CALIFORNIA ranks 12th (tie) in number of nuclear warheads deployed, a decline from 6th place in 1992 and 4th place in 1985. A single storage site now exists -- Naval Air Station North Island located in San Diego, with a notable support base at Travis AFB and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This is a significant change from three sites in the state in 1992 and five in 1985.
Closed nuclear storage sites include former SAC bomber bases Castle AFB in Atwater and Mather AFB in Sacramento; one of two main Army central nuclear weapons storage sites at Sierra Army Depot in Herlong, near the Nevada border; and the Naval Weapons Station Concord in the San Francisco Bay area. Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego is believed to be the only remaining nuclear storage depot supporting the Pacific Fleet (with closure of nuclear sites in Alaska, Concord, and Hawaii).
Half of the Navy's stock of 320 nuclear Tomahawk missiles and W80 warheads are presumed to be stationed at North Island. The Special Weapons Office (Code 505) of the Weapons Department is located in Building 743. The Office formerly stored B57 and B61 gravity bombs for aircraft carriers and Marine Corps aircraft and B57 nuclear depth bombs for Navy anti-submarine warfare. The bunkers are at the northwest tip of North Island, visible from Point Loma.
North Island claims to be the birthplace of naval aviation. The Navy's first aviator Lt. T.G. Ellyson was trained at North Island by Glenn Curtiss in 1911 and the first sea plane flight took place at North Island. Charles Lindberg started his famous journey to Paris from North Island in 1927. The air station grew rapidly during World war II as a major training, staging and deployment center for ships and squadrons.
From the early days of the nuclear age, North Island was central to the Navy's capability. A Nuclear Weapons Training Group, Pacific was established at the Air Station, an outgrowth of the early Special Weapons Unit Pacific (SWUPAC), which was established by the Chief of Naval Operations under Commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific, in June 1953. Personnel were drawn from Naval Special Weapons Units, then located at Sandia Base in Albuquerque. These small units provided technically trained teams temporarily to aircraft carriers which had nuclear weapons capability. By 1958 sufficient commands in the Pacific Fleet had developed nuclear weapons capabilities to necessitate assignment of teams as a permanent part of the ship's company. In June 1958 the Command was reorganized as the Nuclear Weapons Training Center, Pacific, with a mission to conduct training for Pacific Fleet units. The Center became the Nuclear Weapons Training Group, Pacific in September 1970.
During the 1980s the Command provided nuclear weapons orientation, employment planning, and technical training to over 8,500 personnel in 40 courses varying from one to 61 days. In addition to training, the Group conducted Navy Technical Proficiency Inspections and Nuclear Weapons Acceptance Inspections in support of the Pacific Fleet. Since the removal of nuclear weapons from ships and submarines, the mission has ceased, and the new Naval Weapons Inspection Center has taken over the nuclear role.
The Defense Department's Prime Nuclear Airlift Force (PNAF) mission is also flown out of California by the 60th Air Mobility Wing, Travis AFB, located at Fairfield, 40 miles northeast of San Francisco. Previously located at McGuire AFB in New Jersey and McChord AFB in Washington, the so-called "Bully Beef Express" PNAF units were transferred to California in 1994. The 60th Wing received excellent and outstanding ratings in its 1994 NSI and was awarded the USAF nuclear surety plaque "for distinguished performance." It also received 1995 and 1996 USAF Nuclear Surety Plaques for "outstanding achievements" and "contributions" to nuclear safety.
Given the nuclear certification of the 60th Wing, it is probable that Travis maintains the ability to store nuclear weapons for contingency purposes. The former nuclear weapons storage area (WSA) at Travis was initially constructed by the AEC between 1950 and 1953 as one of 13 original facilities built for storage, maintenance, and operational readiness of the nuclear stockpile. This storage area was originally separate from Travis AFB and known as Fairfield Air Force Station (AFS). The original nuclear storage complex included one storage building with vaults ("A" structure), a maintenance building ("C" structure), two other assembly/maintenance buildings, two types of warhead storage igloos, and a dry low-level radioactive waste disposal area.
The first weapons arrived in the summer of 1953 for B-36 bombers of the 5th Bombardment Wing, and after 1959, B-52s, supported by the 3096th Aviation Depot Squadron (ADS). In July 1968 the 5th BW went to Minot AFB, and in February 1970 the 3096th ADS went to Nellis AFB. For the last 15 plus years, Travis has only hosted aerial refueling and transport aircraft.
Of note, it is probable that nuclear weapons, devices, components and materials are present on occasion at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of two DOE nuclear weapon design laboratories.
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