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Nuclear forces warning

The commander of U.S. nuclear weapons forces told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that budget cuts under sequestration are not an immediate threat to readiness but will be in the future.

Gen. C. Robert Kehler, head of the Omaha, Neb.-based U.S. Strategic Command, known as Stratcom, warned of a cascade of problems to come. He said strategic bomber flying hours will be curtailed, personnel readiness will suffer, and needed modernization will be delayed if the automatic cuts that went into effect March 1 are allowed to stand.

“I’m pleased to report that Stratcom is capable of executing its assigned mission responsibilities today,” Gen. Kehler said. “However, given the potential impact fiscal uncertainty and declining resources could have on Stratcom, I am concerned that I may not be able to say the same in six months or a year.”

Because the budget cuts must be made across the board, the command will not be protected, he said.

Specific impact currently is not clear, Gen. Kehler said, but he warned: “I just know that the readiness impacts are coming if unaddressed.”

President Obama promised to spend $85 billion to upgrade aging U.S. nuclear forces and infrastructure as part of a deal to win Republican Senate support for the 2010 ratification of the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia. But the funding was cut, and the White House did not demand that it be included in several budgets.

The stall in U.S. modernization comes as both China and Russia are engaged in large-scale nuclear modernization programs that include new missiles and warheads.

On further U.S. nuclear warhead reductions beyond the 2010 New START treaty, Gen. Kehler said any future cuts should be made bilaterally with Russia.

“I think in the long run, though, my view is that if we are going to engage in another conversation about reductions below New START, that should be done in a bilateral sense; that should be done with the Russians,” he said.

The Obama administration is preparing to launch a new round of arms cuts that may include further reductions in strategic warheads and possibly tactical nuclear warheads.

Iran-China military ties

Two Iranian warships this week made a rare out-of-area deployment to the Pacific Ocean and docked at the Chinese port of Zhanjiang.

The visit highlights Beijing’s military cooperation with rogue regimes. China also is under scrutiny for shipping weapons to Iran after the recent discovery in an Iranian sailboat of advanced anti-aircraft missiles intercepted en route to Yemen.

And last year, China was exposed for helping North Korea obtain mobile strategic-missile launchers for the new KN-08 ICBM, in violation of U.N. sanctions. (So far, the State Department has not held Beijing accountable for busting the sanctions.)

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