Congress Moves to Solidify Pentagon Oversight of Nuclear Communications

A since-mothballed nuclear operations command center located deep within Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs, Colorado, as seen in 2002. House-Senate conference legislation would order the Pentagon to create a special council with oversight on the acquisition of nuclear command-and-control technology.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Rachel Oswald
Dec. 17, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

Con­gress is get­ting set to tell the Pentagon to cre­ate a new body to over­see tech­no­lo­gies that fa­cil­it­ate U.S. lead­ers’ com­mu­nic­a­tions dur­ing nuc­le­ar crises.

A pro­vi­sion in the House-Sen­ate com­prom­ise on an an­nu­al mil­it­ary au­thor­iz­a­tion bill would re­quire the De­fense De­part­ment to es­tab­lish a spe­cial coun­cil with re­spons­ib­il­ity for “nuc­le­ar com­mand, con­trol, and com­mu­nic­a­tions,” also known as the NC3 sys­tem.

This is a “col­lec­tion of activ­it­ies, pro­cesses, and pro­ced­ures per­formed by ap­pro­pri­ate mil­it­ary com­mand­ers and sup­port per­son­nel that “¦ al­low for seni­or-level de­cisions on nuc­le­ar weapons em­ploy­ment to be made “¦ and sub­sequently al­low for those de­cisions to be com­mu­nic­ated to forces for ex­e­cu­tion,” ac­cord­ing to The Nuc­le­ar Mat­ters Hand­book.

The spe­cial coun­cil en­vi­sioned by the fisc­al 2014 de­fense policy-set­ting bill would be re­spons­ible for identi­fy­ing and mit­ig­at­ing any po­ten­tial vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies in NC3 tech­no­logy, provid­ing over­sight of sys­tem-per­form­ance as­sess­ments, de­vel­op­ing the over­all sys­tem ar­chi­tec­ture, and en­sur­ing that the pro­gram has the re­sources it needs.

The nuc­le­ar net­work’s on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment pro­jects in­clude the Fam­ily of Ad­vanced Bey­ond Line-of-Sight Ter­min­als, de­signed to en­sure that seni­or ci­vil­ian and mil­it­ary of­fi­cials have the abil­ity to com­mu­nic­ate se­curely with one an­oth­er via mil­it­ary satel­lites.

As this kind of cut­ting-edge tech­no­logy can take years to de­vel­op, House and Sen­ate Armed Ser­vice Com­mit­tee mem­bers felt it was im­port­ant to “in­sti­tu­tion­al the whole pro­cess of ac­quis­i­tion and policy,” said a Sen­ate staffer, who was not au­thor­ized to speak on the re­cord. This would mean es­tab­lish­ing a new De­fense body with an ex­pli­cit man­date to man­age the pro­ject, the aide said.

The 2010 Nuc­le­ar Pos­ture Re­view noted that the Pentagon aimed to im­prove the nuc­le­ar com­mand-and-con­trol sys­tem by “mod­ern­iz­ing ‘leg­acy’ single-pur­pose NC3 cap­ab­il­it­ies to meet cur­rent and pro­jec­ted chal­lenges.”

Cur­rently, ac­quis­i­tion plan­ning for the nuc­le­ar com­mu­nic­a­tions sys­tem oc­curs on an “ad hoc” basis that “tends to ebb and flow” de­pend­ing on who is in charge, the Cap­it­ol Hill aide said in a phone in­ter­view last week.

Bridge Colby, an ana­lyst with the Cen­ter for Nav­al Ana­lyses, said the bill pro­vi­sion likely was promp­ted by the re­cent de­par­ture of former Deputy De­fense Sec­ret­ary Ash Carter and the im­pend­ing exit of De­fense Un­der­sec­ret­ary for Policy James Miller. As both men had been fo­cused on nuc­le­ar-com­mu­nic­a­tions is­sues, “there’s a sense that this im­port­ant ef­fort could be left to drift,” Colby said in an e-mail.

“The [de­fense bill] pro­vi­sion is a way to try to in­sti­tu­tion­al­ize po­tent and ef­fect­ive ad­vocacy for and over­sight of the NC3 sys­tem,” he ad­ded.

Un­der the le­gis­la­tion, Con­gress would give the nuc­le­ar net­work a seni­or fo­cus in­side the Pentagon. The meas­ure dir­ects that the coun­cil be co-chaired by the vice chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the un­der­sec­ret­ary of De­fense for ac­quis­i­tion, tech­no­logy, and lo­gist­ics. The body also is to in­clude the un­der­sec­ret­ary of De­fense for policy; the head of Stra­tegic Com­mand; the dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency; and the Pentagon’s chief in­form­a­tion of­ficer.

Plough­shares Fund policy ana­lyst Ben Loehrke said he saw the po­ten­tial cre­ation of the coun­cil as a pos­it­ive.

“U.S. se­cur­ity is only strengthened by im­proved com­mand and con­trol, which would help de­crease the risk of ac­ci­dents or in­tru­sions and aid in crisis de­cision-mak­ing,” Loehrke said in an e-mail. “Hope­fully this bur­eau­crat­ic [change] will help the Pentagon pri­or­it­ize and re­source such im­prove­ments.”

The House has already ap­proved the 2014 de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion meas­ure. The Sen­ate is ex­pec­ted to be­gin con­sid­er­a­tion of the bill on Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to Politico.

The De­fense De­part­ment did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment on the called-for Pentagon body by press time. The agency in the past has said it does not com­ment on pending le­gis­la­tion.

This art­icle was pub­lished in Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire, which is pro­duced in­de­pend­ently by Na­tion­al Journ­al Group un­der con­tract with the Nuc­le­ar Threat Ini­ti­at­ive. NTI is a non­profit, non­par­tis­an group work­ing to re­duce glob­al threats from nuc­le­ar, bio­lo­gic­al, and chem­ic­al weapons.

What We're Following See More »
STARTS LEGAL FUND FOR WH STAFF
Trump to Begin Covering His Own Legal Bills
14 hours ago
THE DETAILS
DISCUSSED THE MATTER FOR A NEW BOOK
Steele Says Follow the Money
15 hours ago
STAFF PICKS

"Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who wrote the explosive dossier alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia," says in a new book by The Guardian's Luke Harding that "Trump's land and hotel deals with Russians needed to be examined. ... Steele did not go into further detail, Harding said, but seemed to be referring to a 2008 home sale to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK foreign-intelligence unit MI6 between 1999 and 2004, said in April that Trump borrowed money from Russia for his business during the 2008 financial crisis."

Source:
BRITISH PUBLICIST CONNECTED TO TRUMP TOWER MEETING
Goldstone Ready to Meet with Mueller’s Team
16 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The British publicist who helped set up the fateful meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 is ready to meet with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's office, according to several people familiar with the matter. Rob Goldstone has been living in Bangkok, Thailand, but has been communicating with Mueller's office through his lawyer, said a source close to Goldstone."

Source:
SPEAKING ON RUSSIAN STATE TV
Kislyak Says Trump Campaign Contacts Too Numerous to List
17 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak said on Wednesday that it would take him more than 20 minutes to name all of the Trump officials he's met with or spoken to on the phone. ... Kislyak made the remarks in a sprawling interview with Russia-1, a popular state-owned Russian television channel."

Source:
“BLOWING A SURE THING”
Sabato Moves Alabama to “Lean Democrat”
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login