David Trachtenberg, the Pentagon’s deputy undersecretary for policy, warned that China and Russia had developed asymmetric advantages in conventional and nuclear forces in the last decade, and now the US is behind the curve in modernizing its sea, air and land nuclear forces, reported USNI News.
Trachtenberg said during a presentation at the Brookings Institution, the Pentagon delayed modernizing five armed service branches: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy for two decades.
“In the 2000s, we skipped a generation” in modernizing ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines, and strategic bombers. During the same timeframe, allied forces in Europe took similar measures to reduce nuclear weapons.
At the same time, on the other side of the world, India, Iran, and North Korea developed nuclear capabilities of their own.
“Most of the US’s nuclear deterrence was built in the 1980s or even earlier,” Trachtenberg said during the presentation. Nuclear Triad missiles are now “aging into obsolescence.”
Trachtenberg said the US is not involved in a new arms race with Russia or China but mentions both countries are quickly modernizing its nuclear and conventional forces.
In an exclusive conversation with USNI News, he said the Pentagon’s effort to modifying existing sea-launched cruise and ballistic missiles are closing a missile gap that Moscow is exploiting through the development of ground-based intermediate range cruise missiles installed along the European Russia border. The Trump administration has said their deployment violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement between both countries. As a result, the US intends to leave the treaty in the coming months, then test two missiles in the 2H19 that exceed the treaty’s limits.
“We’re not attempting to match Russia system for system,” but there’s an effort within the Pentagon to “close a gap” that Moscow has exposed, he said. American sea-launched systems “provide a mix and range of capabilities” can be used to counter Russia.
Trachtenberg said Russia’s military doctrine allows for “tactical nuclear weapons and [nuclear-armed] cruise missiles” in resolving a confrontation. As the US’s stance on “first use” of tactical nuclear weapons, he said the policy is one of “constructive ambiguity,” the same for NATO countries.
He cited “the novel nuclear systems that President [Vladimir] Putin unveiled with great fanfare” last year as more evidence that Russia is modernizing forces. It sparks the question of how committed the US is in “extending deterrence” to its allies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region.
In addition to modernizing US nuclear weapons, he said fifth-generation fighters, such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II had surrounded Russia and China with deployments with allied forces, created an F-35 friend circle to extend deterrence.
For allies like Japan and South Korea, a “nuclear umbrella” of deterrence protects them as well as the American homeland with advanced air and missile defense systems like Patriot and Theater High-Altitude Area Defense systems.
Modernizing nuclear forces “is the ultimate guarantor of our security.” Extended deterrence is “more challenging” since North Korea possesses nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
One topic that wasn’t discussed in the presentation nor the conversation with USNI was the acquisition of hypersonic technologies by China and Russia. It’s possible that both countries have far superior hypersonics, and have possibly matured the technology and launched series production for deployment in the coming years. This would create a monstrous defense and missile gap that could send the American empire to its knees.