Will The Nuclear Triad Become A Nuclear Biad? Does It Matter?

National Defense Magazine looks at the reality of defense budget cuts and believes the transition is inevitable. If so, which leg should go? Air Force General Robert Kehler, the Stratcom Commander, gave this thoughts about where things should go. An excerpt:

Now is not the time to discuss removing one leg from the three-legged stool known as the nuclear triad, the head of U.S. Strategic Command said Oct. 18.

“I continue to stand by a need for a triad,” Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, Stratcom commander, told reporters in Washington, D.C.

The prospects for budget cuts have prompted some pundits to question the need to fund all three parts of the nation’s methods of delivering nuclear weapons — land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, bombers and submarines armed with sea-launched missiles.

Wouldn’t it be better to do away with one of the three and make the remaining two more robust rather than to trying to sustain all three? Kehler was asked.

“I will tell you that in the near term that we can sustain a triad. I think there will be interesting questions about both the scope and pace of modernization as we go forward,” he said.

“In that structure, I believe that a triad of force makes the most strategic sense, makes the most operational sense and ultimately is the right way to go forward today,” he said.

Modernizing the forces may include a long-range bomber to replace the aging B-52, he said. But it must include an attack submarine to replace the Ohio-class submarines, which will need to be replaced starting in the late 2020s, he said. Research and development needs to continue, so a replacement is ready by the time the first Ohio-class submarine is ready to retire, he said.

Unlike the B-52, which is entering its sixth decade of service, submarines are subject to extreme pressures underneath the ocean. The metal that encapsulates the crew simply wears out, he noted.

In the distant future, there could be a discussion about eliminating one of the three legs. It will depend on new treaties, the strategic situation the nation finds itself in, “and of course, there is a budgetary dimension to this,” he added.

The question remains whether budget pressures will allow the Defense Department to continue with plans to modernize new platforms such as submarines and long-range bombers.

“Can we in fact spend the resources to modernize all of the triad? Those are not all questions for today,” he said.

The full article is here.

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