The draft House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC) version of the fiscal 2022 defense authorization bill requests DoD and independent reviews of the modernization of the nuclear command and control and communications (NC3) system under U.S. Strategic Command’s (STRATCOM) “NC3 Next” effort.

HASC is to take up the draft bill on Sept. 1.

“The committee notes that the age, complexity, and dispersed nature of the legacy nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) enterprise requires sustained and coordinated investments,” per the draft committee language. “Adding to this complex problem are upgraded and modernized systems coming online replacing legacy systems. The committee further notes that the Department of Defense cannot afford delays or unaligned acquisitions, given the importance of this mission.”

The draft bill would require Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to submit a report to HASC by May 1 next year on NC3 modernization to include a definition of the future NC3 enterprise; a description of critical NC3 capability gaps;
projected NC3 operational requirements through 2026; a proposed acquisition strategy; consideration of all available software development authorities; and associated timelines and cost estimates for critical elements of the NC3 enterprise through 2026.

The HASC Strategic Forces subcommittee has also proposed language in Section 1622 of the bill that would require Austin to enter into an agreement with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine “to conduct a review of the current plans, policies and programs of the nuclear command, control and communications system, and such plans, policies and programs that are planned through 2030,” per the subcommittee’s mark. “This section also would require an interim briefing on the review not later than September 1, 2022.”

The Strategic Forces subcommittee has also recommended language that would require the president “to participate in at least one large-scale nuclear command, control, and communications exercise within the first year of assuming office, per term, and would include waiver authority on a case-by-case basis” for events, such as wars and other crises.

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. John Hyten called modernization of the legacy NC3 system his highest priority in testimony before Congress when Hyten served as head of STRATCOM and noted that it has been three decades since DoD comprehensively modernized the system.

In April 2019,  STRATCOM declared initial operational capability of its NC3 Enterprise Center (NEC) to lay the groundwork for an overhaul of the Pentagon’s NC3 architecture for future operations (Defense Daily, Apr. 3, 2019).

Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, the deputy commander of STRATCOM, told a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies’ nuclear deterrence forum last week that NEC is collaborating with think tanks and industry on a conceptual design for “NC3 Next.”

HASC’s draft version of the fiscal 2022 defense authorization bill also asks the Air Force to review its approach to the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program, to include identifying potential steps for reducing costs and introducing more opportunities for competition in the operation and maintenance phase (Defense Daily, Aug. 26).

The HASC draft bill language notes the GBSD effort to develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile is expected to total $100 billion and calls on the Secretary of the Air Force to provide recommendations on potential improvements to the engineering and manufacturing development contract with Northrop Grumman [NOC].

Hyten has said that GBSD must be “more affordable” and that “after meeting with the program office at Northrop Grumman multiple times I think that program can come in significantly cheaper,” per the draft bill language.

Northrop Grumman is to build GBSD–a replacement for the 400 Boeing [BA] Minuteman IIIs– under a $13 billion contract awarded in 2019.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), chair of the HASC Readiness Subcommittee, introduced a bill in late June that would look to pause GBSD development until 2031 and instead focus on extending the service life of the Minuteman III missiles to 2040 as a means of potentially saving tens of billions of dollars (Defense Daily, June 30).

“I think there’s a lot of debate in the public realm potentially on recapitalization of the triad from more of a fiscal perspective, versus a threat or national security perspective,” Bussiere said last week.

“You can’t have one without including the other, in my opinion,” he said. “From a national security perspective, if you step back from the POMing process, and you look at the fact that this is the second recapitalization of the nuclear triad—essentially an every 40-year recapitalization, a 40-year cycle, that’s the reality of this recapitalization. If you look at the stability that the triad has presented for generations, all the way back to the Kennedy administration they have validated the requirement for a triad, and I think we can probably agree that it has provided strategic stability for great nation/great world war type events, and if we can make those leaps of faith that the threat that we present today is more complicated than it has been in the last 50-70 years, you tend to come up with a more coherent appreciation of the need to recapitalize the triad.”

Bussiere said that any decision to change nuclear force posture “needs to be coupled with treaty obligations from the threats we see so that it’s not a unilateral action that affects our national security.”