Tara Copp, Washington Examiner, Jan 27
The Pentagon is asking for $350 billion to upgrade its nuclear deterrent capability to handle growing aggression from Russia.
"Russia and U.S. cooperation has ground to a halt," retired Navy Admiral William Fallon told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Updating aged nuclear deterrent capabilities, he said, "should be a top consideration."
Fallon, who retired in 2008 after commanding U.S. Central Command, is part of a week-long visit by defense leaders to Congress to push funding for the Pentagon before the federal budget is released next week. With both wars winding down, defense officials are seeking funding for initiatives that have been pushed back.
For the Air Force and the Navy, moving nuclear modernization higher up the funding chain is a priority after more than a decade of deferred spending to afford the nation's two wars.
Fallon's testimony came on the heels of the commander of U.S. Global Strike Command, Gen. Stephen Wilson, telling reporters Tuesday that none of the elements of what is known as the nuclear triad - the air, land and sea-based ballistic warheads that deter aggressors from launching a first strike - can afford to wait to be modernized.
But the same can be said for the command, which has patched and sustained and deferred for years as other war spending took priority. Now, even as sequestration has come to a head, the triad has come to a point where if it is not modernized, it will fall behind, Wilson said.
"If you look around the world, you see lots of people modernizing their force. We see the Russians, specifically, modernizing all of their legs," their submarines, their missiles and their mobile missiles, Wilson said. China is a concern too, with a rapid development of its own missile and submarine capabilities.
The Minuteman ICBMs under Wilson's command were built between 1965 and 1973. The B-52s currently in the command's wing have 1960-61 tail numbers. The almost two dozen B-2 stealth bombers are younger, fielded in the 1980s and '90s but are not as easily mobilized due to their operations and maintenance needs.
The Navy is no better off. It has asked Congress to find a way to fund its Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines for years - because the 30-year-old submarines, which would be retiring from the fleet except for a refueling that extended their lives for about another decade - will meet the end of their serviceable lives in the next 12 years. To field a new fleet in time to replace the now 40-year old subs, shipbuilding must start now.
The Air Force is pursuing a new ICBM and later this year is expected to select the designs to pursue in a new long-range bomber. The Navy is pushing hard to get funding for the Ohio-class replacement.
The projected price tag of all this, from the Congressional Budget Office: $350 billion.