The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee warned today that President Obama can’t let his “Global Zero” disarmament aims get in the way of Pentagon observations and recommendations on the “sobering state of our nuclear force.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters this morning that both internal and external reviews found “a consistent lack of investment and support for our nuclear forces over far too many years has left us with too little margin to cope with mounting stresses.”
The reviews found “evidence of systematic problems that if not addressed could undermine the safety, security, and effectiveness of the elements of the force in the future,” including “manning, infrastructure and skill deficiencies; a culture of micro-management; and over-inspection and inadequate communication, follow-up, and accountability by senior department in nuclear enterprise leadership.”
“The root cause has been a lack of sustained focus, attention, and resources, resulting in a pervasive sense that a career in the nuclear enterprise offers too few opportunities for growth and advancement,” Hagel said.
The secretary stressed that “our nuclear deterrent plays a critical role in ensuring U.S. national security, and it’s DOD’s highest priority mission.”
“No other capability we have is more important… Consistent with President Obama’s guidance, our policy is to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our nation’s security strategy and to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. We’ll continue to do both, but that doesn’t diminish our responsibilities.”
Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said the findings underscore the “urgent investment needed” to ensure the “future effectiveness” of the nuclear force.
“Deterrence is the cornerstone of our national security strategy – as Chairman Dempsey has testified, it’s our No. 1 priority because it guarantees the ‘survival of the nation’. But, the Nuclear Enterprise has suffered from neglect for too long,” McKeon said. “Insufficient resources, indifferent leadership, and poor morale have taken their toll. I commend the Secretary for his leadership and for prioritizing the resources necessary to make sure our deterrent remains safe, secure and reliable.”
He noted that the Department of Energy also needs to get in the game to “re-prioritize its nuclear mission, correct for years of underfunding, and restore morale.”
“Most importantly, I hope the president will listen to his senior civilian and military national security leaders, take this as seriously as they do, and cast aside his Global Zero vision that is in reality unilateral disarmament,” McKeon said. “We can work together to follow the blueprint established by Secretary Hagel and his review and show the leadership our men and women in uniform deserve.”
Hagel’s recommendations include “changes in organization, policies, and culture,” while “others require an increase in resources, allocated to the nuclear mission.”
“We must restore the prestige that attracted the brightest minds of the Cold War era, so our most talented young men and women see the nuclear pathway as promising in value,” he said. “That’s why I have granted the Air Force authority to elevate Global Strike Command to a four-star billet and Air Staff’s head of strategic deterrence and nuclear integration to a three-star billet. They will no longer be outranked by their non-nuclear counterparts, giving the nuclear Air Force the second-to-none leadership it deserves.”
The first 25 nuclear deterrence operations service medals were awarded last week.
Both the Air Force and Navy are “elevating and reinforcing the nuclear mission” in their upcoming budget requests, Hagel said.
“We will need to make billions of dollars of additional investments in the nuclear enterprise over the next five years,” he stressed. “This new funding, which will be detailed in our budget submission next year, will be critical to continue improving upkeep and security, while addressing shortfalls that undermine morale of the nuclear force.”
Currently, the DoD spends between $15 billion and $16 billion each year on the nuclear force.
One of the details in the report found was forces only having one wrench used to attach warheads for 400 missiles at three bases.
“They did it by Federal Expressing the one wrench around each base. They were creative and innovative and they made it work. But that’s not the way to do it. We now have a wrench for each location. We’re going to have two wrenches for each location soon,” Hagel said.
He added that two ground wars over the past 13 years can’t entirely be blamed for letting the nuclear program fall by the wayside. “It’s not paying attention where we should have in some areas.”
“The good news about this is there has been no nuclear exchange in the world, and that’s the whole point of deterrence. That’s the reason this triad system is so critical for our security. And I think there’s been, nationally, a sense of just taking it for granted. So what? There’s not going to be a nuclear exchange. The big problem is what’s going on in the Middle East, North Africa, terrorism, al-Qaeda, the wars. That’s the threat to America. Yes, that’s a threat to America. It still is.”