Let us be realistic and see the world as it is. While our nation’s nuclear enterprise is currently safe, secure, ready and reliable, we are behind in nuclear modernization and that must change.
The United States has delayed modernizing the three legs of its nuclear deterrent, known as the Triad, for about 25 years. The Triad is comprised of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), strategic bombers and ballistic missile submarines. Most of these platforms are several decades old and are beyond their planned service life, despite numerous upgrades and extensions.
It is essential we modernize our air, land and sea nuclear forces to guarantee our safety and security by regaining technological superiority over China and Russia. Why? Because nuclear deterrence is the foundation of our national defense and has prevented “major power” conflict for more than 70 years. Nuclear deterrence works!
In our backyard at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, the U.S. Strategic Command’s new Command and Control Facility is critical to the nuclear command, control and communication operations of our nuclear Triad. This new facility became operational a little over a year ago, and is more than a new building; it is a strategic weapons system that provides StratCom and our nation with the capability needed to maintain and enhance our readiness.
Our Nebraska congressional delegation was a great help ensuring Offutt received supplemental funding to repair the extensive damage to this strategically important base caused by the flooding in 2019. We will most likely need their support again to help ensure our strategic nuclear forces receive the necessary funding to modernize them, so we can continue to effectively deter our adversaries.
We must maintain a nuclear force that is modern, ready, reliable and responsive to ensure deterrence never fails. We must retain all three attributes of the triad: survivability, flexibility and responsiveness. Credible nuclear deterrence communicates to our adversaries that their losses would be so devastating that it outweighs their benefit of attacking us.
This is about protecting our homeland, our allies and our way of life. To help prevent nuclear proliferation, the United States provides “nuclear umbrella” protection to over 30 allied countries with whom we have treaties, including NATO members and our Indo-Pacific allies of Japan, South Korea and Australia. As a global leader, we help protect the free world from dangerous adversaries.
Can we afford to modernize? A Congressional Budget Office report, “Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces from 2019 to 2028,” estimates the Department of Defense needs to invest $326 billion over the next 10 years to modernize the nuclear triad. It may seem like a lot of money, but it is only 6.4% of the defense budget at its peak, 3% for most defense budgetary years and less than 1% of our total federal budget. This is a modest percentage of our defense budget when measured against the catastrophic consequences of a major war or a nuclear war. Our nation can afford survival.
Effective strategic deterrence that ensures the defense of our nation and our allies is, in fact, affordable. We need to let our senators and representatives in Congress know nuclear modernization is vitally important to our country.
Our nuclear enterprise is currently safe, secure, ready and reliable. We need to modernize it now to reduce vulnerability to nuclear war, while maximizing adversary vulnerability. With strong, credible nuclear deterrence, we can continue to secure our nation, protect our allies and prevent the world’s most destructive weapons from ever being used again.
We can no longer delay. The United States has extended our current nuclear weapons, strategic platforms, nuclear command and control systems and supporting infrastructure well beyond their intended service life. We must replace them with modernized systems now. The United States cannot project power against a nuclear armed adversaries without a modernized, reliable nuclear force.
Timothy J. Burke is president and CEO of Omaha Public Power District and is Chairman of the Strategic Command Consultation Committee and the Offutt Advisory Council. He was appointed to the U.S. Air Force Civic Leaders Program by the Air Force chief of staff in 2018.