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U.S. STRATCOM Commander Haney Defends U.S. Nuclear Triad

Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, delivers remarks as guest speaker during a change of command ceremony for Commander, Submarine Forces aboard the attack submarine USS Newport News (SSN-750) on Sept. 11, 2015. US Navy Photo

Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, delivers remarks as guest speaker during a change of command ceremony for Commander, Submarine Forces aboard the attack submarine USS Newport News (SSN-750) on Sept. 11, 2015. US Navy Photo


Maintaining and modernizing the nation’s nuclear triad isn’t debatable even in times of tight budgets said the officer in charge of U.S. strategic forces on Friday

U.S. Strategic Command commander Adm. Cecil Haney, speaking Friday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank, added, “You can’t just be a one-trick pony” in a world with a resurgent Russia, a rising China, an unpredictable North Korea and Iran.

“There is a lot going on here,” he said looking at the international environment that also includes threats from terrorist organizations.

“The triad [long-range bombers, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear ballistic missile submarines] must have effective weapons,” he said.
“Recapitalization is a requirement” and recommended against eliminating any one leg — such as the new long-range strategic bomber as is being discussed on Capitol Hill.

Most of the nation’s existing delivery systems from aircraft to land- and sea-based missiles “will be extended beyond their expected life” and must start being replaced within the 2020 to 2025 timeframe. Haney said, it was “a testament to the ingenuity of our predecessors” in building these systems that they have worked so well for so long but their age “increasingly challenges our airmen, our sailors” and maintainers to keep them operable and ready.

“Our budget has a deterrent component of its own” in signaling potential adversaries American intentions. “The choice is between replacing those forces [including the replacement for the 30-year-old fleet of Ohio class ballistic missile submarines] or not having them at all.” He called the ballistic missile subs as “necessary to provide survivable deterrence.”

Retaining and modernizing the triad means as a warfighting command, “we are not limited to a single domain or axis” in deterring potential adversaries, defending the United States and reassuring allies.

In answer to a question, he pointed to Russia’s resumption of long-range flights of its strategic bomber force, its most recent military exercises as being “disturbing.”

Haney, in his address, also pointed to Russia’s destabilizing actions in Europe, the creation of a cyber command and its violations of the intermediate range ballistic missile treaty.

Haney said, “We want to keep from having a conflict;” but if one occurs, “keep it conventional” holding strategic forces on the sidelines. With those American strategic forces at the ready, “no adversary would think they would benefit from a failed [conventional] conflict” by threatening to use nuclear weapons.

As for China, which says it has a “no first use policy” of nuclear weapons, he noted its continued investment in military hardware to include building and testing ballistic missiles capable of carrying multiple warheads as a reason to remain vigilant.

While there is transparency in dealing with Russia through the Strategic Arms [limitation] Treaty process, “the lack of transparency [by China on its nuclear weapons and missile programs] can affect regional stability.”

North Korea’s claims on miniaturizing weapons to be carried on long-range missiles and testing of a thermonuclear bomb are “problematic” and heighten tensions in the North Pacific.

“We must remain vigilant of any shift” by Iran away from the accord it reached to suspend its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of a number of economic sanctions against it.

Coupled with modernizing the nation’s nuclear triad is “investing in the professionals” who operate and maintain it, Haney said. He described them as needing the skills of chess players to operate in multiple dimensions simultaneously.

Saying the command is partnering with 20 universities, he said a goal in this effort is inspiring “the next Henry Kissinger” to think through strategic issues.

  • Marjus

    Thank god at least one American is thinking clearly about the present and future threats this country faces. Even more thankful is that he occupies the most essential office for that purpose.

    The threat scenario from some of our near peers that has conventional going to limited, tactical nuclear to deescalate on even terms is unacceptable. It has to be made abundantly clear that nuclear warfare is not an option and demonstrated why not. Just in in case a Russia or China does not fully appreciate what the US nuclear force can physically do to their country in under 30 minutes, a reminder or two might be beneficial.

  • Curtis Conway

    The Nuclear TRIAD is the classic example of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Modernization is required across the board.

