Fiscal Year 2023 Strategic Forces Posture Hearing
By Andrew Senesac - NDIA Junior Fellow
The March 1, 2022, hearing of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Subcommittee on Strategic Forces occurred under the cloud of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military, and the heightened alert status of Russian strategic forces. Considering these circumstances, witness Admiral Richard, Commander of Strategic Command (STRATCOM) was attending virtually from his post in Omaha. Chairman Jim Cooper (D, TN-05) emphasized that the open session should be conducted as efficiently as possible so to allow maximum time for the closed session. Admiral Richard stated that he was very confident in US strategic forces and deterrence.
Aimed at addressing the FY 2023 strategic forces posture, much of the hearing was spent weighing two threat trends: Chinese nuclear arsenal expansion and modernization, and the enhanced and immediate Russian threat. Questions from members regarding the threat originating from the PRC centered on its dramatic arsenal expansion and efforts to cement a PRC nuclear triad. Concerns about Russian aggression, and its nuclear posture, were saved for the closed session due to the sensitivity of the matter.
It was noted that both Russia and China are making great strides in precision strike conventional weapons, which put targets in the homeland at risk and constrict US freedom of action. It was also made clear that deterring two adversaries simultaneously is imperative for US strategic forces today and in the future. General VanHerck warned against the US being too reliant on cost-imposition deterrence strategies that don’t consider advanced modern conventional capabilities. He also reminded the committee that the US is attacked every day in the cyber domain.
In light of the evolving threat landscape, the coming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and arsenal modernization efforts were repeatedly brought up by members. It was clear that any change in declaratory policy would have negative impacts on deterrence and allied faith in the US. Several delivery systems were specifically mentioned, including the nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile SLCM(N), the W76-2 warhead, and the B83 gravity bomb. However, any in-depth discussion of potential delivery systems was moved to the closed session.
Hypersonic weapons, possessed by both Russia and China, were also consistently brought up during the hearing. Chinese hypersonic superiority was first addressed: China has a massive advantage in hypersonic capability today, and an even larger one in testing and development infrastructure. Conventionally armed hypersonics are a DoD priority, and concepts of operation to manage destabilization risks are presently being worked on. Witnesses are confident that the US will eventually catch up, pointing to significant investment in testing and development infrastructure as well as clear support from Capitol Hill.
Another topic addressed was the role of the defense satellite infrastructure which is central to STRATCOM executing its mission. Space Command (SPACECOM) is a key to this and its Commander, General Dickinson, pointed out that Space Domain Awareness (SDA) is how they understand what things are happening in space and why. SDA is a top priority for his command. Concern was also raised about the lack of a permanent base for SPACECOM. However, once a decision is made by the GAO and DoD IG, General Dickinson expressed confidence that SPACECOM will fulfill execution of its full capability.
A variable central to an effective nuclear posture is stockpile stewardship. Support for the NNSA and its mission was wide ranging. Witnesses indicated that the Department of Energy and DoD relationship in this regard is at a high point. Regarding nuclear force modernization and recapitalization, it was emphasized that the US needs a flexible infrastructure to support a modern arsenal.
Finally, witnesses and members reinforced the notion that in the current strategic environment, a stable flow of predictable funding is vital to our national defense. Accordingly, emphasis was placed on passing the omnibus spending bill to prevent a continuing resolution from negatively impacting DoD’s ability to perform its mission.