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DoD News Briefing: Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Command

Presenters: Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Command
November 07, 1997

Press Conference

Moderator: Good afternoon. It gives me great pleasure to welcome General Eugene Habiger, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. One interesting thing about the general's career, which is filled with interesting things, is that he actually started as an Army enlisted man for four years before he shifted over to the Air Force, where obviously he has risen to great heights. He has been at STRATCOM for several years, and he is in charge of our nuclear forces, strategic nuclear forces.

Gen. Habiger just came back from a trip to Russia, where at the request of Secretary Cohen, he paid particular attention to questions involving the security of the Russian nuclear force. These discussions followed discussions that he had initiated with Gen. Sergeyev at Offutt when he visited here, I believe, in the spring, and he will talk to you about his discussions with Gen. Sergeyev first in Gen. Sergeyev's capacity as commander of the Strategic Rocket Force and now in his capacity as Minister of Defense in Russia. Gen. Habiger.

Gen. Habiger: Thanks very much, Ken. It's an honor and a privilege for me to be here. I've just experienced something that I never thought possible, because as a Cold War warrior, I spent most of my adult life sitting alert with B-52 bombers, and for a period of five days last week, the Russians showed me a great deal about specifically their strategic rocket forces from their command and control to allowing me the first, as I understand it, non-Russian to ever go into a nuclear weapons storage area and to see how they keep their nuclear weapons secure and safe.

Let me back up and expand a little bit about what Ken said. I first met Gen. Sergeyev in October of last year, when Dr. Perry, then Secretary of Defense, asked me to accompany him to Moscow for some high-level talks. I met Sergeyev privately for about one hour before the meeting with the principals. We got along well. I extended an invitation to him to come visit me at Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, and in late-March/early April of this year, he did come. I spent six days with him, 10 to 12 hours a day, and we talked a lot. I showed him a missile base. I showed him my headquarters in some depth, and I took him to one of our nuclear weapons storage facilities at F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The first time that a Russian has ever been in one of our weapons storage areas, and he saw first-hand the procedures and the processes we go through to ensure that our nuclear weapons are safe and secure. He was impressed. During the ministerials a few weeks ago at Maastricht, Secretary of Defense Cohen and now Minister of Defense Sergeyev met, and Secretary Cohen asked what Sergeyev's view was of the safety and security of their nuclear weapons, and, as I recall, Gen. Sergeyev said that his nuclear weapons were as safe and secure as those in the United States. Secretary Cohen said, Well, Gen. Habiger is going to be visiting you here within the next few weeks. Could you perhaps show him how you go about doing that? and Gen. Sergeyev said yes.

I was already scheduled to be in Russia to do some visits, not expecting at that time to actually go into a nuclear weapons storage site. On Friday, two weeks ago, that's exactly what I did. I went to a nuclear weapons storage site at a road-mobile SS-24, rail-mobile SS-24 missile base at Kostroma, which is a little over 300 kilometers northeast of Moscow. I was taken in the facility. I was shown the security.

I went into a nuclear weapons storage bunker and saw an operational nuclear weapon. Actually, there were eight of them on an SS-24 missile, upper-stage missile. I went in to talk to the security people who were guarding the facility, as a matter of fact, and every one of my questions was answered. And I was shown a lot of things that I was impressed with. For example, in the United States we have a two-person policy involving nuclear weapons. In other words, you have to have a minimum of two people in order to get close to a nuclear weapon. In Russia it's the three-person policy.

In the United States we have a thing called a personnel reliability program where we monitor our people medically for any kind of abnormal behavior that would make them unstable around nuclear weapons. The Russians do not have a program that's exactly like ours, but they have a similar program. Before missile crew members or before security personnel go on their alert tours, which are three- or four-day cycles, they are personally interviewed by a medical doctor and a psychologist.

I actually saw a demonstration of the capability of their security forces. It was not something that was planned; it was something that I asked for at the spur of the moment, and I was very impressed with these nine young men, the security force that was tasked with guarding this particular facility. The detachment of nine individuals was commanded by a senior lieutenant, all very professional. They knew what they were doing.

Now, the caveat I would give you is that I saw one facility. Was it representative? I'd like to think so. They made it very clear that the facility I was in at Kostroma was very representative of the missile bases in Russia. As a result of what I saw, I had further discussions with Gen. Col. Yakoulev, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Rocket Forces, who replaced Gen. Sergeyev, and we agreed to exchange security specialists from our respective commands, and hopefully within the next few, several weeks a team of four or five of his security people will come to one of our missile bases and see in depth the procedures and the technical applications we use in our nuclear weapons storage areas, and he has agreed that he would host a similar team from my headquarters to do exactly the same thing.

