KINGS BAY TRIAD DETERRENCE CONFERENCE
GENERAL LARRY D. WELCH, USAF (RET.)
7 NOVEMBER 2013
Given the experience and expertise of this gathering, it can be hard to find anything really useful to say. But it is because of the experience, expertise, and commitment of this group that it is useful to deliver a message. It is a message about the message-that is staying on message about deterrence, the Triad that underwrites deterrence, and the forces required in an effective Triad- forces powered by policy, people, platforms and weapons. I offer the message tonight to this group because our community of expertise and dedication to sustaining the nuclear deterrent needs to devote more intense attention to the message. We need that increased attention because there has been a national drift away from the message as amply illustrated by confusion about the importance of the deterrent, the Triad role in that deterrent, and what is needed to sustain needed deterrent capabilities. The message is not complicated. So I freely accept the risk of either boring or insulting you by reiterating that message.
For any message, it is useful to start with what are we trying to do. In this case, we are trying to do two things.
- Deter potential adversaries from actions that can be catastrophic to our national interests and those of our friends and allies- that is a nuclear attack
- Assure friends and allies that it is not in their national interest to develop their own nuclear weapons capability
The necessary conditions to achieve those two objectives are also uncomplicated and remain unchanged from the darkest days of the Cold War
- To persuade adversaries that the potential cost and risk of a nuclear attack on the U.S. or our allies far exceeds the potential gain and,
- To assure our allies that they can trust our capability
There are no reliable metrics for what it takes to create those conditions but there is a long history that informs our judgments about the subject
- One relevant historical fact is that two coalitions of nations, with irreconcilable political doctrines, armed to the teeth with heavy emphasis on nuclear forces, found that the cost and risk of using those forces against another nuclear power far exceeded the potential gain
- A second relevant historic fact is that some 30 nations that are capable of developing national nuclear weapons capabilities have seen it their national interest to, instead, formally or informally place their trust in confidence in the U.S. extended deterrent. The key word is confidence.
We have been able to sustain the conditions that produced those historic facts while reducing the U.S. deployed stockpile of nuclear weapons from the I 0,000+ that we targeted when I was Commander of SAC and Director of the JSTPS, to the 6,000 in Start I, to the 3,500 proposed in START II, to 2,250 in the Moscow Treaty, to 1,550 in New Start.
The risk associated with these reductions was deemed acceptable by senior political and military leaders to include those directly responsible for ensuring a ready, effective strategic nuclear deterrent force. With those reductions, we remained confident in the effectiveness of the deterrent and our allies remained sufficiently confident in our extended deterrent.
But the risk was acceptable because of continued confidence in the performance of our forces and weapons. Take away that confidence and the risk becomes too great.
So, in the end, the relationship between capabilities, will, and deterrence is about risk and confidence
And that brings us to the Triad and sustaining the Triad. I suggest there are some specific capabilities essential to confidence that the strategic nuclear deterrent will continue to serve its intended purpose and there is a set of risks addressed by the characteristics of the Triad.
The needed characteristics to assure there are no exploitable gaps in the deterrent and that no potential adversary could imagine a successful first strike, are assured and unquestioned response capability, survivable second strike, resilience, and controlled demonstration capability.
Contrary to some of the discussion we are seeing as the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons has been reduced in increments to 1,550, the size of the deployed force is not the determinant of the viability or need for a Triad. Instead, the determinant is the role or roles of each leg of the Triad that cannot be adequately provided by any of the other legs.
- The unique role of the SLBM force is assured second strike. This capability provides assurance that, regardless of the size or effectiveness of an attack on the U.S., no adversary can
escape a devastating response. While some number of silo-based ICBMs will survive and there is a history of attempts to equip land based ICBM forces for this role, the burden for second strike falls heavily on the SLBM force.
- The single-warhead ICBM force most unique feature is its contribution to stability. It provides assurance that only a massive nuclear attack with high quality weapons could seriously compromise ICBM force’s effectiveness and such an attack would elicit a prompt devastating response. So there can be no ambiguous attack or effective attrition campaign that could defeat the U.S. nuclear deterrent. The second role is the unquestionable capability for a rapid response when
authorized by the President
- At one time, the bomber force overlapped all of the roles. When on alert, it provided assured second strike capability. With multiple bases and dispersal capabilities, it provided assurance against an effective cheap attack or attrition campaign. The continuing and unique role of the bomber as currently deployed is the power of demonstrating will and consequence. In past crisis, the visible increase in readiness for nuclear operations, to include launching to airborne patrol, provided a clear demonstration of capability and will.
It is the aggregate set of Triad capabilities that ensures there are no gaps or vulnerabilities in our deterrent forces that can be exploited by an adversary. Given the consequences, such gaps or vulnerabilities would create unacceptable risk.
Unfortunately, investment cost to sustain platform and weapons capabilities to sustain the deterrent has become a major issue. We are dealing with sticker-shock.
A major cause of the sticker shock is that the nation has become accustomed to the long-lasting effectiveness of the current forces operating largely on past investments. The life of the delivery platforms and the weapons has been extended far beyond the design life or the expected life.
- The first Ohio class submarine was commissioned more than 30 years ago. The first delivery of the next generation submarine is to be after 2030.
