Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

Nuclear Security in Turkey

Aug. 04, 2016

By Nickolas Roth

In mid-July, as an attempted coup was taking place in Turkey, many in the United States wondered whether U.S. tactical nuclear weapons stored at the Turkish airbase, Incirlik, were adequately protected against theft. Congressional Research Service Nuclear Weapons Policy Specialist, Amy Woolf, recently published a short article describing some of the security systems surrounding those weapons. 

She identified that the 50 U.S. B61 nuclear bombs “are stored on racks in secure underground vaults, inside protective aircraft shelters. The shelters are within a heavily guarded security perimeter, with U.S. forces responsible for their security. Reports indicate that the security perimeter at Incirlik was upgraded in 2015, and includes double fencing, lighting, cameras, and intrusion detection devices. The bombs are reported to be 12 feet long and heavy. Even if someone gained access to the shelters and vaults, it would be difficult to move the bombs without proper equipment. The bombs are reportedly also equipped with Permissive Action Links (PALs), which prevent the arming and use of the weapons in the absence of an authorization code.

Most experts agree the bombs are generally secure from unauthorized use and that U.S. forces would likely thwart most attempts to access or damage the weapons. But experts note the base is not impenetrable, and the safety, storage, and use control features are designed to delay unauthorized intrusion, access, and use while security forces defeat the threat and restore control. Some have speculated that a determined actor, particularly one with inside assistance, might be able to access to the vaults and eventually disable the PALs and, possibly, employ a weapon. At the same time, others note that, even if this scenario were possible, the perpetrators would have to achieve this goal while U.S. and NATO forces employed all means necessary, including deadly force, to recover the weapon. In other words, while one can imagine a scenario in which the weapons might be at risk, the probability of such a scenario succeeding is extremely low.”

Additionally, Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of IISS–Americas, has noted, “The Turkish base commander [at Incirlik] used assets there to fuel the F-16s that bombed the parliament. In response, the government closed the airspace over Incirlik, cut off its electricity and arrested the commander. Turkey’s labour minister accused the US of complicity; conspiracy theories about US involvement have flourished. There is thus greater reason to worry about the safety of the weapons than was the case during previous coups d’état and putsch attempts in Turkey.”

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Nuclear Security in Turkey.” Nuclear Security Matters, August 4, 2016, https://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org/index.php/publication/nuclear-security-turkey.