US Strategic Command has made “great strides” this past year in strengthening the nuclear deterrent, but the age of nuclear weapons remains a pressing concern, Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, head of the command said Thursday at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla. On the positive front, Chilton said the command has strengthened ties with the Air Force’s and Navy’s nuclear task forces (i.e., airborne command and control, bomber, missile, submarine, and tanker); now has a flag officer in its operations directorate dedicated to nuclear matters; and has established a nuclear enterprise board and a nuclear enterprise council at senior levels to monitor the readiness of nuclear forces more closely and plan for their future posture. The command’s intelligence directorate has been beefed up for nuclear matters—as well as the command’s two other core functions: space and cyberspace—and its inspector general shop has been bolstered, making it possible now to have a STRATCOM inspector participate in every Air Force and Navy nuclear inspection. Chilton saluted the Air Force for stepping forward “in a big way” to place emphasis on the nuclear mission. He also praised the Navy. As a result of these efforts, Chilton said, “I think we are seeing tangible and real results in readiness, and I can tell you today as I can tell both friends and adversaries that our nuclear forces in US Strategic Command are ready today to do their mission.” Yet, he noted, the US, “today, as a year ago,” still has “a lot of work to do to improve the infrastructure” required to sustain the nuclear weapons enterprise. This includes attracting a talented workforce, he said.
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.