U.S. strategic nuclear forces are old, in dire need of modernization and face “draconian” cuts because of the federal budget crisis, the commander of U.S. nuclear forces said Tuesday.
Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, head of U.S. Strategic Command, also said China and Russia are engaged in aggressive nuclear force buildups while the U.S. government is fighting over funding for modernizing its strategic forces.
In an interview with The Washington Times, Gen. Kehler also said cyberattacks are escalating toward “destructive” attacks. He made the comments as investigators are looking for a foreign link to a recent cyberattack on an Illinois water-control system.
On the nuclear buildup by Beijing and Moscow, he said both are committed to modernization programs and are pressing ahead.
“And we are reaching a critical point here where we’ve got to make our own commitment,” Gen. Kehler said.
“The view here in Omaha is that we need to sustain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent,” Gen. Kehler said, echoing a view expressed by the president. The Strategic Command is based in Omaha, Neb.
“I am concerned about the congressional marks in the fiscal year ‘12 budget about the [National Nuclear Security Administration] investment in particular.”
Energy and water appropriations committees in the House and Senate have not fully funded the administration’s request for $7.6 billion for nuclear-arms modernization agreement after debate last year on ratifying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
Gen. Kehler and Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have written to Congress expressing concerns about the funding, said Rep. Michael R. Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces.
Mr. Turner, Ohio Republican, stated in a recent letter to the Office of Management and Budget that the military leaders’ letter has been held up for review for several weeks.
Gen. Kehler said nuclear modernization is only one of his worries with the budget slashing.
“I’m concerned about a lot of things here, in addition to the nuclear deterrent,” he said. “I’m concerned about space. I’m concerned about cyber. I’m concerned about missile defense. I’m concerned across the board.”
Ballistic-missile submarines need to be replaced, strategic bombers are old and land-based missiles are aging, the four-star general said.
Strategic Command also is taking part in a White House-led Nuclear Posture Review Implementation Study, Gen. Kehler said. Any nuclear force cuts, whether in a treaty or unilaterally by the United States, should be based on a strategy, he said.
Gen. Kehler said U.S. nuclear weapons and infrastructure are now “aged.”