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DOD experts talk nuclear modernization efforts

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Modernization and sustainment across the nuclear triad are essential to maintaining national and allied security, three Defense Department experts told Congress on July 14.

DOD witnesses Robert Scher, the assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities; Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command; and Air Force Gen. Robin Rand, the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, testified before the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee.

Maintaining nuclear deterrence

Scher said President Barack Obama’s approach to reducing nuclear dangers “has consistently included two key pillars: working toward a world without nuclear weapons, and maintaining effective deterrence along the way.”

Because world nuclear disarmament is not assured, “we must proceed with modernized replacements to maintain our nuclear deterrent for us and our allies,” Scher added.

The United States’ sea-, air- and land-based nuclear delivery systems make up the “triad,” which Scher called the best approach to maintaining nuclear deterrence. The triad and dual-capable aircraft, he said, “provide the credibility, flexibility and survivability to meet and adapt to the challenges of a dynamic security environment.”

Scher said the projected cost for the nuclear force’s modernization is $350 billion to $450 billion over 20 years. “While not a small amount of money, … the total defense budget in fiscal year 2016 alone was over $580 billion,” he said. “The cost for nuclear modernization is substantial, but it is not unreasonable for what (Defense Secretary Ash Carter) has called the bedrock of our security.”

Modernizing will allow the United States to shrink its nuclear arsenal while still reassuring allies that they do not need their own nuclear capabilities, Scher explained.

Taking a long approach

Haney also emphasized the need for nuclear modernization.

“Our capabilities as a whole have lasted well beyond their designed service life,” he said. “It is crucial that we modernize our strategic deterrence capabilities, which underpin our national and global security.”

Countries such as Russia, China and North Korea have their own nuclear agendas, he said.

“Comprehensive strategic deterrence and assurance and escalation control require a long approach ... and it’s far more than just nuclear weapons and platforms,” he added.

The president’s proposed 2017 defense budget addresses modernization priorities and “supports my mission requirements,” Haney said. “But let me be clear,” he cautioned, “there are no margins to absorb new risk.”

‘Already long overdue’

Rand also spoke about “long-overdue” nuclear modernization efforts. Modernization plans are in place, he said, for the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile system, the bomber fleet, the air-launch cruise missile, the UH-1N Huey, nuclear weapon storage facilities and more.

“I am prepared to offer my opinion on the consequences to our nation’s and our allies’ security if these already long-overdue modernization efforts are not carried out according to their scheduled timelines,” he said.