    Admiral Haney mentions “…..Russia’s resumption of long-range flights of its strategic bomber force, its most recent military exercises as being “disturbing.” However, there is no mention of the planned resumption of Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) submarine patrols by the Russians, and that same planned event by the Chinese for the first time. This should be having a direct effect on the naval construction budget by making sure our submarine force can meet the need and not fall below critical force levels. Our submarines will have to resume missions that have been curtailed for
    the most part due to the end of the Cold War. Well, there is a persistent and consistent heating going on in that arena. Not sure when that activity crosses the
    line of an “Arms Race”. However, how would one know if the threshold is crossed if one of the participants (China) is not transparent to the point of telling us what they are doing, and their activity is broad, deep, and persistent, and they have been consistent in making a significant and capable strategic arsenal. Remember, these folks are going to the moon and have, or are developing, the technology to do so.

    If any changes are made in the TRIAD these changes should be in the technologies used to accomplish the task in each arena of the TRIAD, not eliminating an element of that TRAID. As we have seen a polarization in society in the US, we also see polarization (or re-polarization) in international affairs, as we continue down the timeline with THIS US administration in power, for it thinks in an antithetical manner compared to that which constructed our current deterrent system, that system which has kept the peace for decades.

    I was encouraged to here this learned, experienced and responsible Commander of our Nuclear Forces state that “We are out of time”, for I believe that has been the mission of some in our government who do not believe in that deterrent, and seeking its demise through inaction. As stated by our STRACOM Commander, “…[paraphrased] this Nuclear Deterrent is absolute”, for an administration that does not believe in absolutes, this topic is prescient. These folks are our greatest enemy, for they are the enemy within. A resurgent resolve and dedication by our new administration & Congress in 2017 must rise to meet the challenge.

    The Deterrence performed by the Nuclear TRIAD is our national defense “Plan B” that we hope we never have to execute, and ALL our potential adversaries must clearly understand its capability, and US resolve to use it if required, as we hope that we never will. Plan for the worse, and hope for the best.

    • El_Sid

      The Nuclear TRIAD is the classic example of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
      That’s what the admirals said about battleships in 1939. They too were reassuringly expensive toys that made big bangs on the test range but which hadn’t been tested in a modern combat environment. They weren’t completely obsolete, they could handle some threats pretty well – but they were no longer the one-size-fits-all solution that they had been a generation before.
      So I get worried by the blind faith in some quarters about the triad. It suggests to me that people aren’t thinking hard enough. At the end of the day they are just another weapon system, with strengths and weaknesses, countermeasures and counter-countermeasures like anything else. And when the US is about to spend a lot of money updating the Reagan arsenal, it’s not a bad time to stop and think about what the mission is, who the enemy are, and what their capabilities are and will be.
      I’d guess the right answer is not to keep building battleships regardless of the threat. Maybe the existing triad is the right answer, I suspect a dyad might be more appropriate in the current environment, perhaps a different triad, a monad or even a tetrad is the answer.
      I do know that blind faith in doing things the same way as 50 years ago is probably not the right way to approach things. Deterrence is the important thing, not how it is achieved.

      • Curtis Conway

        You know, El Sid, I own your movie, but we no longer live in those times. Once the big fire crackers were lit off over two Japanese cities the world and warfare, on an international scale, changed for ever. A world war would most likely go nuclear because that is the only way to win in the minds of those who would use that weapon and start down that path. Of course we all know that once that decision is made . . . we all lose on the entire planet. The cornerstone of US Foreign Policy and National Defense has been our Nuclear Deterrent. Our TRIAD cannot be out maneuvered, or out matched . . . as long as it is maintained and remains effective. That is the bottom line!

        If we build battleships they will be used in conventional conflict, unless we modify our current nuclear employment policy. The primary reasons we parked them (the four we had) was they are manpower intensive, and they are full of old technology. It is interesting to note that every Battleship Commanding Officer knew that you would have difficulty taking out his platform without using a nuclear weapon. One notable CO often said out loud that if he were attacked by ASCMs . . . he would call “Sweepers” after all the dust settled.

