The United States “can’t wait any longer” to update its aging nuclear arsenal to keep it from becoming antiquated, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday.
Carter, speaking at a ceremony at the headquarters of the U.S. Strategic Command in Nebraska, called urgently for recapitalizing or replacing nuclear weapons delivered from land, air and sea “so they don’t age into obsolescence.”
Striving for a world free of nuclear weapons is a noble goal, Carter said, but may not be achievable in the short term, so the U.S. government must “correct for decades of underinvestment” as a way to deter foes no longer afraid of its aged nuclear weapons.
For a quarter century, since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon has made only “modest investments” in maintenance and sustainment of its nuclear arsenal, Carter said.
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“While we didn’t build anything new for 25 years, and neither did our allies, others did – including Russia, North Korea, China, Pakistan, India, and for a period of time, Iran,” he said.
U.S. spending won’t spur a nuclear arms race by potential foes, Carter asserted.
“The evidence is just the opposite,” Carter said. “They have consistently invested in nuclear weapons during a quarter century pause in U.S. investment.”
(Potential U.S. foes) have consistently invested in nuclear weapons during a quarter-century pause in U.S. investment.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter
If some assets in the U.S. nuclear arsenal aren’t replaced, “we’ll lose them, which would mean losing confidence in our ability to deter – something we can never afford,” he said.
Carter called for replacing nuclear air-launched cruise missiles, and for building new ballistic missile submarines and more modern land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles that would be cheaper to maintain. He also called for spending in command-and-control systems, including satellites, radar systems, ground stations, control nodes and communications links.
Space, once a virtual U.S. sanctuary, is turning into a potential battlefield, an area that is “congested, contested and competitive,” he said, and the Pentagon works to deter attacks in and from space.
“Our new investments aim to foil those efforts – whether an adversary aims to blind our reconnaissance satellites with lasers, disrupt our satellite communications with jammers or use kinetic means like a co-orbital attack or a direct ascent missile to destroy the space-based capabilities that support our forces,” Carter said.
The Strategic Command, one of nine combatant unified commands, is headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten assumed the lead at StratCom Thursday.