With China, Russia, Iran and North Korea all pursuing advancements in their own nuclear capabilities, and both China and Russia developing advanced hypersonic weaponry and space capabilities, the United States will continue to rely on nuclear weapons as a central part of its own strategic deterrence. But there will need to be more than just nuclear weapons if the U.S. is to maintain its own security, said Sasha Baker, the deputy under secretary of defense for policy.
Right now, a new National Defense Strategy is in the works, and Baker said the new NDS, when released, will include the Missile Defense Review and the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review nested within it.
"As directed by the president, the NPR has examined opportunities to reduce the role of nuclear weapons while maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent and a credible extended deterrence," Baker said. "In order to do so we will continue to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear capabilities. And as we develop and implement integrated deterrence, nuclear weapons will continue to serve a unique role in our defense strategy."
At the core of the National Defense Strategy will be "integrated deterrence," which Baker said is a framework for working across warfighting domains, theaters and the spectrum of conflict, in collaboration with all instruments of national power, as well as with U.S. allies and our partners.
Right now, Baker told lawmakers, potential U.S. adversaries are modernizing and expanding their own strategic capabilities
China, she said, is expanding its own nuclear forces and is investing in a nuclear triad like that of the United States — which includes land, sea and air-based delivery of nuclear weapons.
"The PRC is investing in a triad, implementing a launch-on-warning posture with advanced command and control architecture and increasing its stockpile," she said.
In space, China remains the primary, long-term competitor for the United States and seeks to exploit U.S. reliance on space and space systems.
Army Gen. James H. Dickinson, commander of U.S. Space Command, told lawmakers that in January, China demonstrated the capabilities of its SJ-21 satellite, for instance.
"The recently launched SJ21 'Space Debris Mitigation' satellite docked with a defunct PRC satellite and moved it to an entirely different orbit," he said. "This activity demonstrated potential dual-use capability in SJ-21 interaction with other satellites. U.S. Space Command is committed to deterring the use of these types of capabilities for nefarious purposes within the framework of the Department of Defense's integrated deterrence initiative."
Russia also continues to modernize its nuclear, space and hypersonic capabilities, Baker said, while North Korea demonstrates advancements in both nuclear capabilities and delivery systems pose in both Asia and the U.S. homeland.
Navy Adm. Charles A. Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command said he previously said that the U.S. must be able to deter two adversaries at the same time, but now that need is "an imperative."
"I've said this before and I think it's worth repeating: every operational plan in the Department of Defense and every other capability we have, rests on an assumption that strategic deterrence and in particular nuclear deterrence is holding. And if strategic or nuclear deterrence fails, no other plan and no other capability in the Department of Defense will work as designed," he said.
Richard said the strategic security environment is now a three-party reality. "Our existing nuclear forces are the minimum required to achieve our national strategy," he said. "We must modernize and recapitalize the nation's nuclear triad, nuclear command and control, nuclear complex and supporting infrastructure to meet presidential objectives."