In making a pitch for a national debate on the future of deterrence, outgoing USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh questioned whether nuclear is the only element to consider. “What’s the future of strategic deterrence? Is it nuclear? Is it cyber?” Welsh asked rhetorically of defense writers in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. While nukes are probably “deterring behavior” of some adversaries, that capability doesn’t bother terrorist groups, he said. “Do we need some other capability? And what is that, and how do we develop it and demonstrate it so it is viable and credible? If they’ve never seen it, it’s tough to call it a deterrent,” Welsh observed. For the state-vs-state deterrent function, the “military solution” will always be the triad, Welsh said, noting a diad of subs and bombers would be far less useful. “If resources really collapse and we have no way of modernizing,” Welsh said, the military would have to look hard at whether to even try keeping a nuclear capability if it isn’t “capable, credible, and viable.” If there are not enough resources for that, “then it’s not really a capability. It’s not fooling anybody.”
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.