February 13, 2020
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned witnesses this morning at a SASC hearing on United States Northern Command and United States Strategic Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2021.
Witnesses included: Admiral Charles Richard, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command; and General Terry O’Shaughnessy, Commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Inhofe: We’ll go ahead and start with questions. I only have one that I really want to get to. I’ve talked to both of you guys on other occasions about this, but what we ran up against, and this was kind of a surprise to a lot of us — the NNSA’s primary job is to build nuclear warheads to meet the requirements of the Department of Defense. Earlier this year, when we heard that the NNSA budget had been cut, we called the DOD and asked them what they thought. To my surprise, when I got a hold of them, they said they didn’t know because they don’t get it until after such time as — I think Energy gets it first — and so they didn’t have it. I’m not sure how it happened. Then I went back, and I’ve talked to you folks. What are you really able to do if you don’t hear about the budget before it’s already signed off or in the process of being concluded? And that is something we have a concern about it.
And then it reminded me back when I was first elected, and that’s when David Boren had this job. He called me — I remember this, this was way back in 1994 — he called me up and said, ‘Inhofe, there’s something I’ve been trying to get done for a long time and I’ve failed. Maybe you can do it.” And it was correcting this very problem that we’re pointing out right now. We may be addressing this.
So the question I would ask you is, do you agree this thing ought to be changed? You’ve got to be in on this thing to know. You remember what we did earlier this year? We had to go in and talk to the president because they had had dropped the budget down about 8 percent on NNSA, and nobody was aware of it except the Department of Energy. So we went and talked to the president and had a meeting, and we brought it back up just under the ’20 figure. So that’s what happened there.
Do the two of you agree that this is something that needs to be corrected after all these years?
Adm. Richard: Senator, one, I applauds yours and the committee’s leadership in addressing the necessary resources for the nuclear weapons complex. That, along with nuclear command and control and recapitalization of the triad systems, are essential for maintaining strategic deterrence, which is foundational for everything else we do inside the Defense Department. Chairman, you are well aware of the responsibility of the Nuclear Weapons Council to certify NNSA’s budget, and I have a role in providing a recommendation to the Nuclear Weapons Council to that end.
Adm. Richard: If there are weaknesses, and you described one in terms of our ability in a timely manner to do that, that is something that I will take up with the Secretary to address how we might be able to do that better.
Inhofe: Why don’t we do this for the record? We’ll just start this discussion going and not try to do it under the timelines we’re dealing with today. I’ll go ahead, and I have one area to bring up. Last summer, the Missile Defense Agency cancelled the program to modernize the ground-based interceptors up in Alaska, due to technical failures. The Next Generation Interceptor, then we find, will likely not be fielded until 2030. I think that would be a good thing for you to answer on the record as to, what about that gap? Can we handle that gap? Because everyone up here is going to be interested in that.