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.