Top US Stratcom Commander Makes Case for Modernizing Nuclear Triad

Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, commander of US Strategic Command, and members of his staff depart a 37th Helicopter Squadron UH-1N Huey near a missile alert facility on the F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, missile complex, February 22, 2017. Hyten toured the facility, giving him insight into the responsibilities of the airmen executing the nation’s nuclear deterrence mission.

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Rosslyn, VA – Nuclear capabilities are the bedrock of American defense and will remain so, the commander of US Strategic Command said at the Military Reporters and Editors annual meeting here today.

Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten said the United States has about the right numbers of nuclear weapons, but they need to be modernized.

Saluting Stratcom’s People

Hyten saluted the sacrifices of the service members under his command who stand watch as they maintain America’s nuclear deterrent and other missions.

“Deterrence will always be cheaper than war, and there is nothing more expensive than losing a war,” the general said, quoting from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein.

Hyten said it will take roughly 6 percent of the defense budget to modernize the country’s nuclear arsenal. Right now, nuclear arms take about 3.5 percent of the budget.

“We have to increase [spending] somewhere between 2.5 and 3 percent,” he said. “That leaves 94 percent of our defense budget to do the things we have to. When you think of the survival of our nation — and I think that is the most important reason we have a military … the backstop of all of that is the nuclear enterprise.”

Nuclear Deterrent: Backbone of Homeland Defense

The general said it would irresponsible to not fund nuclear modernization, as the nuclear deterrent is the backbone of homeland defense.

Hyten said people often ask him if it is possible to eliminate nuclear weapons. They want to know if he can imagine a world without nukes. “And the answer is yes, I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons,” he said. “In fact, I know what a world without nuclear weapons looks like, because we had a world without nuclear weapons until 1945.”

He asked the reporters to imagine what the world was like in the six years preceding the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “In those six years, the world in conflict killed somewhere between 60 million and 80 million people,” he said. “That’s about 33,000 people a day, a million people a month.”

As horrible as the world is today, he said, there is nothing remotely resembling this situation. The world has seen bloody conflicts — Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom were awful, but nowhere near the level of carnage the world had experienced, he said.

What changed in 1945, Hyten said, was the reality of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons, he added, prevented the major power conflict that had plagued the world in previous centuries.

“They prevented the kind of wanton destruction that you saw in World War II, and somehow the world has stayed that way,” the general said.

Necessity to Modernize Nation’s Nuclear Triad

Hyten said nuclear weapons undergird the motto of Strategic Command and its predecessor organization, the Strategic Air Command: Peace is our profession.

Deterrence has changed in the 21st century, Hyten said, and the command must modernize the nuclear triad and the command-and-control systems that are part of them.

“The submarines are the most survivable element of it; the ICBMs are the most ready; the bombers are the most flexible,” he said. “When you put those pieces together, it gives our nation the ability to withstand any attack and respond if we are attacked, which means we won’t be attacked.”

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