We also agreed that we would establish a shadow program where we would take the equivalent of a wing commander, and squadron commander, a flight commander, and a missile crew member from one of his missile bases to come to the United States and shadow their respective counterparts for a one-week period -- meetings, fitness center, dining facilities, everything -- and then he would reciprocate with a team from my command.

I saw, for example, on the down side, we tend to use high-technology devices much more than the Russians do. For example, we use television sensors, low-light television cameras to monitor certain areas. The Russians have not made that capital investment. Manpower is relatively inexpensive for them, and they use more eyeballs, if you will. I specifically asked if they use things like night-vision goggles, and I was assured that they do. During the course of this little exercise, when I asked what would you do if this were to happen, the two-star, Russian Strategic Rocket Forces general who was accompanying me directed them to show me exactly what they would do, and they went to the extremes of not only getting their weapons out, but issuing the ammunition and then pulling out an armored personnel carrier that was in a garage right behind the facility where the troops were bedded down.

An experience that I was impressed with. We have a lot more work to do, a lot more transparency, a lot more details, but from my observations, I was impressed and have confidence that the Russians, from what I saw at that one base, have a program which is ensuring the safe, secure processes involved regarding nuclear weapons.

I was also exposed to their command centers, from the national-level command center down to the command center in a road-mobile missile and also a rail-mobile missile, and at all levels and saw the individuals on duty, talked to them, asked them questions, every question I asked was answered in depth, and the thing that struck me about going into their command centers, command-and-control centers is that they are very much geared to a fail-safe mode. And what I mean by that is that any one of the command centers, from the national level down to the unit level, can inhibit the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that pretty much wraps up in a brief overview my experience, and I open it up for questions. Yes, sir?

Q: General, you said that you were impressed, especially with the one site that you inspected, but you haven't said do you believe, or do you think that the nuclear weapons there are as safe as they are here, like Sergeyev said?

A: Well, as I said, I saw one site, and I was assured by Gen. Yakoulev, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Rocket Forces, and Gen. Kirillov, who is the Commander of the 27th Rocket Army, who accompanied me on this leg of the trip, that what I saw was representative. And if what I saw was representative, yes, I have confidence in the safety and security of their nuclear weapons stockpile. They are deadly serious about this. This is a very valuable resource. It is something that in the wrong hands would be a very dangerous resource, and they go to great lengths. The security personnel, I was told, and just from what I saw, I would tend to believe, that they are elite. They call themselves the 10-Alpha Force. They are regularly tested by an anti-terrorist group that comes around to these kinds of facilities and attempt penetration.

Q: Did you hear any complaints from any of these soldiers about not getting paid or any of the typical things you hear?

A: No, sir. No, sir. Yes, sir?

Q: Did you have any discussion of submarine-launched nuclear weapons?

A: No, sir, and that's one of the things we need to -- when I gave my debrief to the secretary, we need to now start looking at the long-range aviation, the bomber folks, and the submarine folks to make sure that these kinds of measures are in place at the other nuclear-weapon legs of their triad.

Q: They didn't brief you at all on that?

A: Sir, the Russians, the structure is a little different. As the Commander-in-Chief of Strategic Command, I've got all three legs of our triad. In Russia you have Gen. Deyenkin is the chief of staff of the Air Force, he's got the bomber leg; Gen. Yakoulev has got the missile leg; and then you've got a navy admiral in charge of the subs, and that will be the next step obviously.

Q: What is your impression of their submarine operations, from your point of view? Did you look at it or do you have an idea or a feeling for it?

A: Yes, sir. Their submarine force is getting smaller, dramatically smaller and will continue to get smaller over the next few years. From what I see, and I look at this very carefully, they ensure that their submarines are full-up arounds, if you will, and that's kind of a wrong pun, but fully capable, and the crews are fully trained before they allow them to go to sea. Yes, sir?

Q: Yes. General, did you inquire with the Russians about these tactical nuclear weapons that Gen. Lebed, Dr. Yablokov have talked about possibly being out of control or unaccounted for? And did you talk to the Russians about the possibility of doing inspections with them on those types of weapons as well as strategic?

