BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command; Frank Klotz, administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration; Robert Scher, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities; and Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, testified July 14 before the House Armed Services subcommittee on Strategic Forces about the importance of the nation’s nuclear triad and the growing need to modernize it.
“The nuclear deterrent is the foundational capability to the U.S. national security,” Klotz said. “Although it has been decades since the end of the Cold War, our nuclear enterprise continues to play an essential role in preventing conflict, and deterring attacks upon the United States, our armed forces, and our allies and friends in an increasingly complex and unpredictable international environment. We must therefore maintain nuclear deterrent capabilities not only for ourselves, but also for our allies and partners around the world.”
Scher said the President’s approach to reducing nuclear dangers has consistently included the two key pillars of working toward a world without nuclear weapons and maintaining effective deterrence along the way, “because we cannot responsibly count on achieving global disarmament before the U.S. arsenal ages into obsolescence.”
Currently, the military is working to modernize components of all three legs of the nuclear triad’s bomber, ICBM and submarine forces.
“Our capabilities as a whole have lasted well beyond their designed service life, and it is crucial that we modernize our strategic deterrence capabilities, which underpin our national and global security,” Haney said. “At the end of the day we must ensure that no nuclear armed adversary could think that they can escalate their way out of a failed conflict. They must perceive that restraint is the best course of action.”
The subcommittee’s questions focused largely on the need to modernize the ICBM and air-launched cruise missile capabilities with the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent and Long-Range Stand-Off weapon, and the impact of delaying these efforts.
“When you look at weapons systems, there are two issues I’m concerned with: reliability, and survivability,” Rand said.
Rand noted that the Minuteman III is coming up on its 50th year, and a replacement would create not only efficiencies in manpower and command and control.
“Our current systems today are … getting old,” he said. “There will be some costs associated with [modernization], but over the lifespan of the program we will make a lot of efficiencies,” he said.
The AFGSC commander described similar reliability and survivability challenges for the ALCM in explaining the need for a replacement.
“The air-launched cruise missile is aged out. It’s a 10-year missile that is in its 30th year,” he added. “It’s having difficulties maintaining its reliability, but more importantly, the missile will not be survivable in the ever-increasing anti-access, area denial environment, so if we want that weapon to have a high probability of hitting its intended target, we need a new missile.”
Scher echoed the sentiment that there is a substantial risk to national security if the U.S. fails to modernize its nuclear forces.
“If we do not modernize these forces, we will not have these forces available for use or operation. This is not a question of modernizing or keeping old forces, this is a question of watching them slowly age out,” he said. “We would prefer to make decisions if we are to draw down our forces … as part of policy, not of aging out of old equipment.”
Haney told the committee modernization is absolutely key to maintaining an effective nuclear deterrent.
“The real key to deterrence is the perception of your adversary. Your adversary has to understand that you have not just a safe, secure and effective, but a ready and reliable and credible capability,” he said. “Anything that detracts from that perception will cause that adversary to think that they may be able to do something. And we cannot afford that in terms of nuclear weapons given the existential threat that they would impose upon our way of life and our country.”
According to Scher, in terms of affordability, nuclear modernization is all about prioritization.
“We in the Department of Defense feel that this is such a critical mission that we must prioritize it at the top, and in fact, we will look to take risk elsewhere because it is so important that fundamentally we have nuclear deterrence covered appropriately,” he said. “We believe, and the administration has determined, that the triad is the best way of doing that …Your priorities are affordable if they’re your top priorities.”