- The last B-52H was delivered 50 years ago and the first replacements are to begin in the mid-2020s.
- The Minuteman lll entered service more than 40 years ago and the replacement is being addressed in an assessment of alternatives.
- On the weapon side, against a planned design life of 20 years, the 861 mods 3 & 4 entered service 35 years ago. The mod 12 is to start replacing those in 2020. The W78 on the Minuteman III has been deployed for almost 30 years and replacements are scheduled to start fielding in the mid-2020s. The newest ballistic missile warhead- the W88- has been in service for 24 years and, with some upgrade work, is expected to serve for years to come.
Given all that, it would not be unreasonable to expect praise for the cost-effectiveness of our nuclear forces and weapons. That is a joke of course. We would all be shocked by such praise. But, not to worry, that won’t happen.
But forces and warheads inevitably age to the point where we cannot sustain confidence in their reliability and effectiveness and the risk becomes unacceptable. The good news is that we have had, for at least a decade, people who are the nation’s most informed and reliable experts in nuclear weapons design, people who thoroughly understand nuclear forces, and people who are thought-leaders in deterrence working together to define the solution to sustaining the right future nuclear weapons stockpile.
With the exception of the W76 which is in the process of completing a life extension program, every weapon type that we will retain in the stockpile for the long term will require a major life extension program. That is simply a fact of life. It is not a matter of if it is necessary; it is a matter of choice in how it is done. Do we just rebuild the cold war stockpile as best we can or do we take advantage of the billions we have invested in stockpile stewardship to apply greatly increased knowledge and more effective tools to use the needed life extension programs to deliver the right stockpile of weapons? The good news is that we have a strategy and plan for life extension that produces the right future stockpile. This widely supported strategy is commonly referred to as the 3 + 2 strategy. That strategy provides a future stockpile that:
- Remains highly reliable for decades,
- Reduces the needed numbers of non-deployed weapons needed to support the deployed stockpile,
- Cuts the numbers of warhead types about in half,
- Reduces the technical risks from a lack of alternative warheads for some of the deployed stockpile,
- Provides increased confidence in the long-term capability to sustain the nuclear deterrent without nuclear explosive testing,
- Leverages past investment in nuclear components by refurbishing and reusing vice new design and production, and
- Provides for quickly expanding the most survivable leg of the Triad to deal with the possibility of a breakout from a nuclear arms control treaty.
So what’s not lo like about those benefits. Tums out there are only four major issues- political will, national priorities, decision accountability, and wishful thinking about the nature of the world in which we live. You will note that I did not put cost on that list. We do not have a budget problem with funding weapons stockpile modernization. We have a priorities problem. As noted, the nation has invested tens of billions in the stockpile stewardship program to provide the knowledge and tools to deliver the right future stockpile. To now decide we cannot afford the incremental investment to use that knowledge and those tools to deliver the list of benefits I just reiterated would be foolish and irresponsible.
The 3+2 strategy calls for three ballistic missile warhead types with two of those warhead types using an interoperable nuclear explosives package in a warhead adaptable to either the ICBM or SLBM. Hence the first of these interoperable/adaptable warheads can be the life extension for the W78 Minuteman III warhead and also be the technical and geopolitical hedge for the 05 SLBM warheads- a hedge that is badly needed to reduce risk.
The second interoperable/adaptable warhead can be the life extension for the W88 warhead and the technical hedge for the ICBM.
The 2 part of 3+2 is for air-breathers- strategic and tactical. The first- the 861-12- is the life extension for four models of the existing 861. The second will be the warhead for the cruise missile. The degree of interoperability/adaptability is still being addressed.
It is hard to imagine a more straight-forward, executable, cost-beneficial approach to extending the life of the nuclear weapons stockpile. But it is not the lowest-cost possibility for the near term.
So I would remind all that we are extending the life of a stockpile that has served for decades so that it can serve for decades more. This should be the poster child for cost effective return on investment which is a concept that I hope is not totally obscured by near term budget issues.
So I would hope the message is clear and concise and stripped of obfuscating issues. It has five elements:
- There remains, in the hands of a government that is not a reliable, trustworthy friend, the capability to destroy much of the world; and there is in the hands of nations whose interests are highly inimical to ours, the power to hold at risk our friends and allies.
- The twin objectives of deterring a nuclear attack and extending our nuclear deterrent to friends and allies underwrite the most basic and essential national interests of this nation. There is no more compelling need.
- Our strategic nuclear forces- delivery systems and weapons- have served for decades on past development and procurement investments. The useful life and return on investment in virtually every element of those forces has far exceeded design and expectation.
- To sustain that deterrent, there is a strategy and plan in place that sustains the deterrent force while delivering a critically important set of benefits.
- Executing that strategy and plan will continue to deliver a very high return on investment in national security for us and for our friends and allies.
That’s the message. Let’s stay on it.
Given the location of this conference, I want to close by reminding all, unnecessarily I hope, that the men and women in our nuclear forces in all three legs of the Triad do their jobs every minute of every day with dedication, professionalism, and deeply held convictions about the importance of what they do. It is up to the strategic community both inside and outside government to meet the obligation of continuing to ensure that they have what is
needed to perform the mission that must always be job one for national security. I hope that is what this conference is about. It is certainly why I am here.