WASHINGTON — America’s strategic deterrent forces have prevented a catastrophic global war for 70 years, but may have been “too successful” in that mission, the deputy commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) said May 2.
“Nuclear attack is still the most consequential threat this nation faces,” Vice Adm. Charles A. Richard said. But because the strategic deterrent capabilities have prevented a nuclear conflict since World War II, “we have removed that threat from the psyche of the American people.”
That condition is reflected, Richard indicated, in the current debate over whether the nation can afford the expensive, decade-long program to modernize the nuclear deterrent Triad of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICMBs), nuclear-capable bombers and the Navy’s ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs).
In a breakfast address to a Mitchell Institute forum, Richard noted that the Pentagon had recently announced the start of a new nuclear policy review.
“It’s not a moment too soon. We have spent a long time de-emphasizing nuclear deterrence while our adversaries have advanced,” he said, noting the new nuclear-armed missiles and ballistic-missile submarines Russia has fielded. “I could provide a similar list for China,” he added. “This is the new competition we’re in.
“The United States faces strategic competitors who are well advanced, and in some case ahead,” he said.
In order for the strategic deterrent force to remain effective, “we have to stay ahead. The [Defense] Department believes the nuclear Triad is the best way to maintain that advantage,” Richard said.
The admiral noted that Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, head of Strategic Command, told Congress last month that he could not tell them which leg of the Triad was the most vital to modernize. The ICBMs are the most responsive, the bombers the most flexible and the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines the least vulnerable.
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