WASHINGTON – The head of the US Strategic Command, which monitors the nuclear arsenal, warned Congress on Wednesday that Washington faces an increased risk of nuclear deterrence when it comes to Russia and China.

“We are currently facing a dynamic of deterrence, which we have seen only a few times in the history of our nation,” said Adm. Charles Richard before the Senate Strategic Forces Committee. “The war in Ukraine and China’s nuclear trajectory – their strategic breakthrough – demonstrate that we have a gap in deterrence and confidence based on the threat of limited nuclear employment.

Richard is a member of the Nuclear Weapons Council and appeared during the first hearing convened by the Senate Armed Forces Strategic Subcommittee. The panel was to hear testimony from the six members of the interdepartmental voting committee tasked with managing nuclear policy.

“The nation and our allies have not faced a crisis like the Russian invasion of Ukraine in more than 30 years,” Richard said. “President [Vladimir] At the same time, Putin invaded a sovereign nation, using thinly veiled nuclear threats to deter US and NATO intervention.

He noted that China is closely monitoring the war in Ukraine and is likely to use nuclear coercion to its advantage in the future. Their intention is to achieve the military capability to unite Taiwan by 2027, if not earlier.

Richard said China had doubled its nuclear stockpile in two years, despite expectations that it would take Beijing until the end of the decade to do so.

“The largest and most visible is the expansion from zero to at least 360 silos for solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles,” he said, noting that China has also made significant progress in its air and submarine-launched missiles. nuclear capabilities.

Richard used the warning to reiterate his call for “low-yield non-ballistic capability that does not require visible generation.”

He confirmed to Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., That it was a reference to the nuclear program to develop cruise missiles with naval launches, adding additional impetus to the debate in Congress on whether to continue with the Biden administration’s proposal to cancel the project.

Another member of the Council on Nuclear Weapons with the right to vote, Deputy Energy Minister Jill Hruby, said the Biden administration would not meet its legal requirements to produce 80 plutonium wells a year by 2030.

It is unclear what impact this will have on US nuclear modernization efforts, as Hrubi noted that scientists from the National Nuclear Security Administration have not yet determined the effect of using old plutonium wells in new weapons.

“We are building new pits because we are concerned about the aging of pits,” Hrubi said. “We do not want to put old pits in new weapons, if we think that in 30 years these weapons will be in stock, they may have problems with aging, but we do not know for sure.

However, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Criticized the program to produce plutonium pits to lag behind and exceed the budget, while Richard and Angus King, I-Maine, who chairs the subcommittee, stood up for Hruby.

“STRATCOM supports this or any other measure [the National Nuclear Security Administration] it can do that, which minimizes the delay and ultimately reduces the operational risk that I will have to bear because we can’t meet the requirement, ”Richard said.

King acknowledged that nuclear modernization efforts mean that most of the defense budget will support the nuclear triad – now 6.4% of the defense budget – but noted that it was still drastically lower than the 17% of the 1962 budget.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of money yet,” King said. “I call him like a pig in a budget python. This is a very large expense that we will have to cover in a few years. “

Bryant Harris is a congressional reporter for Defense News. It covers the intersection of US foreign policy and national security in Washington since 2014. He has previously written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera and IPS News.


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