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Nuclear Deterrence is Job #1

By Peter R. Huessy

missile-defenseOn September 18th, a senior group of professional nuclear deterrent experts gathered in Washington, D.C. to hear the top nuclear deterrent and policy leaders in the country’s military and civilian leaders to discuss the challenges we face in the future to keep America and her allies and friends safe and secure. One speech at the event in particular was noteworthy and that was from Chairman Mike Rogers of the House Armed Services Sub-Committee. He addressed the “Fifth Bi-Annual Triad Conference on The Strategic Nuclear Enterprise: Implementing the Roadmap Ahead”, an event sponsored by the Task Force 21, Minot in association with the Air Force Association and Geo-Strategic Analysis.

Of particular note was Chairman Roger’s remarks that the continued aggression by the Russians had a way of “sharpening the mind “as the “international system led by the United States has its hands full.” Here are the Chairman’s remarks.

Chairman Mike Rogers, “The Strategic Nuclear Enterprise: Implementing the Roadmap Ahead”, September 18, 2014

These gatherings are an important means of communication and discussion on the future of the strategic deterrent, and I thank you for inviting me.

We meet at an interesting time for nuclear deterrence and strategic issues—to say the least.

I don’t have to tick through the list for this crowd, but I can summarize by saying our friend over in Russia has a way of sharpening the mind.

Coupled with the challenge of China in the Pacific and the Islamic State’s acute threat to stability in the Middle East, the U.S.-led international system has its hands full.

Interestingly, some have commented that we may be witnessing a return to the normal state of international affairs.

After a suspension of history for the past couple decades where non-state actors often took center stage, we’re seeing a return to an international order where nation-states—and the interaction between them—play the paramount role in world affairs.

Perhaps it is fitting that this occurs on the 100th anniversary of the so-called “War to End All Wars.”

As this shift occurs, the strategic issues to which you and I pay so much attention will once again come to the forefront.

Today we’re talking about something that, almost by definition, is fundamental to strategic affairs: the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

We all know that the people, infrastructure, delivery systems, weapons, and policies that comprise this deterrent have seen their share of turmoil lately.

But, there may be grounds for optimism that the turmoil will subside.

Much of this has been self-inflicted by the political and budget dysfunction here in Washington.

And, I am hopeful that—perhaps in the new year—Congress will be able to find that budget solution.

That’s step number one.

Step number two is ensuring that we invest in a wise and prudent manner to ensure we have a robust and dominant deterrent.

The Strategic Forces Subcommittee that I lead has been in the forefront on this. Through both legislation and oversight we’ve been pushing the system to achieve our goals.

Obviously, we have more work to do.

When compared with the commitments made by the Administration to win ratification of the New START treaty, the NNSA remains dramatically underfunded by over $2 billion.

More important than just the funding shortfall: important life extension programs and infrastructure modernization projects have been delayed, deferred, or canceled.

Efforts to find efficiencies within the NNSA have been—for the most part—stymied.

We will continue to push the NNSA enterprise to streamline, reduce bureaucracy, and deliver for the military and the nation. They have an able leader over there now in General Klotz.

And, I’ve got a subcommittee that is eager for change.

I look forward to the results of the congressional advisory panel and working with my colleagues and NNSA leadership to see how we can help.

Across the river at the Department of Defense, we’ve seen delays to delivery systems, including the Ohio-class replacement submarine and the long-range cruise missile (known as LRSO).

I continue to believe we, as a nation, will come to regret these two decisions in particular.

The delays to these programs have taken all schedule margin out of some extremely complex and long-term acquisition programs.

My subcommittee unsuccessfully fought against the delay to Ohio-Replacement several years ago.

As it stands today, I am deeply concerned that we have more than 15 years to go before the first submarine hits the water—and in this town 15 years amounts to 15 separate times to screw up the budget and delay the program.

Right now, in this year’s defense authorization bill, we are fighting to prevent the proposed three-year delay to LRSO.

Everyone within the system seems to recognize why this delay is a terrible idea: a fragile legacy system coupled with steadily advancing adversary air defense capabilities.

Not to mention a problem it creates in the form of a gap in production activities at NNSA.

I am hopeful we can contain the LRSO schedule slip to one year, as I proposed in the House-passed FY15 NDAA and as the military thinks it can accept.

Regarding the force structure we will have under New START, we should all be grateful that the Administration’s long-overdue decision in April of this year was the right one.

I say “right one” because it is the position my subcommittee has been pushing toward since the ink dried on the treaty.

So, the Navy will move to 20 deployed missile tubes in each boat, and the Air Force will remove missiles from 50 Minuteman silos—but keep the silos warm.

This course of action not only retains maximum flexibility and complicates adversary targeting, it also enables the Air Force to go in and refurbish silos on a rotating basis.

This will ease logistics in the missile fields and facilitate the transition to the ground-based strategic deterrent (GBSD) system that will come along in the late-2020s.

With Russia having said a firm “nyet” to the President’s offer for further reductions—and there being no clear evidence that further reductions are in the U.S. national security interest in the first place—it is time to get on with the business of building our force for the future.

Speaking of the GBSD, I was pleased to see the recent results of the analysis of alternatives.

After a comprehensive look at the range of options, the Air Force is recommending a solution that utilizes the existing silos, focuses on leveraging technologies across the Services, and preserves options for the future.

All for basically the same amount that we’re spending today on the current system.

This is a reasonable investment and—importantly—costs essentially the same as simply continuing to life-extend the current Minuteman system out into the future.

We are also seeing a renewed focus from the Air Force on its nuclear mission.

This is the silver lining in the otherwise dark cloud of the missileer cheating that came to light last year.

It also provides the Air Force an opportunity to prove that it sees itself as more than just fighter jets.

That message needs to permeate the culture of the Air Force, from the cockpits to the staff offices, from the maintenance facilities, to the launch facilities, and the personnel system.

Secretary James and General Welsh, together with external and internal reviews conducted by DOD, have identified a series of actions.

Their focus on military personnel, morale, and leadership issues is a refreshing change from moving boxes on organization charts.

My subcommittee will remain supportive and…maybe the best phrase is optimistically-skeptical…of their efforts.

Let me close with a return to the strategic environment.

The challenges we face from Mr. Putin’s Russia are as real as they are grave.

A declining power, seeking to hold on to former glory by upending the international order, is immeasurably more dangerous when it is nuclear-armed. Let’s look at Russia’s recent actions:

· The illegal annexation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine.

· Nuclear threats and open discussion of plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Crimea.

· The deliberate violation of the INF Treaty

· The circumvention of New START, Open Skies, and numerous other agreements.

· Kidnapping of intelligence officials from neighboring states.

And let’s not overlook China and its new ICBMs and submarine-based nuclear forces.

Nor can we overlook the perpetually unstable relationship between two nuclear powers in South Asia—one of which may be heading towards another coup.

Or the ever-perilous Kim regime in North Korea, or the nuclear intentions of Iran.

Or the lessons learned in capitals around the world subsequent to Libya and Ukraine giving up their nuclear capabilities.

In other words, nuclear weapons will be with us for quite some time.

We need to recognize this. We need to recognize that the world is not about to come together and sing “kumbaya” as some hope it will.

We need to approach strategic affairs with our eyes wide open and with all of the tools we can bring to bear.

And the key tool upon which all else rests—and that we use every day—is a robust, flexible, and highly credible nuclear triad.