature and are held in multiple hardened silos to help protect them against attack. These silos are all interconnected via an underground launch control system through the use of hardened cables. There are always launch crews, 24/7, 365 days a year, that are ready to launch said missiles at a moment’s notice.

For more, check out The 12 Safest US States From Nuclear Attacks.

If the underground command center could not carry orders given by the president and secretary of defense, then the responsibility of launching the missiles that can’t be controlled from the underground center goes to a special E-6B command and control center up in the air. This airplane is also staffed with capable combat crews also able to operate the missiles just as well.

The Minuteman II missiles themselves represent over half a century’s worth of advancement in targeting, survivability, accuracy, and other improvements. They also carry warheads with massive yields, with up to 350 kilotons each in up to 3 mark 12A reentry vehicles. That equals over a megatons worth of destructive energy. To put this in perspective, a 1-megaton bomb would destroy 80 square miles, but with multiple warheads, that destructive capability is multiplied several times more. In short, the missile farms in which these ICBMs are held are, without a doubt, the first thing on Russia’s mind when they choose targets.

The Malmstrom Air Force Base (named in Honor of World War II POW Colonel Einar Axel Malmstrom) in Montana is home to the 341st Missile Wing, which is in control of a large portion of the 400 Minuteman III missiles that are spread between it and 2 other Missile Wings. As such, it is most definitely on a list of Russia’s top 3 highest priority targets. Built in 1942 as Great Falls Army Air Base, this base has a population of 3,902.

2. F.E. Warren Air Force Base (Cheyenne, Wyoming)

Another one of the three strategic-missile bases in the U.S., the Francis E. Warren Air Force base, is yet another top priority target in a Russian nuclear strike. Built in 1867 as Fort Russel, this base covers 630 acres. It currently houses the 90th Missile Wing.

Related The 11 Least Safe US States From Nuclear Attack.

3. Minot Air Force Base (Minot, North Dakota)

Built in 1956-1957, the Minot Air Force base is home to the 91st Missile Wing and approximately 5,550 active-duty military members. It also houses the 5th Bomb Wing and is one of two B-52H Stratofortress bomber bases in the whole Air Force.

4. The Pentagon (Arlington, Virginia)

US Pentagon in Washington DC building looking down aerial view from above

The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense and the largest office building in the entire world. The U.S. Department of Defense is the largest employer in the world at 2,87+ million employees and includes the U.S. Departments of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Space Force. The Pentagon employs some 23,000 employees, including 23,000 military and civilian personnel and 3,000 non-defense support personnel.

The Pentagon is important both as a strategic (it is a command/control target, which makes it a very high priority for foreign attackers) and a symbolic target, as its mere existence is a testament to the might and scope of the U.S. Defense Department. In fact, it is so commonly acknowledged as a prime target for foreign nuclear strikes that the plaza is nicknamed “ground zero”. Considering that Russian state media has also named the Pentagon as one of 5 targets they would attempt to nuke first, it is safe to say that it belongs pretty high on this list.

5. Jim Creek Naval Radio Station (Oso, Washington)

The Jim Creek Naval Radio Station in Washington (constructed in 1953) is one of the most powerful radio stations in the world. It takes up nearly 5,000 acres of land and is capable of providing more than one million watts of power. This station represents a hugely critical portion of the U.S. command and control capability, as it can transmit messages to every naval operating unit in the entire world. In fact, it is so important that only 21 specially trained federal personnel are allowed on base, with very few exceptions.

Six towers over 200 feet tall are connected by antenna cables, forming a massive dish. At the center of these cables, they are energized by even more towers powered by a line from the Bonneville Dam, although there is also backup power in case this line somehow fails to provide the needed electricity to send low-frequency signals.

This station is so powerful that it can send signals to the bottom of the ocean to submarines, and that is precisely why it likely ranks very high on Russia’s list of U.S. nuclear targets. Nuclear submarines represent a critical component of the U.S.’s land, sea, and air nuclear triad, and were Russia to attack, the hope for them would be that the U.S. would be unable to communicate with these nuclear submarines.

Related The 16 Safest US Cities From Nuclear Attack.

6. VLF Transmitter Lualualei (Lualualei, Hawaii)

In an almost identical fashion to the Jim Creek Naval Radio station, the Laualualei VLF transmitter gives orders to submerged submarines. As such, it is an equally critical part of America’s nuclear defense infrastructure. The towers used to create the antenna array are 1503 ft tall.

7. VLF Transmitter Cutler (Cutler, Maine)

This VLF transmitter is also one of the most powerful radio transmitters in the world and was built in 1960. It has a transmission power of 2 megawatts and is constructed out of two different umbrella antenna arrays that are shaped like snowflakes. Since Maine gets so cold in the winter, the arrays are both equipped with de-icing systems to make sure at least one of the two transmitters can be online while the other de-ices in order to prevent damage to the equipment.

8. Strategic Command, Offutt Air Force Base (Omaha, Nebraska)

Closeup of Omaha, Nebraska on a road map of the United States

United States Strategic Command, or USSTRATCOM, is headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. This unified combatant command, one of only eleven in the United States Department of Defense, oversees strategic nuclear deterrence, global strike capabilities, and the U.S.’s vast Global Information Grid. In short, it is responsible for integrated missile defense systems in the U.S. and keeps the U.S.’s vast computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems all working together in harmony.

