Statement of admiral richard w. Mies, usn commander in chief

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JULY 11, 2001

Mr. Chairman,

Senator Allard,
Distinguished Senators. . .
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before your Subcommittee to testify on strategic nuclear force policy, force structure, and force posture.

Before I begin, I would like to thank you for your sustained support of our strategic deterrent forces and your commitment to a safe, reliable, and secure nuclear weapons stockpile through the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Stockpile Stewardship Program.

Strategic Deterrence Policy

Deterrence of aggression and coercion remains a cornerstone of our National Security Strategy and our strategic nuclear forces serve as the most visible and important element of our commitment to this principle. President Bush reaffirmed the importance of our strategic deterrent forces to the security of the United States and its allies in his recent remarks at the National Defense University.

Our nuclear deterrent forces are structured and postured to:

  • Deter the use of weapons of mass destruction and major conventional aggression against the United States and its allies

  • Reassure our allies of our extended security commitments

  • Dissuade regional powers from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery (e.g., ballistic missiles)

  • Deter or control conflict escalation

  • Terminate conflict

As outlined in our National Military Strategy, although our Nation is at peace and the Cold War has ended, a number of potentially serious threats to national security remain including regional instabilities, asymmetric challenges, transnational threats, and “wild cards.” The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery pose the greatest threat to global stability and security and the greatest challenge to strategic deterrence. Numerous commission reports, including The Report of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States (Rumsfeld Report) and Combating Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (Deutch Commission Report), have highlighted the pervasive dangers of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means of their delivery. The first report of the Commission on National Security (Hart-Rudman Commission) focused on this threat as one of its most prominent themes:

America will become increasingly vulnerable to hostile attack…and our military superiority will not entirely protect us.” Although, “the United States will be both absolutely and relatively stronger than any other state or combination of states…we will be vulnerable to an increasing range of threats against American forces and citizens overseas as well as at home…. States, terrorists, and other disaffected groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction and mass disruption, and some will use them. Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.”

In essence, the issue may not be whether weapons of mass destruction will be used against the West by a rogue nation or transnational actor, but where and when.

The post-Cold War world is a more chaotic place. Strategic deterrence, which worked well in the bipolar framework of the Cold War, may not work as well in a multi-polar world of unpredictable, asymmetric threats, and in some cases, it may fail. How do you deter a threat that has no return address? How do you dissuade a threat that is faceless? In recognition of this reality and as part of a comprehensive strategy to adapt our policies and forces to these emerging threats, the President and Secretary of Defense have articulated a need to move beyond classical, bipolar Cold War deterrence — the almost exclusive reliance on mutual vulnerability and assured response — to a more comprehensive framework that integrates other complementary elements of military strategy — elements including dissuasion, defense, and denial.

We need an updated approach to deterrence that includes both offenses and defenses. Missile defense would not be a replacement for an assured response but rather an added dimension to complement our existing deterrent capabilities and an insurance policy against a small-scale ballistic missile attack. It would also serve as a strategic element to dissuade countries from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.

Strategic Force Structure

To deter a broad range of threats, our National Security Strategy rests on several factors, particularly on our demonstrated will and capability to uphold our security commitments when they are challenged. Our declaratory policy communicates costs to potential adversaries and our warfighting capability, including a robust triad of strategic forces, conveys credibility across the full spectrum of conflict — conventional to nuclear. The previous Nuclear Posture Review and Quadrennial Defense Review reaffirmed the wisdom of preserving the complementary strategic triad of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers. I am confident our ongoing strategic reviews will come to similar conclusions.

Each leg of the Nation’s strategic triad possesses unique attributes that enhance deterrence and reduce risk. Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) provide prompt response; strategic submarines (SSBN) provide survivability; and bombers provide flexibility. The diversity of our strategic forces and the synergy created by these attributes are designed to complicate any adversary’s offensive and defensive planning calculations while simultaneously providing protection against the failure of a single leg of the triad.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles continue to provide a reliable, low cost, prompt response capability with a high readiness rate. They also promote stability by ensuring that a potential adversary takes their geographically dispersed capabilities into account if contemplating a disarming first strike. Without a capable ICBM force, the prospect of destroying a significant percentage of America’s strategic infrastructure with a handful of weapons might be tempting to a potential adversary in a crisis.

