WASHINGTON — America's nuclear deterrence remains safe and effective even as the world grows more dangerous and defense budgets shrink, the head of U.S. Strategic Command told members of Congress Thursday.
In his first appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee since taking over last year as StratCom commander, Adm. Cecil Haney expressed appreciation for the two-year budget agreement approved by Congress that partly eased the bite of across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.
“This legislation reduces near-term budget uncertainty, but our main concern is that sequestration will continue to stress the human element of our capabilities, as well as impacting our capacity to meet the threats and challenges of the 21st century,” Haney said.
In response to questions from senators, Haney said a full implementation of sequestration cuts in the future would have a “potentially disastrous” impact.
Haney's testimony came after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this week outlined deep cuts to military spending as the U.S. transitions to a postwar period, while also expressing support for preserving the nation's nuclear “triad” that includes intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines and long-range bombers.
Haney testified at Thursday's hearing as did the head of U.S. Cyber Command, Army Gen. Keith Alexander.
Several members of the committee, including Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., asked the two military leaders about the idea of taking Cyber Command out from under StratCom and elevating it to its own separate command.
Alexander suggested that could make sense at some point as the threat of cyberattacks evolves. Fischer cited her past conversations with Haney's predecessor, Gen. C. Robert Kehler.
“Looking at how it works and how we're able to make those decisions by one commander, I think leaving it under one command maybe at this point, but also in the future, makes sense, especially with our budgetary constraints,” Fischer said.
Haney said he and Alexander are on the same page on the issue — they simply want to succeed in the cyber arena. At some point the nation's leaders might decide to change the organization, but he also called for funding to be focused first on building up cyber capabilities.
“We want the command and control structure that allows us to win, first and foremost,” Haney said. “It's got to be structured to win.”
When Fischer asked Haney about the security of his communications systems, the StratCom chief thanked lawmakers for approving hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new command headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base near Bellevue.
“Our ability to command and control our forces as well as move information is important, and this goes all the way to the forces, those folks in the alert facilities, bombers, to submarines, all the way up to the president of the United States,” he said.
He also was asked about issues in the area of personnel, particularly a recent cheating scandal among ICBM crews.
Haney said he supports Hagel's initiative to investigate the situation and consider long-term solutions.
“This has my utmost attention,” Haney said. “But let me repeat — America's nuclear deterrent force remains safe, secure and effective.”