Washington, DC – Modernization and replacement programs for elements of the US nuclear triad are the first priority for the Defense and Energy departments, the Air Force and the Navy in fiscal year 2018, officials and military officers told a House panel on May 25.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Strategic Force Subcommittee on the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2018 were Frank Klotz, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, and Dr. Rob Soofer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy.
Joining them to offer testimony on 2018 priorities for nuclear forces were Air Force Gen. Robin Rand, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command, and Navy Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director of Navy Strategic Systems Programs.
The NNSA, which Congress established in 2000, maintains the US nuclear weapons stockpile, helps reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction, provides the US Navy with nuclear propulsion and responds internationally to nuclear and radiological emergencies.
Recapitalizing Nuclear Infrastructure
Klotz said the NNSA budget request, which is about half of the Energy Department budget, is $13.9 billion, nearly $1 billion over the fiscal 2017 omnibus level. “We’re very grateful for the level of spending that has been proposed in the president’s [fiscal 2018] budget. It will allow us to tackle some of our very important infrastructure recapitalization projects, such as the uranium processing facility at Y-12 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee,” Klotz said.
“We expect to complete design this year and actually start construction next year, he said, adding, “We didn’t get into the situation we face with aging and in some cases crumbling infrastructure overnight, and we’re not going to get out of it in a day.”
Klotz told the panel that the 2018 budget request is vital to ensuring that the US nuclear force remains modern, robust and tailored to 21st century threats and to reassure US allies. Elements of the request are as follows:
- — Weapons activity appropriation: $10.2 billion, a 10.8 percent increase over 2017.
- — Defense nuclear nonproliferation: $1.8 billion, consistent with 2017.
- — Naval reactors program: Nearly $1.5 billion, a 4.2 percent increase over 2017, and
- — Federal salaries and expenses: $418 million, an 8.1 percent over 2017.
“Our [fiscal] 2018 budget request … accounts for the significant tempo of operations at NNSA that in many ways has reached a level unseen since the Cold War,” Klotz said.
The request includes long-overdue investments to repair and replace infrastructure at national laboratories and production plants, he added, and improves workspace for the scientific, engineering and professional workforce.
In his remarks to the panel, Soofer said that for decades US nuclear forces have provided the ultimate deterrent against nuclear attacks on the United States and its allies.
Effective deterrence requires a deliberate strategy and forces that are structured and postured to support that strategy, he said, noting that “strategy, forces and posture also must be flexible enough to maintain stability while adjusting to gradual and rapid technological and geopolitical changes.”
Russia has taken aggressive actions against its neighbors, threatened the United States and is modernizing a diverse nonstrategic nuclear weapons force, for example. China’s increased assertiveness suggests a desire to dominate the Asia-Pacific region, and North Korea’s leaders have been willing to accept economic countermeasures and international isolation to advance its nuclear capability, he said, among other threats.
Against this backdrop, Soofer said, the president directed DoD to conduct a comprehensive Nuclear Posture Review that is expected to be completed by the end of this calendar year.
“As we conduct the NPR, [Defense Secretary Jim Mattis] has directed that we continue with the existing program of record for recapitalizing our aging nuclear forces,” he said.
DoD expects nuclear recapitalization costs to total $230 billion to $290 billion over more than two decades, Soofer said.
“The president’s budget request for [fiscal] 2018 fully funds DoD nuclear recapitalization programs and provides for nuclear force sustainment operations. It also adds more than $3 billion across the Future Years Defense Plan relative to the previous years’ request to continue improving the health of the DoD nuclear enterprise,” he said.
Long-Range Strategic Forces
In his remarks, Air Force Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, highlighted the need for modernization efforts across Air Force Global Strike Command.
“Fiscal constraints, while posing planning challenges, do not alter the national security landscape or the intent of competitors and adversaries,” the general said. “Nor do they diminish the enduring value of long-range strategic forces to our nation.”
Navy Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director of Navy Strategic Systems Programs, addressed long-term sustainment of the triad’s sea-based leg.
“While our current life-extension efforts will sustain the D-5 [Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile] system until the 2040s, the Navy is already beginning to evaluate options to maintain a credible and effective strategic weapon system to the end of the Columbia class service life in the 2080s,” the Benedict said.
“At SSP we are looking long term and across the spectrum, from our workforce and infrastructure to our industry partners and geographic footprint,” he added.