Ongoing problems moving goods from one place to another has affected schedules across the Department of Defense and nuclear-weapon programs have been hit especially hard, the nominee to lead U.S. nuclear forces told Senators Thursday.

Even in the face of what he called “herculean efforts” by defense contractors, “what we are now finding is the realities of supply chain limitations and supply chain shortfalls,” Air Force Gen. Anthony Cotton said during his nomination hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday morning. “I would venture to say that it’s probably being seen across the Department of Defense, but in particular for the nuclear portfolio.”

Cotton, the current commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, briefly — and without describing particular effects on particular programs — discussed the supply chain issues at the invitation of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). 

If confirmed by the full Senate, Cotton will replace Adm. Charles Richard as head of of U.S. Strategic Command: the sprawling, interservice group that operates U.S. nuclear forces, including missile silos, submarines, heavy bombers and the space- and ground-based communications networks that allow those forces to wage nuclear war.

Government officials and industry executives have attributed ongoing supply chain problems chiefly to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since the pandemic, there have been continuing problems with common missile compartment tubes intended for Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, shortages of storage cylinders needed to start up new domestic uranium enrichment cascade that could one day contribute to national defense, and enough trouble getting parts to refurbish the W80 air-launched cruise missile warhead that the National Nuclear Security Administration decided to delay the date by which it would produce the first refurbished copy of the weapon.

Meanwhile, during the hearing, Cotton declined to say whether he supported construction of a new, low-yield, nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missile that the Biden administration wants to cancel.

“I am not familiar with that weapon system,” Cotton said during the nomination hearing.

Congress, in a series of defense authorization and appropriations bills that still await reconciliation, has largely ignored Biden’s call to cancel the sea-launched cruise missile, which would use a modified W80-4 warhead.