While the United States is reducing the size of its nuclear arsenal, Russia and China are modernizing and developing their own strategic forces, according to Air Force Global Strike command boss Lt. Gen. James Kowalski. “It should be clear that other nuclear powers do not necessarily see [New START] as a tipping point on the way to zero nuclear weapons,” he said in his address at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 24. “Russia and China are committed to near-term and long-term modernization of their nuclear forces and have active production lines,” he explained. “In contrast, our nation has enjoyed an extended procurement holiday as we’ve deferred robust modernization of our nuclear deterrent for almost 20 years.” Within the limits of New START—a US-Russian treaty reducing each side’s strategic nuclear forces—Russia is modernizing its TU-95 and TU-160 strategic bombers and ICBM fleets as well as “fielding a new air-launched cruise missile” and developing a new heavy ICBM, ballistic-missile-class submarine, and sea-launched ballistic missile, noted Kowalski. “We have lost robustness and diversity,” he said, but “by modernizing across our triad . . . we can achieve our goal of reducing nuclear weapons” while managing the inherent risk of a smaller arsenal.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.