        In my humble opinion all of the ‘Dyad’ proponents are looking to create a less expensive nuclear deterrent, at the expense of our current perfect chess game of TRIAD Nuclear Deterrence. Your runimations above indicate that you understand the risk calculations, yet propose to make it easier for those who seek our demise. You would have the equation for the enemy made much easier, and perhaps game-able. This is sheer madness in the face of a perfect system that has worked so long. It is the lack of responsibility on the part of our legislators for not financing, and our defense mechanism’s for not being more vocal about, upgrading our Nuclear Deterrent, and being more vigilant with its maintenance. if we do nothing else, we cannot neglect this task.

        • El_Sid

          every Battleship Commanding Officer knew that you would have difficulty taking out his platform without using a nuclear weapon. One notable CO often said out loud that if he were attacked by ASCMs . . . he would call “Sweepers” after all the dust settled.

          That kind of blind faith in the weapon is exactly the problem. I’m sure the CO of the Roma or Bismarck were calling “Sweepers” all the way to the bottom – it only took one old biplane to put a torpedo in the rudder and a battleship with heavier belt armour than the Iowas became a sitting duck.

          I’m just using battleships as one example of people being slow to recognise that the nature of arms races is that change is constant – the same could be said of heavy cavalry, or chariots, or whatever. In their time they were the “perfect chess game”.

          all of the ‘Dyad’ proponents are looking to create a less expensive nuclear deterrent,
          Regardless of the budget, you want the most effective armed forces you can get for that budget. Even if the budget was doubled, I’d still be asking the question – what’s the best solution for now, rather than the 1980s? The trouble with your Maginot-like defence of the status quo is that it stops people asking questions. Like should the land leg be mobile rather than in silos, given that we now live in a world where even a kid in a hut in Africa can bring up satellite imagery of the silos on his phone? Should there be SSB’s with super-sized AIP that gives a 6-month endurance? Should the air leg go for quality or quantity – penetrating stealth bombers with hypersonic weapons, or just load up a bunch of C-5’s with hundreds if not thousands of cheap TLAM-N equivalents and just overwhelm defences with numbers. Saying the status quo is a perfect chess game stops these questions even being asked. But once you’re asking these questions you then look for bigger gains by asking bigger questions, like trading off one leg against another. At present there’s 450 Minutemen, 1,152 Trident warheads and 300 air-launched weapons. Is that the right proportion? Would it be more effective _in the current environment_ to have 900 Minutemen and lose four Ohios, or retire Minuteman and have 900 air-launched weapons? Or retire the B-52 and smother the silo fields with THAAD and upgrades thereof? Or a grand cyber project to DDOS China’s fire-control networks? You don’t know until you ask the question. Some of them will be stupid questions, but they still need to be asked.

          • Curtis Conway

            Point taken on the Battleships. I think some submariners would like to get in on that discussion too.

            Every element has its own operational environment, employment capability, and hardening / defense against current threats. Yes, we should be constantly asking the question of “if it is still survivable against the worse case scenario”, and today . . . it is, otherwise Adm Haney would have given a different speech. Short of the Martians attacking, I think we got it covered. Should the Martians attack . . . well that’s a different story, other technologies must be taken into consideration. The United States has sat on its laurels for too many decades with respect to the technologies used in our Nuclear Arsenal. However, with the current lack of respect and adherence to the fundamental safeties built there in (Fail Safe, Two Man Rule, ect.) I have little faith in what industry will cook up next. So, until Force Fields that will stop bullets and radiation are invented, I am content with the proven, tried and true, technology we have. We do not live in a Star Trek Universe . . . yet. Goodness, we can’t even ‘single stage to orbit’ in the light of day . . . today. That must change.

      • Curtis Conway

        After re-reading this comment of yours, I offer the following:
        The fallacy of your original observation is to cast as equal ‘nuclear weapons’ and ‘conventional weapons’. Since the Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki there has not been a single use of a nuclear device employed in anger against a belligerent. However, the conventional arms race has continued for decades, through multiple interactions, by all sides. The Bomb did not make conventional war obsolete. In fact it has proven Carl von Clausewitz axiom that “War is the continuation of politics by other means”. Conventional war is one thing. War using Kilotons and Megatons is something else entirely. CRIMSON TIDE illustrates, and that kind of conflict effects the entire planet. Monkeying around with our current Nuclear Deterrent Model is to gamble with a successfully working hypothesis that has proven itself into a theorem, and if you guess wrong with this ‘rethinking’ . . . it will open Pandora’s Box . . . then it’s too late for the planet. So go hypothesize all you want, while we live with a working theorem.

