News   Lethality

Stratcom Leader Describes Growing Threat From Nuclear-Armed China and Russia

May 7, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

The United States and its allies face an increasing set of threats from potential adversaries such as China, Russia and North Korea. U.S. Strategic Command's mission is to deter these threats through the deployment of a set of strategic capabilities, including nuclear armed submarines, bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

A bomber sits on a runway.
Barksdale Bomber
A B-52H Stratofortress bomber from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., sits 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-OT290-1019C

Navy Adm. Charles A. Richard, the commander of Stratcom, spoke virtually today about how his command is deterring these threats at the Brookings Institution.

"Strategic deterrence is the most important mission in the Department of Defense. It's our number one priority," he said.

Now for the first time in history, the U.S. faces two nuclear capable strategic peer competitors at the same time, he said.

Richard said he'd love to see a reduced role of nuclear weapons by the U.S., Russia and China and would like to extend them an olive branch.

The back of a missile is seen inside a tube.
Minuteman Booster
The booster of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile rolls from one transporter erector vehicle to another during a missile roll transfer at the missile handling facility on Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., April 20, 2021. These transfers send ICBMs back to the missile field after they've been serviced by missile maintenance technicians in the hangar.
Photo By: Air Force Airman Elijah Van Zandt
VIRIN: 210420-F-NE362-0123C

"I'd love for the day that I could report we don't need a U.S. Strategic Command," he said, because political agreements have been achieved with verification.

A good starting point on the path to reduction, he said, would be to have a conversation with Russia about its non-treaty accountable weapons. Conversations with China would be tremendously beneficial as well.

"One thing you can say about the U.S. and Russia — even all the way through the Cold War, as tense as that was at certain points — is that we talked all the way through and there was great value in that," he said, adding that having open communications can certainly bring the threat level down to everyone's mutual benefit.

A missile launches into the air.
Missile Launch
An Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Sept. 2, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force photo by Vandenberg Air Force Base Public Affairs
VIRIN: 200902-F-DO439-1002A

In the meantime, however, Stratcom works diligently to achieve a credible nuclear deterrent that is safe, secure and effective, he said, adding that nuclear deterrence is not just about protecting the U.S., it's also about protecting allies.

China, he said, is a growing threat. Their strategic and conventional forces are rapidly expanding in all domains.

Russia is undergoing a very extensive nuclear modernization program as well, he added.

Marines work atop a submarine.
Raft Assembly
Marines assigned to the 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, III Marine Expeditionary Force, assemble a combat rubber raiding craft during a regularly scheduled exercise aboard the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Ohio in the Pacific Ocean, Feb. 9, 2021.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Juan Antoine King
VIRIN: 210209-N-LD174-1004C

Because of these growing threats from China and Russia, modernizing America's own nuclear triad is of paramount importance, he said.

Richard also highlighted the importance he places on having a highly skilled and motivated workforce to operate and maintain the nuclear triad. These would include scientists, software developers, engineers and technologists.