Well aware that adversarial countries such as Russia and China are in the process of strengthening their military capabilities, the U.S. military is scrambling to keep up by “relying on zero-hour modernization” in an effort to “maintain its aging nuclear arsenal as an effective deterrent against adversaries,” according to The Washington Free Beacon on Thursday.
A week after his inauguration, it was reported that President Trump told Defense Secretary James Mattis to make sure the United States maintains a credible nuclear deterrent.
Testifying on Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that the U.S. faces a “significant risk” to its deterrent capabilities unless modernization and replacement of worn out components in its nuclear arsenal takes place immediately.
“These systems will not remain viable forever,” said Selva, emphasizing that time is of the utmost concern. “In fact, we are now at a point where we must concurrently recapitalize each component of our nuclear deterrent.”
The U.S. nuclear triad includes land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), strategic bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
General John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, warned that most of the platforms, weapons, and infrastructure that support the U.S. nuclear triad are many decades past their prime. Hyten noted that weapons such as the Air Force’s ground-based Minuteman III ICBM and B-52 bombers are already well past their intended lifespans.
“We have made several considered decisions over the last decade to defer some modernization of [the U.S. nuclear deterrent] force in order to address urgent needs while still maintaining a safe, reliable, and secure arsenal and delivery capability,” said Selva. “But in making those decisions, we have squeezed about all of the life we can out of the systems we currently possess … and so, that places an extra premium on a very deliberate long-term investment strategy to replace those systems as the existing systems age out of the inventory.”
In February, the Congressional Budget Office estimated a $400 billion price tag over the next decade to carry out the current nuclear modernization plan. Selva pointed out that this large number would actually only account for “less than 1 percent of the nation’s anticipated federal spending and approximately 6 percent of the defense budget.”
Plans are already in place for the current B-2 and B-52 bomber force to be modernized in November, and replacement of the Navy’s current submarine force is in development.
Hyten said that every single element of the nuclear triad is crucial. “All three have to be modernized and all three have to be monitored as you go through that,” he emphasized.
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