Defense experts call for new generation of nuclear arms

OGDEN — What do the state of California and the United States nuclear enterprise have in common?

According to Rear Admiral Richard Breckenridge, director of the Navy’s Warfare Integration Division, both are in danger of not only being up a creek without a paddle, but of losing the creek altogether.

Breckenridge was one of several high-level defense officials who spoke March 19 at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center as part of a Nuclear Triad Forum hosted by the Air Force Association and the Utah Defense Alliance.

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of the Utah Defense Alliance, said the forum was a continuation of a series of Nuclear Triad events that began in 2012 to focus attention on America’s strategic deterrent posture. Speakers at the event focused on what they portrayed as a dire need to sustain and modernize the U.S.’s nuclear strategic systems, and to do so in an affordable manner. 

Items discussed at the forum were meaningful to many in the Top of Utah defense community, since Hill Air Force Base serves as the Integration Support Contractor for the Future Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Sustainment and Acquisition contract. 

Breckenridge drew parallels between the U.S.’s nuclear triad — which consists of strategic bombers, ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles — and the massive, ongoing drought in the state of California.

According to an Associated Press report recently, NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti said California has about one year of water left in its reservoirs, and that mandatory rationing should be put in place immediately.

“NASA satellites have it down to the day when their water will run out,” Breckenridge said. “People will go to turn on the shower one day and there will be a real problem.”

The rear admiral said the country’s nuclear enterprise is heading toward a similar fate, as aggressors “ramp up” their nuclear forces while the U.S. is “life-extending” its. Breckenridge said if immediate action is not taken to bolster the nuclear structure, the country may come up dry in the face of nuclear warfare action from an enemy state. 

“It seems our pray-for-rain strategy may have some shortcomings,” he said. “We’ve compounded risks to an alarming condition.”

Breckenridge said the life-extension process is creating a rapidly aging triad and that it’s a must that U.S. nuclear payloads evolve. He said new money and resources need to be put into that effort and, by the 2020s and 2030s, it will be necessary to replace current nuclear triad weapons with newly constructed and modernized versions.

“Americans need to know that our nuclear forces have been life-extended repeatedly,” he said. “This has undoubtedly resulted in savings of billions of dollars, (but) our ICBMs, bombers and (ballistic missile submarines) are either the oldest in service in the world, or on a firm path to being the oldest.”

Naming Russia, China, North Korea and possibly Iran, Breckenridge said the United States has several nuclear-armed adversaries. And there is robust evidence that suggests they are all enhancing their weapons, trending in the opposite direction of the U.S.

“There are several nuclear-armed nations with oppressive authoritarian regimes that see the U.S., the leader of the free world, as their adversary,” he said. “We don’t have nuclear weapons to deter the United Kingdom or France or Israel.”

And Breckenridge said little incentive exists for U.S. adversaries to change course.

“These nations have no incentive to abandon their weapons,” he said. “We might have had a dream at one point that we could motivate the world to be rid of nuclear weapons and that we would lead the charge as a nation of good for that cause. But I’m here to give you the report card: I don’t see it happening.”

Falling behind in the nuclear arms race can be attributed to several areas, but Breckenridge said perhaps the biggest cause may be a prolonged, relatively peaceful cluster of decades. 

“We’ve enjoyed a period of sustained global stability for over two generations and that has led to a populace who doesn’t understand the enduring role of nuclear deterrence,” he said. “(People born after the Cold War ended) have never done a duck-and-cover drill, they’ve never contemplated an enemy aiming a nuclear weapon at them. They need to be taught this isn’t history. It’s here, it’s now, it’s serious stuff and it looms in their future.“

Breckenridge said modernizing the nuclear force serves as a safety net of sorts. While other nations see their nuclear weapons as not only a source of protection and national pride, but as “a tool for international coercion and intimidation,” the United States operates under the theory that the plausible threat of retaliation to a nuclear attack keeps enemies at bay. 

“Our adversaries are watching us muscle through the drought years with glee,” he said. “We need to do more than pray for rain.”