WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) discussed the importance of key components of our nuclear arsenal, as well as the need to modernize our nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) architecture with General Anthony J. Cotton, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM).
Sen. Fischer secured measures in the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to stop the Biden administration’s attempts to cancel the SLCM program and to retire the B83.
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Following is a transcript of Senator Fischer’s questioning
Senator Fischer: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. General Cotton and General Dickinson, before I begin my questions, I want to strongly encourage both of you to make greater use of the Unfunded Priorities Lists. That process helps you to convey your needs to Congress. The department's budget request is the product of a two-year long process. Many of the assumptions baked into the fiscal year 2024 budget were made in 2021. The geopolitical environment has significantly changed over the last two years. This committee views unfunded priority lists as a valuable tool that allows us to make more responsible resourcing decisions based on the current needs that we have and the operating environments. So please use that tool. General Cotton, in your recent letter to the committee, you noted that you have a capability gap that needs to be filled by a low-yield, non-ballistic capability that can respond without visible generation. Would a nuclear sea-launched cruise missile fill that gap?
General Cotton: Thank you for the question, Senator Fischer. You know, to address the adversaries' perceived advantage on limited nuclear use, when I was here amongst the committee and was tasked with the question, I said I owed you a response on being able to make that assessment on where we stood. I did a deep dive as soon as I took command. And, during that deep dive and review of our capabilities, I in fact am in agreement that there is a strategic gap or challenge when it comes to that regime. So, I fully support the fact that—and the support that we have with this committee in pursuing the opportunities to look at low-yield, non-ballistic non-generating effects moving forward. I absolutely concur with that.
Senator Fischer: Thank you, General. And thank you for looking into that and getting back to us. I appreciate that, sometimes when you take a new command, I know you have a lot put on your shoulders in making sure that you have a full understanding of everything that you are in charge of. And I appreciate you taking the time to get that to us. Last year, the administration sought to retire the B83 nuclear gravity bomb despite having no replacement program in place to address hard and deeply buried targets, such as underground facilities in China and North Korea. What is your best military advice on whether the United States needs to maintain a capability to hold those hard and deeply buried targets at risk?
General Cotton: Thanks for the question, Senator. I'll answer that in two parts. Right now, the B83 is still part of my arsenal with the NDAA language that limits the reduction of that. So I still have that capacity and capability, pending the results of the hard and deeply buried study that the department is currently doing—of which we are a part and are giving our inputs to that. That being said, we are going to have to figure out how we are going to continue to have capability that gets after HDBTs and what effects can actually do that, whether conventional or nuclear. We're going to need to have a strategy to figure out how to do that. And I look forward to seeing what the study brings us from the department to make sure that we can close that.
Senator Fischer: When do you anticipate that study to be completed?
General Cotton: Ma'am, I was told that we should see that in the spring.
Senator Fischer: Thank you. Could you please keep us updated on that?
General Cotton: I absolutely will.
Senator Fischer: Thank you, sir. I appreciate the conversation that we had earlier this week on the importance of moving forward quickly with NC3 modernization and building out a roadmap with clear, achievable near- and long-term goals. Can you tell this committee more about NC3, the roadmap that STRATCOM is developing?
General Cotton: Senator, absolutely. I look forward to having that conversation not only in open but in closed session as well. The conversation that we had was, one of the things that—that was the second thing that I did upon taking command was get with the team to understand how we take conceptual ideas and what might be seen as concepts with all the dollars and support that we're getting from the Congress and turn those into what you had alluded to, a roadmap, that I can, you can, and my bosses in the Pentagon can actually see in phases of what we're doing within NC3 modernization. So, what we're doing is we're translating what was once seen as a conceptual piece and talking through the concept. And now, we're having zero to five, five to 10, 10-to-15-year roadmaps where I can describe to you within those phases of time what's actually being done with the taxpayers' money moving forward to modernize the NC3 modernization program.
Senator Fischer: Thank you. I think it's extremely important to be able to have roadmaps, checklists, to stay on time so that we can be prepared for the future. Thank you, sir.
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