US Strategic Command boss Gen. John Hyten speaks about the importanced of nuclear deterrence during a speech at AFA's Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., on Sept. 20, 2017. Staff photo by Mike Tsukamoto.
The United States is in danger of losing longstanding military advantages because the nation simply takes too long to respond to threats and develop new capabilities, the commander of US Strategic Command said Wednesday at ASC17.
Gen. John Hyten, STRATCOM chief, said problems begin with an annual inability to get budgets passed and a reluctance to publicly discuss threats. “If we don’t start talking about the threat … nothing will ever change,” he said.
So Hyten publicly discussed some threats. He pointed out that China is developing hypersonic glide vehicles and developing the means to threaten US military space assets for a reason: to counter or defeat an American military advantage.
Similarly, Russia maintains and is actively modernizing a formidable nuclear arsenal with long-range bombers and land- and sea-based nuclear missiles, requiring the US to respond with a credible triad of its own. An effective deterrent requires new bombers armed with new nuclear cruise missiles, plus modernized command and control systems and other weapons—unless the threat changes.
The problems don’t end when the US does decide to take action, however, because “our nation has lost the ability to go fast,” Hyten asserted. The Air Force developed and fielded the original Minuteman ICBM —including putting 800 missiles into launch silos, with a dedicated command and control structure—in five years.
Presently, Hyten noted, it is expected to take 12-to-17 years to field the next-generation ICBM, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent.
Development programs today are “slow, expensive, … [and] that’s the way it is,” Hyten stressed, adding he was not singling out the acquisition community for blame, saying the “entire process is broken.”
Things must change, however. “We have to go faster, and we’re not, and it is frustrating the heck out of me,” Hyten said, because the US will be unable to maintain its military advantages if it is not faster than, or least able to keep pace with, ever-changing threats.