Hyten Says Nuclear Modernization Cannot be Delayed

US Strategic Command boss Gen. John Hyten speaks at an AFA Mitchell Institute event in Washington, D.C., on June 20, 2017. STRATCOM Twitter photo.

Gen. John Hyten, commander of US Strategic Command, “strongly” urged Congress “not to slow down any element of the triad,” during his speech Tuesday at an AFA Mitchell Institute event in Washington, D.C.

“When I look at each element, we cannot slow them down,” he told the audience. “We actually need to accelerate them, not decelerate them.”

Replacing the Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) is particularly urgent.

“It’s a miracle that it can even fly,” he said, noting that maintainers and engineers work tirelessly to find ways to keep the ALCM viable, but that cannot last forever. “They do meet the mission, but it is a challenge each and every day.”

The Air Force is working to develop the Long Range Standoff (LRSO) weapon as a replacement for ALCM. Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson said last month the LRSO is a crucial, “cost-saving, cost-imposing strategy,” but Secretary of Defense James Mattis questioned its deterrent value at his confirmation hearing in January.

“We need that capability, and we can’t delay it,” Hyten insisted Tuesday.

He also said the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review would be finished in “roughly October,” and that it could have an effect on nuclear triad modernization efforts. “If the Administration makes a decision on the Nuclear Posture Review, that we’re going to go a different direction, we’ll understand what that is and we’ll adjust,” Hyten said.

But as congressional committees begin work this week to craft a National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018, Hyten’s preference is clearly for more speed.

“The reliability on those weapons systems is already unacceptable, and it’s going to get worse every year as we go forward,” he admitted. “I’m worried that our nation won’t be able to go fast enough to keep up with our adversaries any more.”

The key to going faster, he said, is less caution. “We’ve got to get back to where we accept risk.” He pointed to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as an example. The world laughs at the program’s failures, he said, but Kim Jong Un is “testing and failing and testing and succeeding.” The US military used to take a similar approach, he said, and it managed to build the Minuteman I program in five years for $17 billion in today’s dollars.

But in recent years DOD has become risk-averse. Current estimates to recap the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent run around $84 billion, he said.

“We can build that capability” and we can do it “for less than $84 billion,” but not “if you don’t have a budget every year,” Hyten warned, and “you can’t do it if you have to ask ‘mother-may-I,’” at every step of the way.