The COVID-19 outbreak has not spared the American military affecting two of its aircraft carriers, several foreign bases, and at least 6,754 servicemen.

The American military remains combat-ready and prepared to utilise its nuclear arsenal if the US ends up in a major armed conflict even despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak US Air Force Global Strike Commander Tim Ray has said in a statement.

"Rest assured, we have taken the necessary steps to make sure our bomber and ICBM forces are ready to go and can reach any target on the planet at any time. We are fully mission ready and COVID-19 will not change that. Our forces continue to maintain an extremely high level of readiness and responsiveness", Tim Ray said.

The Air Force statement clarifies that it began developing procedures to operate during the pandemic and keep its personnel healthy while the coronavirus was still confined within China's borders in January. The developed containment plans allowed the USAF to limit the spread of the virus allowing both its aircraft and missile force crews to remain operational.

To achieve that the Air Force had to adopt certain measures ensuring "certain degrees of isolation" to keep the teams separate while preserving the operability of its intercontinental missiles and nuclear-capable bombers.

"We get paid to do this mission under all conditions. Not just some, but all conditions. This is a terrible set of circumstances, but we have to be prepared to do this job under far worse circumstances", the US AFGW commander added.

However, despite all efforts to contain the disease, some 6,754 servicemen have been infected across the American military, according to 29 April data from the Department of Defence. The outbreak has affected several US foreign bases and two deployed aircraft carriers. The military has not always been able to detect the source of the COVID-19 infection with its origin on board of the USS Theodore Roosevelt still reportedly a mystery.

Former US Undersecretary Reveals White House’s Key Concerns Over New START Extension

In mid-April, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov suggested the US may soon decide not to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

The news website Axios has cited former US Department of Energy Undersecretary for Nuclear Security Frank Klotz as saying that the Trump administration has at least three paramount concerns related to extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

First and foremost, Washington is alarmed about the treaty not covering tactical nuclear weapons, according to Klotz.

Secondly, it doesn’t deal with the new nuclear delivery systems that Russia is allegedly now developing.

And last but not least, the New START fails to contain China which continues to expand its nuclear capabilities.

Axios reported in this context that the third point especially matters given the White House’s concerns that the possible extension of New START may hamper Washington's hopes of a trilateral deal involving China and Russia.

The speculation comes after Rose Gottemoeller, the lead US negotiator on the new arms reduction treaty, said on Wednesday that China has no intention and little push to join such a deal.

The statement followed Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, touting the New START as a document that provides “continuous stability in an increasingly uncertain world".

He also warned of the worst-case scenario, which Mullen claimed is an "arms race that none of us can afford”.

Russia Concerned Over US Unwillingness to Extend New START Treaty 

The remarks were preceded by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov suggesting last month that the US may soon decide not to extend the new nuclear arms reduction accord.

"We have recently released a statement by the Foreign Ministry on the tenth anniversary of the New START treaty. The US has completely ignored this date, which is not surprising. All the signs that the US is on the threshold of making a decision not to extend this document are there", Ryabkov said.

He spoke after the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow is expecting Washington to soon provide a "positive answer" to Russia's proposal to extend the New START.

Ryabkov was echoed by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who stressed that one should discuss the possible extension of the accord with Washington, since Moscow is not the party trying to break it.

In late December, US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Christopher Ford said that Washington hasn’t “made a decision [on the matter] one way or the other”.

“We are approaching that question in part through a prism of how and whether and to what degree the question of the New START extension can contribute to what we think is by far a more important objective, and this is to find a framework for arms control that is capable and will help nip in the bud the emerging three-way arms race in the nuclear arena”, he added.

The New START, which was inked by Russia and the US in 2010, stipulates a reduction in the number of strategic nuclear missiles launchers by one-half and limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550. The agreement is set to expire in February 2021, and the US has so far not announced plans to extend it.