Ballistic missile submarines continue to carry the largest portion of our strategic nuclear deterrent force. With approximately two-thirds of the force at sea at any one time, the strategic submarine force is the most survivable leg of the triad, providing the United States with a powerful, assured response capability against any adversary. Submarines at sea are inherently survivable and hence stabilizing. Submarines in port, however, are more vulnerable and could offer an extremely lucrative target in crisis. Thus, in any foreseeable force structure, the United States must preserve a sufficiently large strategic nuclear submarine force to enable two-ocean operations with sufficient assets to ensure an at-sea response force capable of deterring any adversary in a crisis.

Strategic bombers are the most flexible leg of our strategic nuclear triad. The “man in the loop” allows force dispersal to improve survivability and aircraft recall during mission execution. The low-observable technology of the B-2 bomber enables it to penetrate heavily defended areas and hold high-value targets at risk deep inside an adversary’s territory. In contrast, the B-52 bomber can be employed in a standoff role using long-range cruise missiles to attack from outside enemy air defenses. This mixed bomber force can generate to alert status when necessary to deter escalation or provide assured response should deterrence fail.

We are presently maintaining our strategic forces at the following START I levels:


  • 18 TRIDENT SSBNs each equipped with either 24 TRIDENT I (C4) or TRIDENT II (D5) missiles

  • 76 B-52 and 21 B-2 bombers

With no new forces in development, this triad of forces will remain the backbone of our Nation’s strategic deterrent capability for the foreseeable future. As such, we must ensure these forces remain robust, reliable, and secure.

Strategic Force Posture

Our strategic forces are postured to provide an assured response capability to inflict unacceptable damage to a potential enemy. Our strategic plans provide a wide range of deliberative, preplanned options and adaptive planning capabilities to ensure our Nation can respond appropriately to any provocation rather than an “all or nothing” response. Additionally, our forces are postured such that we have the capability to respond promptly to any attack, while at the same time, not relying upon “launch on warning” or “launch under attack.”

With the end of the Cold War, we have dramatically transformed our strategic force posture. Our strategic forces no longer target other countries during peacetime operations. Our strategic bombers and their supporting tankers have not been on alert since 1991. Our strategic submarine force, while positioned at sea for survivability, patrols under comparatively relaxed alert conditions. Our strategic command and control aircraft no longer maintain continuous 24-hour airborne alert operations.

We must be cautious, however, as we consider further changes in our force posture. Reducing the alert status of our forces, in isolation, can diminish their credibility and survivability. Many “de-alerting” proposals jeopardize the existing stability against a preemptive first strike because they increase our vulnerability and create a premium for attacking first. As Albert Wohlstetter wrote many years ago:

Relaxation of tension, which everyone thinks is good, is not easily distinguished from relaxing one’s guard, which almost everyone thinks is bad.”
Most de-alerting proposals create an incentive to be the first to rearm. Like the railroad mobilization dilemma of World War I, any unilateral act to restore de-alerted assets, or any act which might be perceived as restoring de-alerted forces, creates a potential for instability. If a de-alerting initiative can relax tension and not create a perception that a strategic advantage could be gained by a preemptive strike, I believe our National Command Authorities would support it. But, in general, de-alerting initiatives should not be adopted unless they are stabilizing.

