Nuclear Budget Reflects the “Minimum Essential” to Keep Our Nation Safe

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, delivered questions to U.S. Strategic Command Commander General John Hyten on the defense budget for Fiscal Year 2020 and the need for nuclear modernization.

A partial transcript of Fischer’s exchange with Gen. Hyten is below:

Senator Fischer: General Hyten, in your prepared remarks you said that the only way to change our strategic deterrent is to convince our adversaries to reduce the threat. And this is not occurring. China and Russia, in particular, are not only modernizing their traditional elements of their own triads, but they’re also building a myriad of additional nuclear capabilities to threaten the United States. In your comments to Chairman Inhofe, you explained the desperate need that we have for modernization and to continue with our triad – the importance that has for our national security, and for the security of this world. I would ask you, are you aware of any intelligence or threat assessment supporting the courses of actions that are called for by some that we need to unilaterally cut our nuclear forces?

General Hyten: I’m not.

Senator Fischer: Is it your view that taking such actions would make us more vulnerable and reduce our ability to deter threats?

General Hyten: It would significantly reduce our deterrent.

Senator Fischer: We’re looking at a budget for the Department’s nuclear forces and the plans for modernization. Some people consider it a wish list – just to give the department everything they desire – and no effort has been made to sort things to look at what we truly need to address the threats that we have. I’m talking about need versus want here. That’s not an accurate statement is it -- that it’s a wish list?

General Hyten: I look at our nuclear capabilities, our triad, and our modernization program as the minimal essential capabilities required to defend this nation. Because we have to defend against the most existential threat, and Russia and China, and their capabilities are the most existential threat. So to me, that’s the most minimum essential capabilities that we have to build. And even at the highest rate, it’ll still be roughly 6 percent of the overall defense budget. I think we can afford that security.

Senator Fischer: And do you fully support the Nuclear Posture Review as it was put forward by the Department?

General Hyten: I do ma’am.

Senator Fischer: And do you truly believe that it is needed, that we continue on a path forward to reach the goals of that Nuclear Posture Review?

General Hyten: I think it’s essential. And if I could comment on the Nuclear Posture Review, I think it’s very interesting to look at our approach to findings in the Nuclear Posture Review and our adversaries’ approach. The elements in the Nuclear Posture Review we have put forth all stay within our treaty responsibilities. We don’t recommend developing new nuclear-powered torpedoes, new nuclear-powered cruise missiles. We don’t look at anything… We believe we can secure this nation through the modernization of the triad and the addition of a couple of small elements to add to respond to specific threats. In that case, it’s the low yield nuclear weapon and the submarine-launched cruise missile. But that’s a very measured response to what our adversaries are doing.

Senator Fischer: I appreciated your very clear and concise explanation of the importance and really the mission of each leg of the triad. And I’m very pleased that you made that clear and concise for the record today. Thank you.