Nuclear Triad to Survive Hagel Cuts in Pentagon Spending

A U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bomber rehearses a flyover of the U.S. Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., in 2006. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday said he would preserve funding to develop a new bomber to ultimately replace the B-2.
National Journal
Elaine M. Grossman
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Elaine M. Grossman
Feb. 24, 2014, 10:09 a.m.

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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