China and Russia had their money on winning asymmetric advantages in conventional and nuclear forces in the last decade, and now the United States is playing catch-up in modernizing its sea, air and land nuclear forces, the Pentagon’s top policy official said Wednesday.
David Trachtenberg, the Pentagon’s deputy undersecretary for policy, said the United States put off modernizing the three legs of its nuclear deterrent for almost 20 years, he told USNI News following a presentation at the Brookings Institution.
“In the 2000s, we skipped a generation” in modernizing the triad – ballistic missile submarines, bombers and ballistic missiles. He added that the United Kingdom and France, both nuclear powers and NATO allies, reduced their weapons stockpiles while continuing to modernize their nuclear forces during that same time. The United Kingdom has sea-based ballistic missile submarines; France has both submarines and aircraft capable of delivery of nuclear weapons.
At the same time, North Korea, India and Pakistan established themselves as nuclear powers.
“Most of the nation’s nuclear deterrence was built in the 1980s or even earlier,” Trachtenberg said during the presentation. The triad was “aging into obsolescence.”
Trachtenberg said in answer to a question during the forum that the United States is not engaged in a new arms race with Moscow or starting one with China, but “Russia is re-scoping” its nuclear and conventional forces, including using low-yield nuclear weapons to get its way in a confrontation.
During the presentation and follow-up conversation with USNI News, he emphasized that the Pentagon’s move to modifying existing sea-launched cruise and ballistic missiles are designed to “close a gap” that Moscow is exploiting with its positioning of ground-based intermediate range cruise missiles on its borders. The United States has said their deployment violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement between the two.