A: Good question. No, I did not address that issue specifically with them. I did ask them, however, about the accountability of the weapons. In other words, how did they know they had all of their weapons where they are supposed to? And I got back a very comforting response. At the wing level there is a section called the 6th Directorate, and it's a shop of three or four officers, and their sole function is to make sure they know where every nuclear weapon in that wing is. At the Rocket Army level there is a similar kind of organization.

At the Headquarters, Strategic Rocket Forces, there is a 6th Directorate, and then, for whatever reason, the Ministry of Defense is called the 12th Directorate, and their sole function is this accountability issue. Gen. Yakoulev was very open to me. As a matter of fact, we spent almost three hours just taking one-v-one with a Russian interpreter. Gen. Yakoulev showed me, for example, his computer screen, which is tied to a local area network, and he sees the equivalent of up to top-secret information. Now, I do not speak Russian, do not read Russian, and when he showed me what was on his computer screen, it was in Russian, but he told me what was on there, and as a very senior officer in the Russian military, I believed him. He showed me, for example, the page that listed the whereabouts of every nuclear weapon in his command. He also -- whenever a nuclear weapon in his command is worked on, that data is presented to him in his computer. It's updated daily at 6 o'clock in the morning. I was able to figure that out on my own, that it was updated at 6 o'clock every morning.

And another thing that I was impressed with is that whenever the Russian Rocket Forces move a weapon, whether it's 30 yards from a bunker to a facility to do maintenance on from a missile field back to the home base, which may be 30 or 40 miles, a minimum of a two-star on the Rocket Forces staff approves that.

Q: So they are open to reciprocal accountability on at least their strategic nukes. Is that correct?

A: Yes, sir. Now, that's one of the things that we are going to have to, I think, start working with START III, is the tactical-nuke side of the house. Yes, sir?

Q: How do you square that perceived candor with what some folks say is a lack of candor on the Yamantal Mountain complex near Moscow, where they haven't really ponied up a good answer for that?

A: Well, that's a dilemma. I've posed that question. I did not pose it on this trip. I posed it earlier to a -- I believe it was Gen. Sergeyev -- perhaps it was Gen. Soluvtsov, who was the number-two guy at the time. His response to me was it was a national crisis control center; it had nothing to do with the military. We continue to look at that facility very carefully, and --

Q: Do you believe that answer?

A: Based upon what I've seen, I would tend to not discount that answer. Yes, sir?

Q: General, have you had any discussions with your counterpart on nuclear modernization plants?

A: Plans?

Q: As opposed to just the, you know, the maintaining of the current --

A: In other words, modernization of their program. Just in terms of, you know, they are building a new follow-on to their mobile missile. It will be either road mobile or they can put it in silos. It will be a START II-compliant, single warhead. The initial operational capability of that missile has been slipped significantly over the past two years, and I think it's just a matter of coming up with the funds to get that system on the streets. Because of some very, very wise investments, I do not see the United States even thinking about having to modernize any of our forces until the year 2020.

Q: I just wanted to follow up on his. What's the new IOC on that missile?

A: It depends on who you talk to. I'd say the middle of next year sometime.

Q: And which one specifically is that?

A: The SS-27.

Q: And it was supposed to be two years previous.

A: Well, it depends on who you talk to. A year ago, then mid-year this year, the end of this year. They just test-fired one here not to long ago, a successful test. They are proceeding with the construction of a silo to put it in. They have done some work on the transporter erector launcher, the TEL. The program is going along well. They just laid the keel for a new Borey-class, ballistic-missile submarine here last fall, and we don't expect to see that operational until the year 2005 or so. Yes, sir?

Q: The 27 is the follow-on to the 25.

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Similar, similar, road mobile?

A: Road mobile. The big difference is going to be in the TEL is going to be a little more capable, better turning radius, that sort of thing, and the missile will have some improvements. Yes, sir?

Q: General, just back to the tactical nuclear question for a minute. Does the Strategic Rocket Forces control the tactical weapons?

A: No, sir.

Q: Okay. So the security conditions that you saw; is it possible that they are not replicated in the command that oversees tactical weapons?

A: Yes, sir. It is conceivable, but from what I saw, if they are as serious about what they were doing at their Strategic Rocket Forces bases, it would seem to me that same mentality would (inaudible), but I cannot guarantee that.

Q: And just to ask you a question about the other half of the equation, too. Their security is perhaps as good as the U.S. or not, but they also face different kinds of threats than the U.S., don't they? I mean, is there a more likelihood of, say, organized crime being able to procure a nuclear weapon? Has your command looked at that problem?

