U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday said the nation would keep its air-land-sea approach to the nuclear arsenal, despite new Pentagon spending cuts.
"We ... preserve all three legs of the nuclear triad," he said in a lengthy statement at a Defense Department press conference, mostly devoted to conventional-warfare preparedness. "We'll make important investments to preserve a safe, secure, reliable and effective nuclear force."
Speaking alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, the defense secretary laid out a series of reductions he said were necessary for maintaining military readiness and rebalancing the force structure to address future threats.
The Air Force's A-10 close air support aircraft and the U-2 surveillance plane were notable casualties of the spending overhaul, though each of the planned weapons retirements could face pushback from Congress. The defense secretary also is looking to cut Army personnel numbers and cap a new class of Navy warships.
Hagel did not rule out that the Pentagon might yet introduce spending reductions in the coming fiscal years to today's elements of the nuclear triad: Navy submarine-based Trident D-5 ballistic missiles; Air Force B-2 and B-52 bomber aircraft; and Air Force Minuteman 3 ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.
However, as part of maintaining all three legs of the nuclear triad, he said the Pentagon plans to continue investing in the development of a Long Range Strike bomber to ultimately replace today's nuclear- and conventionally armed strategic-range aircraft.
"The forces we prioritize can project power over great distances and carry out a variety of missions more relevant to the president's defense strategy, such as homeland defense, strategic deterrence, building partnership capacity, and defeating asymmetric threats," Hagel told reporters. "They're also well suited to the strategy's rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, to sustaining security commitments in the Middle East and in Europe, and our engagement in other regions."
The Pentagon late last week acknowledged that it had directed the Air Force to examine the environmental consequences of decommissioning some Minuteman 3 missiles under the terms of the New START arms-control agreement, despite a congressional prohibition against spending on such an assessment. Lawmakers from key nuclear-basing states have opposed cuts to the missile force and included the ban on conducting an environmental impact study in fiscal 2014 spending legislation.
"This is the first time in 13 years" that the Pentagon will present to Capitol Hill a defense budget that is not on a war footing, Hagel said. "It is a different time. It is a different situation."
Whether Congress would accept the proposed spending changes was unclear, Hagel said, but he asserted that the Pentagon must put forth what it determines to be the budget priorities most appropriate for U.S. national security objectives.
The Pentagon is expected to submit its fiscal 2015 budget request to Congress next week.
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