The combat commander charged with defending the U.S. against a nuclear attack provides the sobering assessment that for the first time in its history, “the U.S. faces two nuclear-capable strategic peer competitors at the same time, Russia and China.” A recent Liberty Nation report pulled back the curtain on the threat the U.S. faces from these global competitors. Now, the Defense News service puts that threat in a nuclear-war context with its coverage of commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Admiral Charles A. Richard’s personal assessment of the nuclear threat vice in which the U.S. finds itself.
Admiral Richard spoke at the annual Capstone Conference of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Project on Nuclear Issues. Department of Defense coverage of the event appeared on May 6, 2021, in Politicians Post, an online news service. One of the attention-grabbing comments that Admiral Richard made during the conference was:
“As a nation, we have not had to consider the implications of engaging in competition through possible crisis or direct armed conflict with a nuclear-capable adversary in nearly three decades. Now, for the first time in our history, we face two nuclear-capable strategic peer competitors at the same time.”
Russia, for its part, is developing an assortment of “novel” nuclear weapons that, the admiral noted, “include a nuclear-armed missile mounted on a hyperglide system and a nuclear-armed, underwater, unmanned vehicle.” The U.S. nuclear modernization program, as a CSIS report Nuclear Modernization under Competing Pressures explains, is in the midst of a congressional and Biden administration debate. “The nuclear modernization debate will continue to unfold in a climate of deep ideological polarization across the nuclear policy landscape,” as the report tells it.
Meanwhile, as Richard explained, “Russia is undergoing a very extensive nuclear modernization program, which is about 80% complete.” he added that the Kremlin says the modernization program is actually 88% complete.
Richard pointed out that China is an increasingly more capable and credible nuclear threat. When comparing nuclear forces, “there are many other capabilities that must be factored, such as delivery systems, accuracy, command and control, readiness posture, doctrine and training,” he explains.
Additionally, Richard added that the Chinese are “deploying large numbers of solid-fuel ICBMs [Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles], and they also have strategic bombers and submarines. They’re well on their way to doubling their nuclear stockpile by the end of the decade.” Among the more advanced Chinese mobile ICBMs is the KZ-21, solid-fuel, twenty-ton missile pictured here.
The United States has relied on the strategic triad concept to maintain a great power deterrence. China is developing a triad of its own. In a Bloomberg News article, Anthony Capaccio reports:
“China’s progress in upgrading its strategic bombers to carry nuclear payloads puts it on the cusp of achieving a ‘triad’ of delivery systems, punctuating a two-decade investment that coincided with the country’s economic rise, according to an annual Defense Department report to Congress published on September 1, 2020.”
Russia is nearly complete in its modernization program, and China is on track to develop and strengthen its triad capability. The fate of the U.S. nuclear modernization program and the effectiveness of its nuclear deterrence capability is in the hands of the Biden administration. Though in the past, support for strategic forces has been strong in Congress, this new administration brings in an untested advocacy team.
Again, from Admiral Richard: “…nuclear deterrence is not just about protecting the homeland, it’s also about protecting allies.” Those allies could be put at risk if Biden goes wobbly on sustaining America’s nuclear capability.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
Read more from Dave Patterson.