I would also like to challenge the perception that our forces are on “hair-trigger” alert – a characterization routinely used to justify de-alerting proposals. Multiple, stringent procedural and technical safeguards have been in place, and will remain in place, to guard against accidental or inadvertent launch. Rigorous safeguards exist to ensure the highest levels of nuclear weapon safety, security, reliability, and command and control. Additionally, the policy of the United States is not to rely on “launch on warning.” As I stated earlier, our forces are postured such that while we have the capability to respond promptly to any attack, we will never need to rely upon “launch on warning.” The diversity, flexibility, and survivability of our strategic forces and our command and control networks are designed to ensure we are never faced with a “use them or lose them” dilemma and we are always capable of an assured response. As Thomas Schelling has written:

If both sides have weapons that need not go first to avoid their own destruction so that neither side can gain great advantage in jumping the gun and each is aware the other cannot, it will be a good deal harder to get a war started. Both sides can afford the rule: when in doubt, wait.”
Our trigger is built so we can always wait — the “hair-trigger” characterization is inaccurate.

Strategic Force Modernization and Sustainment

Today we have no new strategic systems under development. With the exception of the TRIDENT II (D5) missile, which is still in low-rate production, the United States has in-hand all of its major strategic systems. Therefore, as our Nation comes to rely on a smaller strategic force, the imperative for modernizing and sustaining that force becomes even more critical to ensure a continued viable deterrent. And since we must maintain these existing systems for the foreseeable future, it is also crucial to sustain the industrial base that provides key components and systems unique to our strategic forces.

Our strategic forces are in a period of dramatic transition. We have commenced a decade-long effort to extend the MINUTEMAN III ICBM force’s service life for another 20 years. Replacement of aging guidance units and the aging propellant for the MINUTEMAN III boosters is in progress. Strong Congressional support of the guidance and propulsion replacement programs for the MINUTEMAN III ICBM is essential to ensure an effective and reliable ICBM force for the next two decades. MINUTEMAN sustainment is especially important given the potential drawdown of the PEACEKEEPER ICBM. As Secretary Rumsfeld recently indicated, we will likely seek Congressional approval to begin PEACEKEEPER deactivation.

Similarly, with Congressional approval, we have commenced the conversion of our strategic submarine force from an 18 SSBN force with two different missiles to a 14 boat common missile force. At present two Pacific SSBNs are in a shipyard for missile conversion. We anticipate having a TRIDENT II (D5) missile capability in the Pacific beginning in FY 03. Congress’ continued support for the TRIDENT II (D5) missile backfit program remains essential. The TRIDENT I (C4) missile is already beyond its design service life and will be sustainable only at substantial cost. Backfit of four submarines to carry the TRIDENT II (D5) missile is the most cost-effective means to ensure a reliable sea-based deterrent well into the 21st century. In my estimation, a modernized 14 SSBN, all TRIDENT II (D5) missile force is in many ways a more robust, credible, and reliable deterrent than the present 18-boat force. I anticipate we will remove four submarines from strategic service beginning in FY03.

Sustainment and modernization of the strategic bomber force is also critical to provide a force which can support our strategic deterrent requirements as well as the conventional needs of our Theater Commanders. The Air Force is planning to retain the B-52 bomber force in service until 2044; consequently, no replacement strategic bombers are on the drawing board. As such, modernization and sustainment of our aging bomber force is critical. Upgrades to avionics, situational awareness, electronic countermeasure capabilities, and survivable, secure two-way communications are essential. And not only is it important to continue to sustain our bomber forces, but life extension programs for our cruise missiles are equally vital. We have worked closely with the Air Force to develop a long-range bomber roadmap to meet these objectives.

Vital to all of our flying operations are the tanker aircraft that support strategic operations — nearly 75 percent of which are flown by Air National Guard and Reserve. As CINCTRANSCOM, General Robertson, recently testified, the Air Force is facing sustainment challenges with the near 40-year-old KC-135 fleet similar to those it faces with the aging B-52 bomber force. We greatly appreciate the Air Force’s many ongoing and planned initiatives to sustain our aging tanker force.

Finally, I would like to address what I call the unheralded “fourth leg” of the Nation’s strategic “quadrad.” This fourth leg is comprised of two key components — intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets and strategic command, control, communications, and computer systems (C4).

