News   Lethality

Nuclear Triad Modernization the Nation's Highest Priority, Admiral Says

April 22, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

The nuclear triad, composed of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, submarines and strategic bombers, has been a credible deterrent to a "bolt out of the blue" attack, said the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, referring to an all-out nuclear attack on the United States.

Navy Adm. Charles Richard briefed the media at the Pentagon today.

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"I do want to report that Stratcom remains ready to accomplish all of our assigned missions. That has not been easy, given the COVID environment and other things, but we're fully mission capable," he said.

While strategic deterrence is incredibly important, Richard said it's also important to look at the totality of an appropriate response to any given threat, to include conventional deterrence in all domains.

Richard then took questions from the press, one of which was about the reliability of the ICBM leg of the triad.

Two Airmen place the cover on the front of the booster during a roll transfer.
Missile handling technicians complete roll transfer during QA inspection
Staff Sgt. Dustin Primo, right, 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron missile handling team chief and Senior Airman Dylan Funkhouser, missile handling technician, securely place a cover on the front of the booster of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile April 20, 2021, at the missile handling facility on Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. The cover is placed after half of the missile has rolled from one transporter erector to the other. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Elijah Van Zandt)
Photo By: 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
VIRIN: 210420-F-NE362-0140

The Minuteman III system is fully reliable today in terms of system performance and its ability to meet the threat, according to the Air Force, which is responsible for maintaining it, he said.

However, the system is old and it's getting increasingly harder to maintain it, he noted. "I want us to recognize that you can't indefinitely life-extend anything. You can't take stuff that you got back at the end of the Cold War, and to think somehow, forever, you can continue to make it work. There's a point where it becomes not cost effective to do that. And, there's another point out there where it's not possible at all.

"And, I want to make sure that we think through these decisions and recognize that those points exist and look for them," he added.

The Minuteman III replacement is the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, which is a newer model of ICBMs in the early stages of development. Richard said that the GBSD is slated to replace the Minuteman III beginning in 2029, when initial operating capability is expected.

An airplane is parked on a runway.
B-52H Stratofortress
A B-52H Stratofortress bomber from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., parks on the runway at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a U.S. Strategic Command Bomber Task Force, April 17, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Jovante Johnson
VIRIN: 210417-F-OT290-1019

Richard also said he applauded the decision to stand up the U.S. Space Command. "I think it has been a great benefit to my mission sets."

Spacecom will provide Stratcom with reliable missile warning, missile defense and space situational awareness, using its sensor suite of capabilities, he noted.