Rear admiral john t. Byrd, usn director of plans and policy united states strategic command

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JUNE 12, 2002

Chairman Weldon, Congressman Taylor, and distinguished members of the Committee,

I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to testify on the safety, security, and reliability of our Nation’s nuclear stockpile. Please allow me to express on behalf of the men and women of the strategic forces, and on behalf of Admiral James Ellis, the Commander of US Strategic Command, our appreciation for your continuing support and recognition of the unique responsibilities we bear in regards to our Nation’s nuclear weapons. Additionally, thank you for your continuing efforts in strengthening the National Nuclear Security Administration and your strong support for General John Gordon and his efforts in rebuilding the Nation’s nuclear weapons complex. I am honored to be a part of today’s panel.

Historic Synergy

I’m particularly thankful for your invitation for the Command to appear before the committee side-by-side with General Gordon. Our appearance together illustrates the historical synergy that has always existed between the Department of Energy nuclear weapons complex and the Department of Defense strategic forces. As you know, both of our organizations are relatively young, but owe our successes to the historic legacy inherited from our predecessors who forged a culture of rigor, discipline, and analytical expertise inherent in all we do today in support of our Nation’s nuclear arsenal. This synergy is what has made our nuclear deterrent so effective throughout the years and will be key to a safer and more secure future.

Unintended Consequences of the Peace Dividend

As we claimed victory in the Cold War, in large part due to the efforts of our predecessors, we found ourselves at the peak of capability in terms of both our nuclear weapons complex and our strategic forces. Our overwhelming capability, made even greater virtually overnight by the disintegration of our previous enemy, allowed our Nation to make significant and prudent decisions to reap the benefits of our newfound peace dividend. For the nuclear weapons complex, these decisions included not replacing our sole means of manufacturing new nuclear weapon primaries, suspending indefinitely underground testing of our nuclear weapons stockpile, and significantly reducing both nuclear weapon facilities and personnel.

The benefit of hindsight enables us to recognize that the well-intentioned decisions made as a result of the end of the Cold War present us with unintended challenges today. These challenges include maintaining the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons that average nearly 20 years old without being able to fully test them; replacing an already reduced pool of invaluable experts in weapons design and production, half of whom are eligible to retire today; and rebuilding a manufacturing complex built primarily in the 1950s and now supporting not only the maintenance of our aging stockpile, but also life extension programs for existing warheads and, additionally, the dismantlement of nuclear weapons already identified for retirement.

These challenges did not appear overnight and there are solutions identified or in development for many of them. The Stockpile Stewardship Program was instituted to support the nuclear weapons complex in a non-testing environment. In addition, the recently completed Nuclear Posture Review clearly recognizes the nuclear weapons complex is a vital element of our Nation’s strategic deterrent capability and requires significant investment to ensure its continued success. However, we must not only address the concerns identified to date, but also anticipate, study, and prepare for the concerns of the future. As the stewards of our Nation’s nuclear arsenal, we must make the difficult choices to position ourselves appropriately to meet the strategic requirements of the next several decades.

Stockpile Stewardship Program and its Relationship to Test Readiness

The technological challenges inherent in the full development of the Stockpile Stewardship Program have been compared to the Nation’s efforts in the 1960s towards putting a man on the moon. The significant investments in Stockpile Stewardship tools, such as the Advanced Simulation and Computing Program, the National Ignition Facility (NIF), and the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) Facility, are vital to ensuring the safety and reliability of our nuclear weapons. These tools are providing ever-increasing volumes and fidelity of data not available when the weapons in the stockpile were built. However, as this data is analyzed and our knowledge increases, we may actually identify a fault or age-related problem whose correction cannot be verified through modeling and simulation alone. Consequently, there may come a day in the future when United States Strategic Command may have to recommend to the Secretary of Defense that the US conduct a nuclear test. It is prudent, whether we get to that point gradually or suddenly, we be able to conduct such a test in less than the current 24-36 month timeline.

One of many important elements of the Stockpile Stewardship Program is the annual assessment process for our nuclear weapons in which the Commander of US Strategic Command plays a role, advised by members of his Strategic Advisory Group. The assessment process is a necessary element to ensure we maintain the historically high levels of confidence and reliability necessary in our nuclear weapons.

