The United States must ramp up spending on defense and nuclear weapons modernization to maintain technological superiority and counter increases in Russia’s defense budget and modernization efforts, according to Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
“They continue to crank out new nuclear warheads and maintain an advantage on tactical warheads about 10 times what we do,” Thornberry said in his “Strategy for America” address at the Atlantic Council June 23.
Thornberry noted that while U.S. defense spending has been cut by 21 percent over the last four years, Russia’s defense spending is increasing by approximately 10 percent and includes modernization of ICBMs and long-range cruise missiles. Russia’s military also “openly discusses doctrinal changes which show a broadened use of the circumstances under which they’d use nuclear weapons,” he added. Accusing the Obama administration of politicizing and “holding hostage” defense funding in the meantime, Thornberry voiced concerns about the fate of replacements for costly nuclear deterrence systems such as Ohio-class submarines. Thornberry’s sentiments mirror congressional push to enhance the transfer authority for the Sea-Based Deterrence Fund. The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 would authorize up to $1.39 billion to be moved into the fund from Navy research and development accounts as a downpayment for the costly Ohio replacement program that gets underway later this decade.
Thornberry warned that U.S. nuclear weapons and delivery systems “are all aging out at about the same time,” personnel that built them are retiring and “we’ve let the infrastructure deteriorate.” Nuclear engineers no longer consider national laboratories “desirable” places to work, “partly because they had to shoot rats off their lunch in some of the facilities that they were working in,” he said. Thornberry called for “a national conversation about building new weapons” to address the challenge of “asking labs to do the impossible, which is to keep complex machines running at peak condition forever.” He added that an “education campaign” is currently under way in Congress to highlight the importance of maintaining the U.S. nuclear deterrent, particularly because “we have taken for granted the systems, the infrastructure, and the people that keep those complex machines safe, reliable and effective.”