Deterrence starts with our intelligence capabilities and USSTRATCOM relies heavily on the national intelligence architecture to support our deliberative and adaptive planning missions. Emerging threats such as strategic relocatable missiles and hard and deeply buried facilities demand robust intelligence support. Ongoing and future programs and technology developments are critical to delivering time-sensitive information to decision-makers and warfighters. Examples include:

  • A modernized tasking, processing, exploitation, and dissemination (TPED) infrastructure to accommodate the increased volume and types of data from the intelligence community’s Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) and Integrated Overhead SIGINT Architecture (IOSA)

  • An enduring ground infrastructure for our space-based intelligence collection systems to protect against information outages due to single points of failure

  • A revitalized intelligence workforce supported by technologically innovative tools, such as automated target recognition and the Joint Intelligence Virtual Architecture suite of tools

  • The Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) to ensure tactical warning and attack characterization

  • The Nuclear Detonation Detection System to assess battle damage and effectiveness of our strikes and support treaty monitoring

Our deterrent strategy is premised not only upon the National Command Authorities maintaining an appropriate level of global awareness but also an assured and survivable command and control system capable of directing our strategic forces during all phases of conflict – nuclear and conventional. These capabilities can only be provided by a C4ISR architecture that is both flexible and robust. Certain programs are indispensable toward providing this capability:

  • Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites and terminals to provide survivable communications from the NCA to both tactical and strategic forces

  • E-4 National Airborne Operations Center upgrades and modernization – necessary to provide a reliable alternate to the National Military Command Center

  • E-6 Airborne Command Post sustainment program to ensure a survivable link to our nuclear forces

This “fourth leg” provides the enablers that make the other three legs an effective deterrent and warfighting force. It is critical that these systems, as well as their associated infrastructure, are adequately funded to ensure our capabilities are maintained.

Strategic Force Reductions

From an historical perspective, the end of the Cold War has brought dramatic change to our strategic forces. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we have made great progress in reducing our nuclear arsenal and associated infrastructure. We have:

  • Curtailed production of our most modern bomber (B-2) and ICBM (PEACEKEEPER)

  • Stopped development of land-based mobile missiles — PEACEKEEPER rail–garrison and small ICBM road-mobile programs

  • Capped production of sea-launched ballistic missile warheads (W-88)

  • Removed all sea-launched nuclear cruise missiles from ships and submarines

  • Removed all bombers from day-to-day alert

  • Reduced the number of command and control aircraft from 59 to 20

  • Terminated the Ground Wave Emergency Network

  • Converted the B-1 bomber to conventional-only use

  • Eliminated the MINUTEMAN II ICBM force

  • Eliminated all nuclear short range attack missiles from the bomber force

  • Eliminated all ground–launched intermediate- and short-range nuclear weapons

  • Halted underground nuclear testing

  • Closed major portions of our nuclear weapons production complex (Mound, Pinella, Rocky Flats)

All these changes reflect a consistent trend towards reduced reliance on strategic systems. Since the end of the Cold War, we have reduced our strategic nuclear systems by over 50 percent and non-strategic nuclear warheads by over 80 percent. We have reduced the number of people involved in our strategic forces by over one-half and the number of military bases supporting them by approximately 60 percent. While overall defense spending has declined roughly 20 percent since the end of the Cold War, strategic force spending has declined approximately 70 percent; as a consequence, strategic force costs have dropped from 6.3 percent of Department of Defense total obligation authority in 1990 to less than 2.2 percent for Fiscal Year 2000. That, in my mind, is a fairly significant Cold War “peace dividend” and a cost-effective “premium” on our Nation’s “ultimate insurance policy.”

Cooperative threat reduction, arms control, Presidential initiatives, and numerous confidence-building measures have also brought about many positive developments in the strategic postures of the U.S. and Russia. These changes reflect a new, constructive relationship between our nations – a relationship in which stability is a central consideration. As the President and Secretary of Defense have indicated, Russia is not our strategic adversary and we seek an improved relationship based on common responsibilities and common interests.

