Click Here for Admiral Richard’s Opening Statement and Senator Fischer’s Questions.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In his opening statement at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, Admiral Charles Richard, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, offered a candid assessment of the increasing threats our nation faces from nations such as Russia and China, and the vital need to recapitalize our aging nuclear forces.
“The nation simply cannot attempt to indefinitely life-extend leftover Cold War weapons systems and successfully carry out the assigned strategy. They’re at risk of losing credibility in the eyes of our adversaries, and if they continue to work at all they will likely not be able to pace the threat they’re intended to deter,” said Admiral Richard in his opening statement.
“I applaud Admiral Richard’s openness and honesty about the threats facing our nation today before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Such clear assessments are vital to helping both the American people understand today’s threats, and their representatives in Congress make wise policy decisions. It’s very unfortunate to see some suggest Admiral Richard’s testimony is inconsistent with his duty – it’s the epitome of it,”said U.S. Senator Deb Fischer, a member of the committee and the top Republican on the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, which has jurisdiction over U.S. Strategic Command following today’s hearing.
Additionally, in conversation with Senator Fischer at today’s hearing, Admiral Richard emphasized that there is no intelligence or threat assessment that supports calls to cut our nuclear forces, and that doing so would leave the nation unprepared to deter the threats it faces.
A transcript of Fischer’s exchange with Admiral Richard is below.
Senator Fischer: Thank you, gentlemen for being here today. Admiral Richard, I’d like to thank you for your honesty and the bluntness of your opening statement in explaining the expanding nuclear programs of both China and Russia. Last week, the Strategic Forces subcommittee held a classified briefing on these threats, and yet we continue to hear renewed calls for unilateral cuts to our nuclear forces, abandoning the triad, and delaying or cancelling modernization programs. Sir, are you aware of any intelligence or threat assessments that would support these courses of action?
Admiral Richard: Senator, I am not. In fact, the threat is only getting worse, rapidly.
Senator Fischer: So, is it your view that taking such actions would reduce our ability to deter the threats we face?
Admiral Richard: Senator, yes. And, it’s not just the nuclear component. Part of what I’m trying to show is the relationship in all of our elements of national power and how nuclear underpins that.
Senator Fischer: What about the future? Because, as you know, the impact of cutting modernization programs now, it wouldn’t be felt until the 2030s, when our force begins to age-out – as you spoke about – and replacements aren’t ready. Do you see any reason to believe the world is going to be a lot safer in 2030, and we won’t need a viable deterrent then?
Admiral Richard: Senator, I see no indications of that. That will be an unprecedented threat we face in 2030. Hopefully, perhaps, we can change that trajectory, but I can’t count on hope, in terms of the capabilities needed to do my mission.
Senator Fischer: Admiral Richard, what are your views on the current distribution of warheads across the three legs of our triad? Right now, we see about 70 percent of our treaty-accountable warheads are on our submarines, and if we significantly cut the ICBM-leg, as some advocates have urged, that number would go up further. And, of course, our bombers are not on alert. Do you think there are risks with leaning too heavily on one part of the triad?
Admiral Richard: Senator, the answer is yes, and I’ll give you just one example of that. What is not often recognized is that we don’t have a triad day-to-day. The bombers are not available to us. We chose to take them off alert as a type of peace-dividend after the Cold War. So, day-to-day, all you have is basically a ‘dyad.’ A basic design criteria in the triad is that you cannot allow a failure of any one leg of the triad to prevent you from being able to do everything the president has ordered you to do. If you don’t have intercontinental ballistic missiles, we can’t meet that criteria. You are completely dependent on the submarine-leg and I’ve already told the Secretary of Defense that, under those conditions, I would request to re-alert the bombers.
Senator Fischer: Sir, you’ve also talked about counting the number of strategic nuclear warheads a nation has – that can be a crude way measure their capability. Your posture statement mentions this as well. Can you elaborate on why this is such an incomplete way to assess an adversary and talk a little bit about the other elements we need to also be considering?
Admiral Richard: Senator, fundamentally, you don’t deter by counting. We don’t hold up cards and say “I have more, I win.” It is important to know what they can do with that capability to understand, operationally, the threat that you face. It is important to remember that both Russia and China have a unilateral ability to go to any level of violence that they choose to, if they perceive that the stakes are high enough. And there is a point beyond which unlimited conventional capability will not be a sufficient deterrent. And so unless you have a strategic deterrent that will deter them from that, then everything else in the Department of Defense is simply going to get escalated past. Knowing what they’re capable of doing is what causes you to come to that conclusion.
Senator Fischer: And, our capability – our production capability is basically nonexistent, isn’t it?
Admiral Richard: Yes, Ma’am. Absolutely.
Senator Fischer: Especially, when you compare it to China and Russia, can you speak to that?
Admiral Richard: Both China and Russia have significant capability in their nuclear weapons complexes – I can give you the numbers in a closed session – to produce more warheads. We are just barely able, right now, to life-extend our weapons. And, we’re just starting to get to the point – we use the two terms interchangeably – just to be able to re-manufacture the ones we have. We have no capability right now to actually make a new weapon.
Senator Fischer: Thank you.