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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, discussed the administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and the growing Russian nuclear threat with General John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command.

Below is the transcript of Senator Fischer and General Hyten’s exchange at today’s hearing.

Senator Fischer: Thank you General for your service to this country, and I thank you for representing your men and women under your leadership. The NPR states, “If Russia returns to compliance with arms control obligations, reduces its non-strategic nuclear arsenal, and corrects its other destabilizing behaviors the United States may reconsider the pursuit of an SLCM.” However in the debate, the statement has lost some of its nuance, and some now describe the SLCM as purely a chip to bargain for Russia’s return to compliance with the INF treaty. Can you clarify this? And, if Russia returned to compliance with the INF treaty and otherwise maintains its current course with respect to non-strategic nuclear weapons, would it be your best military advice to cancel the deployment of the SLCM?

General Hyten: Senator, I agree with my boss, Secretary Mattis, I don’t like the term “bargaining chip.” The capabilities that we proposed in the Nuclear Posture Review are in response to the threat. Everything that we’ve talked about, including the low-yield nuclear weapon and the sea-launched cruise missile, are in response to a threat. If that threat changes, then my military advice will change. But if the threat doesn’t change, my military advice will stay that we need those capabilities in order to respond to the threat. I’m not a diplomat, I’m not a politician. Diplomats need to work those issues with our adversaries. I hope that they do, but my job as a military officer is to look at the threat, understand the threat, and propose capabilities to this body to deliver to the military so that we can respond to any threat that exists. It’s all about the threat.

Senator Fischer: While we are on the topic of Russia’s violations of the INF treaty, your opening statement reads, “Russia’s violation of the treaty, with the development of SSC8 ground launch cruise missile, remains a significant issue of delivery of the treaty violating system continues.” And when you say “delivery of the treaty violation system continues”, do you mean that Russia is continuing to produce and deploy the illegal system in greater numbers?

General Hyten: Yes ma’am.

Senator Fischer: Since the NPR’s release some, the Russian government in particular, deny that Russia genuinely has an escalate-to-deescalate strategy. I think you were questioned by a member of the Russian embassy staff on this point during a speech that you gave last month. Do you agree with the NPR’s assessment that the escalate-to-deescalate strategy reflects that Russian doctrine?

General Hyten: I watch very closely what President Putin says and I watch very closely what the Russian military does in response. In April of 2000, almost 18 years ago, President Putin said that the doctrine of Russia will be to use nuclear weapons on the battlefield in the conventional scenario. And that has been the continuing doctrine of Russia for almost 18 years. This is nothing new. We need the abilities to effectively respond to that. We need the abilities to deter that. We don’t want that to ever happen. There’s no such thing as a tactical nuclear weapon in my opinion. There’s no such thing as a conventional nuclear weapon. All nuclear weapons are strategic, but you need different kinds to respond to different threats.

Senator Fischer: Would you agree that when we are looking at this continuous threat of Russian doctrine to escalate-to-deescalate, that is based on the talk of their senior leaders, it is based on the fact that they are building weapons that are designed for this purpose, and that they do conduct training exercises?

General Hyten: There is no doubt that they do all of those things. When I have my intel, I don’t speak Russian, but when I have my intel translator translate the Russian for me, it does not escalate-to-deescalate, it’s escalate to win. It’s escalate to win on the battlefield. We have to deter that kind of response. That cannot be allowed.

Senator Fischer: General, critics have made a variety of arguments against the deployment of that low-yield ballistic missile warhead on a submarine. In sum, they believe the system is impractical because any use of the weapon would enable the submarine to be detected, destroyed, and they believe it would initiate a full scale nuclear war. Can you speak to those arguments, sir?

General Hyten: Those arguments are not true, ma’am. I can tell you in the classified forum how a submarine would survive after launching. I can tell you how the Russians would see it. I can tell you how they would respond to that. I can also tell you that from a U.S. perspective, when we see a launch of a missile we can characterize that threat. We can understand where it is, where it’s going. Unless it is a massive attack from Russia, in any other scenario there is actually a lot of time to respond, a lot of time to characterize, and that will be the way on the Russian side. Each of those arguments are false. It’s better to discuss the answers in the classified session.

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