Gen. Robert Kehler, head of US Strategic Command, said the new fiscal environment caused the Defense Department to adjust some of the modernization targets for the nuclear weapons triad, such as the two–year delay to the nation’s next ballistic missile submarine. “There have been other adjustments which are going to be a fact of life,” he said, but the major modernization pieces are still in place, he told reporters last week at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla. Last year, Congress received assurances from the Obama Administration that the nation would invest many billions of dollars in modernizing the nuclear weapons complex and weapons triad as a condition for bipartisan support of the now-in-force New START agreement with Russia. But that was before passage of the Budget Control Act that slashed $487 billion from the Pentagon’s budget through Fiscal 2021. Kehler said he remains concerned about “open ends” in the planning such as upgrading the weapons complex and life-extensions of nuclear weapons in the inventory, since officials have not worked out the details beyond Fiscal 2013. If the BCA’s sequestration clause kicks in, the nation is essentially back at square one with the nuclear modernization, noted Kehler.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.