This unified command (it coordinates forces from all the different branches of the United States military in order to maintain their mission objectives) is hugely important, and as such, Offut Air Force Base is one of the most important command and control centers in the continental United States. Were Russia to attempt a pre-emptive strike, it is nearly certain that this Air Force Base would be one of their primary targets.

9. NORAD, Peterson Space Force Base (Colorado Springs, Colorado)

NORAD or the North American Aerospace Defense Command, is in charge of coordinating the U.S. and Canada’s efforts to maintain aerospace control/superiority over the North American Continent. In other words, it helps to provide warning of impending attacks and regularly carries out exercises to maintain air sovereignty and protection for the continental United States and for Canada. It just so happens that its headquarters are at the Peterson Space Force Base.

The Peterson Space Force Base also supports the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM, U.S. Space Command, Space Operations Command, and the 302nd Airlift Wing. U.S. Northern Command is in charge of protecting the national interests of the United States on our side of the world. If a foreign country were to attempt an invasion of the U.S., this is the unified combatant command that would be in charge of coordinating the defense of our homeland. This base primarily houses the 21st Space Wing, which is now part of Space Base Delta 1.

Due to the number of organizations either headquartered or being supported out of Peterson Space Force Base, this base is one of several command and control targets that Russia would most definitely attempt to target in a nuclear strike, second in priority only to the U.S. nuclear missile farms listed first. 10. Camp David (Catoctin Mountain Park, Maryland)

Camp David is on this list primarily because it was listed as one of five targets that Russian media claimed that Russia would attack first in a nuclear strike. Camp David is primarily used as a retreat for the U.S. president. Established as USS Shangri La by President Franklin Roosevelt, the camp was renamed by President Eisenhower in honor of his grandson. Built in 1938, it has housed many foreign dignitaries. Considering that Camp David has little strategic value, it must be assumed that Camp David would be targeted primarily as a means of making a statement because of its connection to the U.S. President.

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11. Whiteman Air Force Base (Knob Noster, Missouri)

Whiteman Air Force Base is home to the 509th Bomb Wing, which is a part of the Air Force Global Strike command. This bomb wing has a whole fleet of B-2 Spirit bombers, which are capable of delivering nuclear payloads anywhere in the world at any time. This makes it a critical part of America’s nuclear triad, as these bombers could respond to any nuclear attack on American soil even if all of the stationery nuclear missiles were somehow put out of commission.

12. Barksdale AFB (Bossier Parish, Lousiana)

Barksdale Air Force Base is hugely important because it is the headquarters of the Air Force Global Strike Command, which is in command of the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile wings at Malmstrom, Minot, and Warren air force bases. It also happens to be in command of the Air Force’s bomber force, which includes B-52s, B1s, B2s, and many more support aircraft. The Air Force Global Strike Command works in conjunction with USSTRATCOM in order to maintain America’s defense against all foreign threats. Thus, Barksdale Air Force Base is one of the most important command and control centers in the continental United States.

The Air Base itself is home to the 2nd Bomb wing, which has three squadrons of B-52H Stratofortress bombers. It includes the 11th Bomb Squadron (a training squadron), the 96th Bomb Squadron, and the 20th Bomb Squadron. It just so happens that the 2nd Bomb Wing is the largest Bomb Wing under the command of the Air Force Global Strike Command. The air force base is thus staffed by over 8,500 Air Force Reserve members and civilians.

13. Naval Base Kitsap (Bremerton, Washington)

Decommissioned US Navy destroyer USS Turner Joy serves as museum while permanently docked in Bremerton Washington

Naval base Kitsap is the host command for all of the Navy’s fleet in the Pacific Northwest. It is the third largest such Navy installation in the United States. Most importantly, in the context of this list, it is the most complex and strategically important, as it manages and maintains a wide variety of submarines. In other words, it functions as a world-class submarine base and thus represents a chunk of the sea portion of the U.S. nuclear triad.

14. Kings Bay Naval Base (St Marys, Georgia)

Unlike Naval Base Kitsap, Kings Bay Naval Base has a sole purpose as the east coast base of the Ohio-class submarine force. Submarines, of course, are a huge part of both U.S. defensive and offensive nuclear capabilities.

Related Top 10 US Cities Most Likely To Be Targeted In A Nuclear War.

15. Kirtland Air Force Base Albuquerque (Albuquerque, New Mexico)

Kirtland Air force base is huge and happens to be the largest installation in the Air Force Global Strike Command, at over 51,000 acres. It is also a nuclear storage depot, making it a high-value nuclear target.

16. Hill Air Force Base (Utah)

Hill Air Force Base in Utah is also a nuclear storage depot, which makes it also a prime target for a Russian attack. The Minuteman III Systems Directorate is principally located at this base, meaning that much of the responsibility for maintaining the Minuteman III missile systems stationed at other air force bases is held by this base. Thus, it is an important part of the U.S. nuclear infrastructure.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that no one knows 100% for sure exactly which targets are at the top of their list, but we do have some intelligence on these matters.

To help visualize the safest and least safe areas of the US, I created this relief map. Read more about it in this article.

United States Nuclear Target and Safe Zone Relief Map
United States Nuclear Target and Safe Zone Relief Map.

I hope this article has been insightful. Thanks for reading!

Additionally, be sure to check out How Much Does a Survival Bunker Cost? Build vs. Buy.