WASHINGTON — The Navy officer nominated to lead U.S. Strategic Command declined the opportunity Thursday to either endorse or reject a proposed U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty.
Vice Adm. Charles Richard testified Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is reviewing his nomination.
With committee members praising Richard for his dedicated service and overall qualifications, his nomination appears on track for an easy confirmation.
But several lawmakers sought to pull him into an ongoing debate over the 34-nation treaty that allows member nations to fly over one another’s countries and take photos.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is among those who argue that Russia has violated the pact and gets far more benefit from it than the U.S., which has a more advanced network of spy satellites.
“I would submit that perhaps rather than calling this the Open Skies Treaty, maybe it should be called the open skies over America and the closed skies over Russia treaty,” Cotton said during Thursday’s hearing. “Admiral, do you see value in remaining in a treaty where only one side is following the rules?”
Richard chose his words carefully, saying he would support any treaty that enhances U.S. national security, a line he used several times at the hearing.
“Your analysis is quite correct on the Open Skies Treaty,” he said. “We do derive some benefit from it, particularly with our allies. We would need to make the appropriate resource and operational commitments to utilize the full provisions of the treaty if we were to remain, and I would just offer my best military advice, if confirmed, if a decision were to be reached.”
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Offutt Air Force Base, near Bellevue, is home both to StratCom headquarters and a pair of aging jets tasked with flying the Open Skies surveillance missions.
Members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation have fought hard to secure funding to replace those planes, funding that critics such as Cotton see as a waste of American resources.
The Trump administration is reportedly weighing a withdrawal from the treaty, while backers on Capitol Hill have been making the case for continuing the agreement.
StratCom oversees the nation’s nuclear arsenal, which Richard described during the hearing as fundamental to America’s survival as a nation.
He echoed the mantra of previous StratCom chiefs when he said the nation’s “triad” of nuclear weapons, delivered by land, air and sea, must be “safe, secure, reliable and effective.”
“A powerful, ready triad remains the most effective way to deter adversaries from conducting attacks against the United States and our allies,” he said. “We should be reminded its credibility backstops all U.S. military operations and diplomacy around the globe and ensures that tensions, regardless of where or how they arise, do not escalate into large-scale war.”
A submariner, Richard would replace Air Force Gen. John Hyten, who has been elevated to vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the second-highest-ranking position in the military.
The Senate voted last month by an overwhelming, bipartisan margin to confirm Hyten to that new post despite accusations from a former aide that he sexually harassed and assaulted her.
Hyten strongly denied the allegations, and the Air Force found insufficient evidence for a misconduct finding.
An Alabama native, Richard has previously served as deputy commander at StratCom, which he described as a special place.
He said he would live up to the expectations of those who serve there and the legacy of past commanders. He specifically cited Hyten.
“He is truly a remarkable leader and commander, and in large part responsible for my development as an admiral,” Richard said.
Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska is a member of the committee and chair of its subcommittee on U.S. strategic forces.
Fischer asked Richard about the need to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons systems in a timely fashion and also solicited his opinions on upgrading the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Some have suggested that those missiles have become redundant and have pushed to reduce funding for their modernization.
Richard agreed with Fischer that the ground-based ICBM is an important leg of the triad.
“It adds special, unique capabilities that we have from no other leg,” he said. “It is essential in achieving the nation’s deterrence objectives.”
Fischer issued a statement after the hearing offering her full support for Richard’s nomination.
“He’s a capable leader with exceptional knowledge and experience,” she said.
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Offutt Air Force Base is named for Lt. Jarvis Offutt — the first airman from Omaha killed in World War I.
1891: The area now known as Offutt Air Force Base was first commissioned as Fort Crook, an Army post to house cavalry soldiers and their horses. This photo, circa 1905, shows mounted officers and infantry troops assembling on the parade ground. The officers' quarters in the background still stand today, but the closing of Offutt's stables in 2010 ended the base's equine tradition.
1946: The World's Fair of Aviation was held at Offutt Air Force Base, including a race between a 1912 airplane and 1912 automobile. The 1912 airplane easily won, but provided sharp contrast to the sleek, modern "600-mile-per-hour aircraft" on display at the fair.
1952: Painter Frank Anania places the final bolt in the SAC emblem, newly placed on the command building at Strategic Air Command headquarters. After the command was created in 1946, SAC headquarters were moved from Andrews Field, Maryland, to Offutt Air Force Base. SAC's high-flying reconnaissance planes and bombers would go on to play a global role from the onset of the Cold War through the last bomb of the Persian Gulf War.
1956: The Strategic Air Command "nerve center" gets a new headquarters building at Offutt Air Force Base.
