WASHINGTON — The head of U.S. Strategic Command warned lawmakers Tuesday that America has become too timid.
Gen. John Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the country needs to recapture the ability to “go fast,” an ability that produced the most technologically advanced military in the world.
“Over my 38 years in military service I’ve watched as our nation has collectively developed an increasingly unhealthy expectation of trying to remove all risk from everything that we do,” Hyten testified. “The challenge I’ve issued to my command is go break down the bureaucracy, take some smart risks, informed risks. ... And we have to move fast. It’s critical if we are to stay ahead.”
More specifically, he stressed the importance of preserving and modernizing the nuclear triad — the three-legged system of nuclear-armed submarines, bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Each leg has its own advantage, he said. While some have questioned the necessity of ICBMs today, Hyten said they pose a crucial targeting problem for adversaries who would have to independently target hundreds of missiles in order to take them all out.
He also talked about the challenges posed by adversaries exploring new nuclear capabilities — from hypersonic delivery platforms to unmanned underwater vehicles — and the need to respond to those potential threats.
Hyten leads StratCom, which has its headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha. Hyten told the committee he plans to focus this year on the continued operation and modernization of America’s nuclear capabilities, new responsibilities overseeing command and control of those capabilities and the transition to a new space-focused organization.
Hyten has pushed back against calls to rein in spending on nuclear weapons. He said Monday that nuclear spending represents a relatively small percentage of overall defense spending and that nuclear deterrence is the most significant element of national defense.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee who has focused on nuclear modernization. In response to her questions, Hyten said there is no intelligence to support cutting U.S. nuclear forces.
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“Is it your view that taking such actions would make us more vulnerable and reduce our ability to deter threats?” Fischer asked.
“It would significantly reduce our deterrent,” Hyten said.
Hyten also was asked about the potential of cyberthreats. At one point, he observed that during his 27 months on the job he hasn’t once lost connectivity with the nuclear force.
“That shows you how resilient, reliable and effective the current command and control system is,” Hyten said. “But what concerned me about it is I really can’t effectively explain that to you. Because it’s been built 50 years ago through different kinds of pathways, different kinds of structures.”
It’s clear that those systems will have to be replaced in about a decade, he said, and the challenge is how to replace ancient equipment with modern technology that might actually be more vulnerable to cyberattacks.
“One of the great things about being so old is the cyberthreats are actually fairly minimal,” he said.
Hyten also noted that StratCom is poised to start moving into its new headquarters at Offutt with the hope of an opening ceremony in October. “That will be a big day because we’ll be able to do our mission even better,” he said. “That will become the hub of nuclear command and control.”
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