        • El_Sid

          The fallacy of your argument is to cast nukes as different to other weapons. Soon enough there will be counters to existing delivery systems – better radars, better missiles, better ASW systems. By the time the Ohio replacements are in service, China will have something at least as good as THAAD, and will be working on anti-ICBM systems, and will have air defence networks that can pick up B-2’s at a reasonable range. The main thing they need is better computers and better software – and betting against Moore is usually a bad choice.
          The reason nukes seem “special” is because for 70 years there’s been no counter to a long-range ballistic missile – but that will change, because it always does. Just because they’ve not been used recently just means that they’re another kind of fleet-in-being, that deters through their mere existence in the same way the RN didn’t fight a major action between Trafalgar and Jutland. But in the end counters were found to that fleet-in-being, it didn’t change quickly enough despite Fisher’s best efforts. No doubt you would have told 1SL not to “monkey around” with steam ships, because sail had worked at Trafalgar and deterred the French for most of the early 19th century. Sail was a working theorem.
          You imply that “a triad” is the “theorem” that is “working”. But surely the theorem that works is merely “the possession of nuclear weapons with some kind of effective delivery system”? The UK and many others have a monad, France has a dyad – has their deterrent failed? From outside the US, there looks nothing special about a triad. It’s nice to have, but is it materially better at deterring?

          • Curtis Conway

            The Nuclear TRIAD provides different TYPES of delivery systems that require a different defense. Point taken on ICBM defense. However, cruise missiles are still an option and we can make them better and stealthier than anyone. Russian has decided that previous treaties mean nothing. We may have to cook something new up in the lab as we formally change the rules by necessity.

            To compare the UK, French, and others Nuclear Deterrent methods to ours is a non-starter, because their systems piggy back, and complement, ours by treaty. Do not mistake me for one of those who lives in the past. I am well aware of current capabilities and development efforts, and this is a huge equation with many variables.

            Our Nuclear Deterrent Working Theorem is much more than mere existence and possession of weapons therein. Modernization of warheads, that is required, can facilitate employment on current, and new packages, and delivery methods. Maintaining the TRIAD increases probability of success, and expanding delivery methods can enhance that capability. A multi-pronged attack from Land-Sea-Air is a program for success, and hugely complicates, more importantly increases the cost of, defense against such systems. New delivery methods from each realm will maintain/increase that probability of success, if one can call delivering nuclear weapons a success. Which brings us to the SPECIALNESS of nuclear weapons.

            Setting off a Weapon of Mass Destruction is not just using a huge amount of explosive capability, particularly if it is a Russian nuke. Weapons of Mass Destruction have received that title for a reason. The effects on the territory on which it is used will change the makeup of that area for more than . . . just a couple of years. There are potential planetary effects as well, which is why there is a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty against explosion “…in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water.”. So, if you don’t mind, I will continue to treat nuclear weapons with deference, and adhere to a different set of rules than I would if a MOAB was dropped from a B-2 on a target.

            I had a friend once who told me I had a talent for restating the obvious, to which I replied that it served a purpose. Particularly for those who had forgotten those pesky little details, if they ever knew them, and usually forgot them for a reason.

            Any element of the Nuclear TRIAD is not a ‘nice to have’ item. It is part of a plan that has worked, and will continue to work, IF we are vigilant in its maintenance and improvement. If you like the Monad idea, move to Great Britain. If you like the Dyad move to France. Americans have always done it better and we will hang with our TRIAD. Admiral Haney thinks so too.

            The use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction is not that same as the use of any conventional weapon in effect, aftermath, or consequences of its use.

  • John B. Morgen

    I agreed with Admiral Cecil D. Haney’s position, and Congress [should] support his position. The next new president [should] also support the admiral’s position.