The U.S. nuclear arsenal is outdated and is potentially hampering the military’s nuclear deterrence factor, according to a group of top military officers.
Air Force Generals John Hyten, Paul Selva and Stephen Wilson, and Navy Adm. Bill Moran warned each leg of the “nuclear triad,” the military’s nuclear missile, submarine and bomber force, is in desperate need of an update. They were testifying before the House Committee on Armed Services Wednesday.
“No one should doubt that our weapons, delivery systems, the infrastructure that supports them, and the personnel who operate, monitor, and maintain them are prepared today to respond to any contingency,” said Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in his statement. “Our current challenge, however, is to maintain this high level of readiness and capability as long as the policy and strategy of this nation depends in part on nuclear weapons for its security.”
Selva warned that while Russia is modernizing its nuclear force, the U.S. continues to extend the lifespan of aging nuclear weapons “in many cases for decades beyond what was originally intended.” He added that the U.S. has come to a point where it must “concurrently modernize the entire nuclear triad.”
Wilson, the vice chief of staff of the Air Force, offered a bleak outlook on the future of U.S. nuclear deterrence, noting “the stark choice the U.S. faces today is not between modernizing these systems or continued life extension programs … the choice is between modernization or losing these foundational capabilities starting in as as early as the late-2020s.”
Moran, who serves as the vice chief of naval operations, said that sea-based nuclear deterrence is “the Navy’s #1 investment priority.” He added that this capability is “foundational to our survival as a nation.”
Hyten, the head of United States Strategic Command, defended the call for a complete nuclear modernization effort, as opposed to a prioritizing one leg over the others. In an exchange with Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Hyten warned removing one leg of the nuclear triad risks eliminating the nuclear deterrence factor completely.
The aging nuclear arsenal is a reflection of an overall readiness problem plaguing the military. In response, President Donald Trump has called for the elimination of defense spending caps and a substantial increase in defense spending in the next federal budget.
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