1957: Even since the late 1950s, Strategic Air Command has been holding open house events at Offutt Air Force Base to display and demonstrate aircraft for civilian visitors. Each year, the open house and air show at Offutt features aerial acts or reenactments, static displays, and booths showcasing military history and capabilities.
1959: The first SAC museum consisted of a section of abandoned runway near the north edge of Offutt Air Force Base outside of Bellevue. However, the outdoor display left the aircraft vulnerable to the elements.
1961: A Royal Air Force bomber crashes at Offutt Air Force Base. Beginning in the late 1950s, the RAF maintained small detachment and service facility for Vulcan bomber planes at Offutt, often participating in defense exercises and demonstrations at the base until their retirement and deactivation in 1982. This plane crashed at take-off at the northwest end of the main runway and then slid across Highway 73-75. All seven passengers survived.
1962: Just weeks after the Cuban missile crisis, President John F. Kennedy visits Offutt Air Force Base, accompanied by Gen. Thomas Power of Strategic Air Command, right.
1962: Actor Rock Hudson receives a B-52 bomber briefing during a visit to Omaha and Offutt Air Force Base. He began filming "A Gathering of Eagles" in May of that year.
1967: An early photograph of the Ehrling Bergquist military medical clinic in Bellevue. The clinic has served Offutt Air Force Base since 1966 and was remodeled in 2013, including a grand staircase, larger physical therapy and mental health areas, and a more private mammography waiting area.
1970: The world's largest aircraft at that time, the C5 Galaxy was displayed as part of the open house for civilian visitors at Offutt Air Force Base.
1989: A conference room in the SAC underground command post at Offutt Air Force Base. Strategic Air Command would be formally disestablished in 1992, but Offutt would remain the headquarters for the new United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM).
1992: The Strategic Air Command Memorial Chapel holds a Sunday morning service as a reminder of those who have given their service and those who have died during the Command's 46-year history. Founded in in 1946, the command was dissolved in a ceremony at Offutt Air Force Base.
1997: OPPD worker Craig Azure of Ashland holds a power line up across Platteview Road near Highway 50 so that an Albatross airplane can fit under it. After SAC was dissolved, the museum moved into a new indoor facility in 1998. Airplanes were moved from their old location at Offutt Air Force Base to their new and current home near Mahoney State Park off I-80.
2000: The parade grounds gazebo at Offutt is dedicated in honor of Airman 1st Class Warren T. Willis, who was killed in an aircraft accident the previous December.
2000: President Bill Clinton speaks at a rally at Offutt Air Force Base.
2003: More than 300 anti-nuclear protesters gather outside Kinney Gate at Offutt Air Force Base. The rally was part of a weekend of protest against nuclear weapons, and was organized in response to an extensive nuclear arsenal review being held at the base.
2006: Vice President Dick Cheney greets service men and women following a speech at Offutt Air Force Base's Minuteman missile in Bellevue.
2012: Dignitaries clap along to an armed forces medley as ground is broken for the new U. S. Strategic Command Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base. From left: Neb. Rep. Adrian Smith, Rep. Lee Terry, Neb. Governor Dave Heineman, General C. Robert Kehler, Commander USStratcom, Sen. Ben Nelson, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, and Mayor of Bellevue, Rita Sanders.
2012: Chris Shotton created this thank you message to the airmen and troops flying in and out of Offutt Air Force Base. Employees of area Walmart stores have been writing giant messages in fields near Highway 370 for years.
2013: Senior Airman Kevin Chapman works the desk at the new Public Health Clinic located in the Ehrling Bergquist military medical clinic.
2014: The new MERLIN SS200m Aircraft Birdstrike Avoidance Radar System, with the control tower in the background, photographed at Offutt Air Force Base. The system was moved here from Afghanistan in order to help detect large flocks and prevent damages to aircraft from bids, which cost the Air Force millions of dollars each year.
2015: An aerial photo from late February of the construction site for StratCom's new $1.2 billion headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base. Despite numerous delays and setbacks, the building would be completed in 2018, six years after construction began. StratCom would then spend the next year outfitting the structure with more than $600 million worth of high-tech communications and security gear.
2016: President Barack Obama arrives in Omaha after landing at Offutt Air Force Base. While in Omaha, Obama met with the family of Kerrie Orozco, visited a local teacher, and addressed a crowd of about 8,000 at Baxter Arena.
2019: This year, U.S. Strategic Command unveiled a new Command and Control Facility located at Offutt Air Force Base. The "battle deck," shown here, features computer workstations, soundproofing, and the ability to connect instantly to the White House and Pentagon.
2019: Luke Thomas and Air Force Tech Sgt. Vanessa Vidaurre at a flooded portion of Offutt Air Force Base. In March, historic flooding included breaches of two levees protecting the base from the Missouri River.