Barrasso, Sen. Jon Kyl, and others have demanded additional funds for nuclear weapons laboratories to ensure that U.S. nuclear warheads, the actual bombs themselves, are fully functional and reliable. There has been considerable attention paid to the delivery systems, like the missiles, subs, and aircraft carrying the warheads. Propulsion systems on rocket boosters were swapped out recently, and a targeting system called REACT replaced 40-year-old hardware in the 1990s. The Pentagon plans to spend billions on refurbishment over the next several years.
The primary communication system used by the missileers is still dubbed "SACDIN," which stands for Strategic Air Command Defense Information Network. That name dates it to the early 1990s, because the Strategic Air Command no longer exists as an entity. There are different cultures at different launch sites; others call the system "SACCS," which is a more modern name. But as of April, 2010, floppy disks were still being used to reboot the system when it crashed.
(This unclassified Air Force instruction goes into plenty of detail about codes, authentication procedures and troubleshooting: procedures.pdf)
If even one missile in their squadron is deemed not to be mission-ready, it could undermine a significant range of targets, because targeters must then reprogram a missile to cover the targets, which, in turn, causes other missiles to be reprogrammed. If 50 missiles go down at once, war plans are compromised.
But administration officials reject this line of thinking.
"We're talking about one hour, and 50 missiles from one part of our triad. Even if we go down to START levels, we're talking about 1550 deployed weapons," a senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "And nothing in START prevents us from upgrading that part of the nuclear deterrent -- something DoD has already said they plan to do. If folks on the other side are saying it affects START, they're just playing politics with this."
It's true -- the treaty has zero impact on U.S. command and control systems. But it DOES reflect -- or has as a baseline -- the understanding that the U.S. nuclear fleet, from weapons to command and control systems, works.
The U.S. can upgrade them at will. Maybe it needs to ... now.