The Senate Armed Services Committee wants more answers as to why the Defense Department canceled the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) from the likely next leader of U.S. Strategic Command, and a commitment to keep members abreast of planned cancellations in the future.
During his Oct. 24 SASC confirmation hearing to become STRATCOM commander, current Navy Submarine Forces Commander Vice Adm. Charles Richard was grilled by one member on the Pentagon’s August decision to scrap the RKV program and start a new competition for a fresh next-generation interceptor.
“I – and I think a number of the members of the committee – were surprised in August when the undersecretary over at the Pentagon abruptly canceled the Redesigned Kill Vehicle,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), whose state includes multiple missile defense sites, including the long-range discrimination radar site in development at Ft. Greely, as well as the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island where the Missile Defense Agency performs test launches.
Sullivan noted that the committee was given little to no notice before the cancellation decision was made, despite the fact that “this body has been driving – not the Pentagon – Congress has been driving missile defense the last five years.”
“If there’s going to be major, abrupt changes, I need your commitment to make sure you reach out … to make sure we know what’s happening, to make sure we know the reasoning on it, maybe even seek our advice on it,” he said.
Explanations for the cancellation were “all over the place,” he added, expressing concern about the scheduling setback the RKV cancellation has on the entire Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program. Officials have previously said that that program may be set back by a few years due to the RKV elimination (Defense Daily, Sept. 4).
“If we’re not going to be testing the new RKV over the next several years, how do we show deterrence?” Sullivan said. “I think it leaves us open … [and] vulnerable.”
Richard noted that while his current role does not provide much purview into the reasoning behind the cancellation, he is “generally aware” of the situation and pledged to get up to speed once confirmed and committed to keep Congress aware of any future plans to quickly cancel programs.
He added that he is confident that the currently fielded system will defend the United States against the “threats that we face today,” but future threats will need to be addressed in a timely manner.
“I agree with you that we need to be very careful about setting too high a bar in our effort to develop any system such that it delays us,” Richard said. “We used to move faster in history, being willing to accept some failure and learning along the way, and I would support our ability to get back to that pace.”
Based on a wide array of statements of support from SASC members at the hearing, Richard is largely expected to sail through his confirmation process. He assumed his current duties in August 2018 as commander of Submarine Forces, commander of Submarine Force Atlantic, and commander of Allied Submarine Command. In these roles, he leads the Navy on undersea issues, is responsible for the submarine force’s strategic vision, commanding all Atlantic-based submarines, and provides advice to NATO strategic commanders on submarine issues.
Previously, Richard served as the deputy commander of Strategic Command, led Submarine Group 10, was director of Undersea Warfare (OPNAV N97), and served as a member of the Chief of Naval Operations’ Strategic Studies Group XXVIII.
His predecessor, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, was confirmed in September to become the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His swearing-in has not yet been scheduled.