Strategic Defense and Nuclear Posture Reviews

The President has committed to “achieving a credible deterrent with the lowest possible numbers of nuclear weapons consistent with our national security needs including our obligations to our allies.” I believe the defense strategy reviews and the Nuclear Posture Review the Secretary of Defense has undertaken provide an opportunity to develop a coherent strategy-based approach to future force structure, capabilities, and posture which will achieve the President’s objective — a deterrent strategy with lower nuclear salience, reduced warhead numbers, and less adversarial character. These reviews and the emerging debate about further reductions in our nuclear forces are timely and should be informed by several guiding, fundamental principles:

  • First, strategic force reductions must be viewed as means to an end — national security — not as an end in itself. As articulated by both a former National Security Advisor and a former Special Assistant to the President on Arms Control:

We should focus on measures which directly and demonstrably enhance stability and reduce the risks of war. Given present circumstances in Russia, for example, this principle suggests that rather than spending our energies on radical cuts in our respective nuclear arsenals, we should be concentrating our efforts on strengthening the security and safety of Russian weapons and enhancing the integrity of the Russian command and control system.”
Stability is the most important criterion as we assess further initiatives to reduce our strategic forces to the lowest levels consistent with national security. As Thomas Schelling has written:

The dimension of ‘strength’ is an important one, but so is the dimension of ‘stability’ — the assurance against being caught by surprise, the safety in waiting, the absence of a premium on jumping the gun.”

Deterrence ultimately depends not on our capability to strike first but on the assurance that we always have a capability to strike second.

  • Second, we need to focus more on capabilities rather than numbers. There is a naive and mistaken belief that the “nuclear danger” is directly proportional to the number of nuclear weapons and, accordingly, lower is inevitably better. As we reduce our strategic forces to lower levels, numerical parity or numbers alone become less and less important — issues such as transparency, irreversibility, production capacity, aggregate warhead inventories, and verifiability become more and more significant. It is ultimately the character and the posture of our strategic forces —characteristics like assured command and control, survivability, and reliability — more than their numbers alone that make the strategic environment stable or unstable. Additionally, there is a tyranny in very deep numerical reductions that inhibits flexibility and induces instability in certain situations. We must preserve sufficient deterrent capability to respond to future challenges, to provide a cushion against imperfect intelligence and surprises, and to preserve a reconstitution capability as a hedge against unwelcome political or strategic developments. As articulated by the two former Presidential advisors,

Given the clear risks and the elusive benefits inherent in additional deep cuts, the burden of proof should be on those who advocate such reductions to demonstrate exactly how and why such cuts would serve to enhance U. S. security.”

  • Third, preservation of our capability to adapt our deterrent forces to a rapidly changing and unpredictable strategic future is critical. As the Secretary of Defense has testified, our ability to predict the future is questionable; therefore, I believe our ability to adapt to an uncertain future and changing environments will be far more important than our ability to prepare for what we can’t predict. As a noted historian has stated, “It is less important for armies to predict the future than it is to adapt quickly when it arrives.” Because our weapons were designed primarily to counter a large-scale attack from the Former Soviet Union, we need to think about how we should adapt our existing capabilities to keep them credible against emerging threats. And because of the diversity and uncertainty of the threat, we need forces which are capabilities-based and effects-based rather than purely threat-based. Otherwise we run the risk of being self-deterred – of sustaining weapons irrelevant to the threats at hand. As we think about the potential emerging threats we might need to deter, I believe an early strategist’s metaphor that nuclear planners are like homebuilders remains true today. A wise architect doesn’t design only for benign environments but for the worst weather conditions that one can reasonably anticipate: hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and the like. We have to consistently maintain a “building code” for our nuclear forces to ensure they can “weather” the most stressed environments. And as we look to further reductions, we need to maintain our strategic deterrent force structure with the wise architect’s prudent design criterion in mind – our force structure needs to be robust, flexible, and credible enough to meet the worst threats we can reasonably postulate.

