Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Another Free Ride for Backfire Bomber?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Another Free Ride for Backfire Bomber?

Article excerpt

THE Backfire bomber is one of the major unresolved issues standing in the way of concluding a Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) treaty. Unfortunately, there is a danger that in our desire to tie up the loose ends of the nearly completed accord, the Soviets may get our policymakers to agree that there is no need to count Backfire along with the other Soviet heavy bombers in the treaty.

Moscow is once again trying to talk us into entering a side agreement on Backfire just as in SALT II. In this earlier agreement, however, failure to count Backfire was considered one of the fatal flaws which made the treaty unratifiable. While other shortcomings in START, such as the treatment of heavy missiles and verification, may be more egregious than the Backfire, it is an issue that is certain to be raised by the Senate during ratification. We should, therefore, take a good hard look at the Backfire.

1.The Backfire has the capability to strike the United States with nuclear weapons. It could do this in 1979, and its capability has only increased since then.

2.Since the mid-1970s, over 350 of these highly capable bombers have been deployed.

3.The Backfire is still being produced in much greater numbers than any other bomber in the world. The Backfires flying today are neither old nor obsolete.

The Soviets have been able to deflect attention from the fact that Backfire is an intercontinental bomber. They claim that Backfire has been assigned only theater and naval interdiction missions and therefore need not be counted as a heavy bomber.

We have no reason to doubt that Backfires are assigned these roles. However, they have been given much greater capabilities than are required for these nonstrategic missions. For example, the most nearly comparable US theater bomber, the F-111, is only one-half the size and has half the range of a Backfire. The reason for the Backfire's excess capability is obvious: The Backfire is a backup strategic system.

There is no reason why Backfire should not be counted among the Soviets' heavy bombers in the agreed START aggregate of 1,600 strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (SNDVs). …

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