A: From what I saw, if what I saw is representative of the Strategic Rocket Forces, organized crime getting their hands on a weapon out of their facilities would be extremely remote. I cannot speak to other facilities, but it gets back to the point of under START III we really need to start getting some transparency into their tactical nuclear weapons stockpile. Yes, sir? Back over here.

Q: The modernization program for them has focused on the land based and now the submarines as well. Have they basically told you they are giving up on the triad concept?

A: No, sir. They are doing a research and development program on a new, air-launched cruise missile for their bombers.

Q: But they are not looking for a new platform, just a new -- not a new bomber, as such, just a new --

A: No. You know, we've seen on occasions, for example, the Blackjack. Apparently they have got some that are still undergoing construction and should be rolling out of a plant here before too much longer.

Q: The new cruise missile; is that comparable to the AGM-129?

A: No.

Q: Better or not as good?

A: Just an entirely different concept.

Q: It sounds like there is a lot of building activity across all three legs of the triad --

A: No, no, no, no, not a lot. They have not modern -- we made some very wise investments back in the eighties with the B-2 bomber, the B-1, the advanced cruise missile, the Ohio-class Trident submarine, the D-5 missile. The Russians weren't modernizing their forces as we were during that time frame, and what's happening is that the service life of their systems is coming to an end, and that's one of the reasons why, in my view, the Russians very much want to get down to START III levels very quickly, because the SS-18, for example, which is their heavy ICBM with 10 warheads, the thing is just flat, you know, running out of service life.

Q: To follow up real quick, did you talk doctrine? There is some word that Russians are thinking about adopting a policy of extended deterrence, meaning first launch, first use on behalf of allies, so-called allies.

A: We did not discuss that particular aspect. We discussed doctrine, and we discussed arms control. We discussed stability, those kinds of things, but not to that level.

Moderator: Sir, since the secretary is going to be coming down here at 2 o'clock, I would suggest we take -- we have time for about one more.

Gen. Habiger: Okay. Somebody who hasn't asked a question, I'll give you one shot. Over here, but you've got to be as articulate as the rest of the --

Q: Did you talk about stockpile stewardship and specifically comprehensive test ban, and, you know, we have a problem here about keeping our nukes (inaudible) to the comprehensive test ban. What's (inaudible) there?

A: Good question. I'm right in the heart of that fight because when the president announced in August 1995 that we were going to proceed down the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, he directed that the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Strategic Command would provide an independent assessment. I did that last year for the first time, and my assessment to my boss, the secretary of defense, was that our stockpile was safe and reliable.

I just completed an assessment, and I have a team of civilian experts who work on an advisory group for me pro bono. This group has been around -- not the same people, but the concept has been around for over 35 years. They have served the commander-in-chief, SAC, and now STRATCOM. I've got a team of eight, very independent thinkers who are previous weapon lab directors, weapon engineers, weapon designers, and they have provided me their independent assessment, and I've gone into this in great depth, and it's a year-by-year kind of thing. And as I reported again to the secretary of defense this year, our nuclear weapons stockpile is safe and reliable. And I will do that every year, and whoever succeeds me will do the same thing.

Q: Just to clarify one thing you said earlier about the three person as opposed to two in the United States, you said get close to a nuclear weapon. What you meant was to launch a nuclear weapon, did you not?

A: No, sir. What I meant by that, and I'm talking about access to a nuclear weapon itself. The launching of a nuclear weapon is very complicated. It is very -- the controls are very robust. There are a lot of safeguards built in. Trust me.

Q: You mean three guards or --

A: No, no. I'm talking about if you wanted to open up a bunker in a Russian nuclear weapons storage area, at our sites you need two people to go do that who understand what they are doing, whatever tasks they are going to do. In Russia you need three people. And, oh, by the way, in Russia when you open up that igloo, you have to have a written order signed by the full colonel, who is the special technical unit commander, whereas we don't have those specific kinds of requirements.

Q: Did the Russians express any concern to you of the possibility of a Peacemaker-type scenario coming out of the mob, obtaining some kind of tactical weapon?

A: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, they made it very clear to me that they train to ensure that those kinds of things just wouldn't happen. I need to see that movie, by the way.

Q: You were discussing military doctrine and nuclear doctrine. Have you heard anything new or something which would worry you as the commander of strategic forces?

A: No, not at all, not at all. Thanks for the opportunity to come talk to you. Thank you

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