U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), questioned witnesses this morning at a SASC hearing to receive testimony on United States Strategic Command and United States Northern Command.
Witnesses included General John Hyten, USAF Commander, U.S. Strategic Command and General Terrence “Terry” O’Shaughnessy, USAF Commander, U.S. Northern Command.
Inhofe: You know, General Hyten, there are two areas of disagreement that we've heard among our colleagues in both the House and the Senate and you've heard some this morning in our opening statements. One of them is the significance of nuclear modernization. Now, it's disserving when we see our peer adversaries, China and Russia, have actually gotten ahead of us in some areas of artificial intelligence and hypersonics, but in the areas of nuclear modernization, I know that Jim Mattis, Heather Wilson and others have said that is the most significant thing that we could be doing and yet some are saying that's an area we can be making cuts at this time. I'd like to have you start off by addressing that. Do you agree with those who talk about the significance of that program? Make your comments on that; then I will get to the second one.
Hyten: So, it is the most important element of our national defense.
Inhofe: It is the most important element of our national defense.
Hyten: And we have to make sure that we are always ready to respond to any threat. I can do that today because I have the most powerful triad in the world. I have ICBMs. Submarine launch ballistic missiles and bombers that are ready to respond to any threat that comes and because of the capabilities of each leg of the triad, I the ability to respond to any threat. We did a nuclear posture review, it was released last year. In it, it validated the need for a triad. Our adversaries have also recognized the need for a triad. They are beginning the modernization of their programs as well. In fact, Russia started their modernization program in 2006, they're about 80 percent through completing the modernization of their triad. They'll be pretty close to being through by about 2020, and in 2020 we'll still be starting. That is not a good place to be from a national security perspective.
Inhofe: Well, that's right. You've actually jumped to the second area of disagreement is on the triad because several people have said that we don't need an all three leg triad and it can adequately be handled without all three. So just specifically on the triad element of the necessity of the three legs.
Hyten: When you look at the threat we face, the threat from the Russian triad soon, the threat from the Chinese triad, threats from North Korea as well, you have to look at the three of elements of the triad. The bombers are our most re-callable element; they're the most flexible element of the triad. The bombers can be deployed and recalled by the president. Deployed and recalled before they implore their weapons. They are the most flexible element. We can do almost anything with a bomber. The submarine is the most survivable element. It allows us to hide from our adversaries and make sure we can respond to any surprise attack. And the ICBM is the most ready element to respond to a quick surprise attack and it also creates the most significant targeting problem for an adversary. There are 400 separate targets across the United States. All would have to be independently targeted by an adversary. That targeting problem is hugely problematic and creates a significant advantage for us. So when you put those three together, you get this great operational capability, but the other thing it provides for us is the ability to respond to a failure in any one of those legs. If you have a technical failure, an intelligence failure, I can cover it with another leg, and that has happened during my tenure. And I have never put this nation at risk because I have the flexibility in the triad.
Inhofe: Yes and that comes also, General O'Shaughnessy, that's a big deal to you too. And we look at what we've done with our aging system. We're talking about now getting into a modernized ICBM. I don't know how long that would take. Some people say all the way through the twenties. At the same time, you have our adversaries. They may have been late in starting, but they're starting in a more modernized way. Do you agree with that? And so, they become a threat even though right now, today, they may not be ahead of us in these areas.
O'Shaughnessy: Chairman, I would agree and I think as the NDS articulates the security environment has fundamentally changed, and part of it is because what you alluded to. And I think as well watch both Russia and China create success in some other weapons programs and advancing the capabilities that they have are fundamentally changing and not just on the ballistic missile side but as you mentioned the hypersonics and also on the cruise missiles. And it's not just the cruise missiles themselves; it is also the platforms that deliver those cruise missiles. They've clearly invested very specifically with the ability to hold our homeland at risk with things like submarines and the bombers that they've modernized with a low RCS cruise missile that they could then launch. Therefore we have to also modernize. We have to stay ahead of that advancing threat and we can't expect to have success with 20th-century technology against 21st-century threats.
Inhofe: Which is what we've had. Thank you very much. Senator Reed.