These principles weigh heavily against continuing the traditional, bilateral, Cold War approach to arms control. The strategy reviews in progress create an opportunity for unilateral initiatives to formulate a more comprehensive, coherent strategy which focuses not just on numerical reductions but on broader issues, such as:

  • Confidence building and threat reduction measures which enhance stability and predictability

  • The implications of deploying strategic defensive systems

  • The impact of reductions on our extended deterrence security commitments to our allies

  • Multi-polar stability and the relationship of third party nuclear weapon stockpiles

  • Increased stockpile transparency including greater accountability for asymmetries in non-strategic nuclear warheads and nuclear weapon production capacities.

I believe the approach outlined in the National Institute for Public Policy study, Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control, is a good blueprint to adopt. Such an approach would recognize strategic force policy as a journey rather than a destination and enable us to adapt our nuclear force postures and levels compatible with emerging threats and national security requirements. Our nation must always maintain the ability to convince potential aggressors to choose peace rather than war, restraint rather than escalation, and termination rather than conflict continuation.

Nuclear Command and Control System (NCCS) End-to-End Review

With Secretary of Defense approval, we have convened an independent end-to-end review of the NCCS under a federal advisory committee headed by General Brent Scowcroft. The review will focus on safety, security, and surety issues that transcend strategic force size, structure, and strategy. Our goal is to assess the effectiveness of the present and projected NCCS capabilities to provide the President with an assured, responsive, survivable, and flexible capability to exercise command and control of strategic forces through the spectrum of conflict while simultaneously ensuring against unauthorized or inadvertent use.

Stockpile Stewardship Program

The safety, surety, and reliability of our strategic nuclear arsenal depend heavily on the strength of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Stockpile Stewardship Program. We are pleased with the standup of the National Nuclear Security Administration under John Gordon. The organization is fostering improved morale and a greater sense of mission. Work within NNSA has begun on a multiyear planning, programming, and budgeting process. The ongoing refurbishment of the W87 warhead has marked an important technical milestone for stewardship, as it is the first major refurbishment of a nuclear warhead in over a decade. Approval has also been given for several critical warhead life extension programs – the B61, the W76, and the W80. Together these four systems will comprise a significant portion of our country’s enduring nuclear stockpile.

Nonetheless, there is a widening gap between stockpile program requirements and available resources. I fully agree with the concerns and recommendations identified by the Commission on Maintaining U.S. Nuclear Weapons Expertise (Admiral Chiles Commission), the Panel to assess the Reliability, Safety and Security of the U.S. Nuclear Stockpile (Foster Panel), and my own Strategic Advisory Group, which plays an instrumental role in the annual assessment of our nuclear weapon stockpile. The delays in many high-priority stockpile stewardship programs because of aging infrastructure and inadequate funding must be addressed with greater urgency. Increased design work must be undertaken to recruit, train, and retain the next generation of nuclear weapon design experts. We must realize that a robust, agile, and flexible nuclear weapons complex - infrastructure and people to research, design, develop and manufacture or refurbish nuclear weapons as necessary – provides us with the ability to respond to a changing national security environment and is itself a deterrent which complements our military forces. To this end, the need for an unequivocal national commitment to support both NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program and DOD’s Nuclear Mission Management Plan has never been greater.


In closing, our strategic forces stand as America’s “ultimate insurance policy” — a cost effective force which is the underpinning of our National Security Strategy. Since the end of World War II, the presence of nuclear weapons has had a great restraining effect. Nuclear weapons helped keep the Cold War cold and their existence is still extremely valuable in deterring crisis and conflict. As Sir Michael Quinlan has stated:

The absence of war between advanced states is a key success. We must seek to perpetuate it. Weapons are instrumental and secondary; the basic aim is to avoid war. Better a world with nuclear weapons but no major war than one with major war but no nuclear weapons.”
Strategic deterrence will be a fundamental pillar of our national security for the foreseeable future. Short of universal brain surgery, the design of nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented or erased from memory. U.S. Strategic Command is committed to ensuring a viable deterrent for the Nation, and to maintaining and strengthening the stability of our strategic relationships as we further reduce our forces. Our motto, “Peace is our profession,” underscores our conviction that the costliest peace is a bargain compared to the least costly war.

Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.

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