Rebuilding the Nuclear Weapons Complex

On behalf of Admiral Ellis, I thank you for your continued support for the increased funding necessary to restore the infrastructure in the nuclear weapons complex for not only the proper maintenance of the stockpile but a quality work environment for the people working in the complex. One of the key elements of General Gordon’s infrastructure plan is the design and development of a Modern Pit Facility to replace the Rocky Flats Facility which closed more than ten years ago and was our sole facility for producing the primaries for our nuclear weapons. Development and construction of a Modern Pit Facility will enable us to replace aging warheads as well as reduce our reliance on significant numbers of existing warheads held in reserve as insurance against a technological failure of an entire warhead type. Though the exact composition of this reserve is yet to be determined, it will nonetheless be a significant portion of our active and inactive nuclear warhead stockpile.

Adapting to International Change

One of the many challenges we face for both the nuclear weapons complex and our strategic forces, is that due to the drawdown of our forces, we have not produced a new nuclear warhead since 1989, we have no new strategic systems in development, and only one strategic system still in production (the Trident D-5 Missile). As a result, we are faced with the dilemma of adapting nuclear weapons and strategic forces designed for Cold War missions to support deterrence in the 21st Century.

One of the most pressing threats posed by our potential adversaries in the international arena today is the proliferation of hard and deeply buried facilities capable of protecting nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; the means of delivering them; and the leaders who would threaten the United States. Our current arsenal, developed in the Cold War, was not designed to address this growing worldwide threat. There are facilities today which we either cannot defeat, even with existing nuclear weapons, or must hold at risk using a large number of weapons. As a result, both the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, through the Nuclear Weapons Council, have approved a study of how to effectively counter this threat. This study of a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) will evaluate modifications to existing nuclear weapons that do not require nuclear testing.

The ideal outcome of an RNEP study would be a recommendation to proceed with selective modifications to existing weapons that would ultimately strengthen deterrence by improving the credibility of our strategic forces against hard and deeply buried facilities. As you are well aware, our efforts to strengthen deterrence involve denying sanctuary to our adversaries. This may mean making our nuclear weapons more tailored to the target type, which is not equivalent to making them more likely to be used. Tailored weapons strengthen deterrence, which in turn makes them less likely to be used. Also, a robust nuclear earth penetrator is only one piece of the overall solution for targets contained in these types of structures. Other capabilities such as advanced conventional, information operations, and special operations capabilities must be developed as well. A full spectrum of capabilities strengthens deterrence and maintains the nuclear threshold by developing a range of options for the President to counter the growing hard and deeply buried target set.

Nuclear Warhead Reductions

As you know, the recent treaty signed by President Bush and Russian President Putin recognized that the Cold War is over and as a result we will reduce our operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads by two thirds over the next ten years. US Strategic Command played an important role in analyzing the reductions contained in this landmark treaty. The reductions called for are fully consistent with the United States’ valid military requirements.

The lower number of deployed weapons is a long awaited and welcome development, but we must now prepare for implementation. With fewer weapons and weapon types, an unpredicted catastrophic failure of a warhead type places even greater emphasis on improved test readiness. Currently, there is no need to conduct nuclear tests, but at lower inventory levels, increasing test readiness is necessary to minimize the potential impact a technological failure would have on our operationally deployed strategic nuclear weapons. US Strategic Command strongly supports the findings of the Nuclear Posture Review as well as the recommendations of the Foster Panel to improve our readiness to conduct nuclear testing. This improved readiness will bolster the credibility of our arsenal and ultimately strengthen deterrence.


On behalf of all the men and women of United States Strategic Command, we look forward to continuing our strong relationship with the National Nuclear Security Administration and its predecessors. Together, we have encountered a number of unexpected challenges resulting from our decisive victory in the Cold War. With your continuing support, we have implemented or identified many of the solutions for these pressing issues. Under the outstanding guidance of General John Gordon, the NNSA has determined a path for regaining the health of our nuclear weapons complex both in terms of infrastructure and people. Your solid support of General Gordon’s initiatives to improve our nuclear test readiness and to proceed with studies to modify our existing arsenal will help this Nation meet its critical deterrence needs in the 21st Century.

I am sure the future will be a period of great change in the international environment, much as it has been during the previous ten years. As we have learned so often in the past, it is prudent to anticipate, study, and prepare for the difficult challenges that lie ahead. Throughout this period of change our strategic mission will endure as it has for the past 56 years. With your continuing support for both the nuclear weapons complex and our strategic forces, we are ensuring that our strategic deterrent will remain the Nation’s ultimate insurance policy.

Thank you again for the opportunity to represent Admiral Ellis and all the men and women of United States Strategic Command.

I welcome your questions.

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