By David Vergun
Every operational plan in the Defense Department rests on an assumption that strategic deterrence is holding, and in particular, that nuclear deterrence is holding, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command said.
“If strategic or nuclear deterrence fails, no other plan and no other capability in the Department of Defense is going to work as designed,” Navy Adm. Charles A. Richard, who testified today at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in review of the fiscal year 2023 Defense Authorization Request and Future Years Defense Program, said.
The nation’s nuclear forces underpin integrated deterrence, and enable the U.S., allies and partners to confront aggressive and coercive behavior. The strategic security environment is now a three-party nuclear near-peer reality, he said, referring to Russia and China.
“Today, we face two nuclear capable near peers who have the capability to unilaterally escalate to any level of violence in any domain worldwide with any instrument of national power at any time. And we have never faced a situation before like that in our history,” he said.
Richard described the nuclear triad of strategic bombers, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and submarines, along with the nuclear command, control and communications as aging and in need of modernization sooner rather than later.
“We must modernize the nuclear triad, the NC3, the nuclear weapons complex and supporting infrastructure to meet presidential objectives. And while modernization must be the priority, please make no mistake; Stratcom forces are ready today,” he said.
U.S. Space Command Commander Army Gen. James H. Dickinson also spoke at that hearing, noting great strides China and Russia have made as space powers.
Current People’s Liberation Army development is directed towards creating a joint, versatile, professional and lethal force capable of power projection globally; and the space layer is critical to their efforts, he said.
In 2021, Beijing increased on-orbit assets by 27%. This increase brings their on-orbit satellite total from just over 100 satellites 10 years ago to more than 500 satellites today, Dickinson said.
The general detailed China’s counterspace capability demonstrations, anti-satellite tests and hypersonic glide vehicle tests.
“Space is no longer a sanctuary and U.S. Space Command stands ready to protect and defend the space assets of the United States, partners and allies,” he said.
Dickinson also mentioned the importance of the Space Domain Awareness and intelligence assets in providing leaders with space situational awareness and in helping Spacecom develop a more robust and resilient space architecture.