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Military Leaders Say Maintaining U.S. Strategic Edge Requires Continued Investment

Senior military officials told lawmakers today that the United States remains ready to deter strategic and space-based threats, but continued investment is critical amid increasing competition.

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A Falcon 9 rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla, Feb. 8, 2024.
Photo By: Joshua Conti, Space Force
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Air Force Gen. Anthony J. Cotton, U.S. Strategic Command commander, and Space Force Gen. Stephen N. Whiting, U.S. Space Command commander, said recent investments by Russia and China underscore the imperative to maintaining the United States' strategic edge.   

"The most important message I want to deliver today is that the forces under my command are ready to deter our adversaries and respond decisively should deterrence fail," Cotton said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "No adversary should ever doubt our capability today."

But he said those capabilities should not be taken for granted.  

"We do this in the face of challenges unlike anything America has ever encountered," Cotton said. "We are confronting not one but two nuclear peers: the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China. This reality combined [with] missile developments in North Korea, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and the growing relationships amongst those nations adds new layers of complexity to our strategic calculus."

Cotton noted the quickening pace at which China has developed its fixed intercontinental ballistic missile launchers and projections that China's nuclear arsenal could reach nearly 1,000 warheads by 2030. 

He also highlighted recent statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin that 95% of Russia's strategic nuclear forces have been modernized.  

"In short, our competitors are improving their position against the U.S. and its allies in multiple domains at rates that are far exceeding the pace we've seen just a few years ago," he said. 

Whiting also described advancements by U.S. competitors that challenge the United States' edge in space.  

He noted that China's intelligence satellite fleet had grown to more than 359 systems as of January more than tripling its space-based intelligence collection presence since 2018. 

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The B-21 Raider is photographed during an unveiling ceremony in Palmdale, Calif., Nov. 28, 2022.
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"With their space and counterspace systems, they have dramatically increased their ability to monitor, track and target U.S. and allied forces, both terrestrially and on orbit," Whiting said.  

Russia has also continued to develop and test space and anti-satellite capabilities, Whiting said.  

Both leaders told lawmakers that continued investments in strategic and space-based capabilities are critical.  

"While our legacy systems continue to hold potential adversaries at risk, it is absolutely critical we continue to speed, at speed with the modernization of our nuclear triad," Cotton said.  

The 2022 Nuclear Posture Review identified the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a top priority in maintaining a strong nuclear deterrence.   

That modernization effort, which is being carried out over the next two decades, includes initiatives to modernize all three legs of the nuclear triad. 

Whiting also noted that while the U.S. "remains the best military space power in the world," the current architecture is "optimized for operations in a benign space environment."

"To ensure success in the contested space … environment we now find ourselves in, it is vital that U.S. Space Command has delivered improved capabilities and capacities, fully tested and with trained personnel by 2027," he said. "While a conflict in space is not inevitable, it would certainly be devastating and disrupt our use of space for decades.  

"We must be ready if deterrence fails," he said.  

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