Washington – This afternoon, Wyoming Congresswoman and House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) participated in a House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces hearing focused on the United States’ Strategic Forces Posture for Fiscal Year 2022.
During the hearing, Rep. Cheney questioned Navy Admiral Charles A. Richard, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, about China’s unprecedented nuclear threat and the need for the United States to counter them. Watch the full exchange below:
REP. LIZ CHENEY:Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you to all of our witnesses. Admiral Richard, I wanted to follow up on something one of my colleagues was asking you about. There’s an idea from some on this Committee, and more broadly, that even though we’re facing adversaries, as you’ve described, historic, unprecedented situation with respect to China and Russia, both of whom are undertaking massive modernization buildup and expansion programs, that somehow the solution is for us to risk our own security, to tie our own hands, with no first-use, to reduce our own capabilities, to delay, yet again, modernization. I wanted to remind the Committee, generally, of something that President Truman said in NSC-68, which is timeless. He said, “No people in history have preserved their freedom who have thought that by not being strong enough to protect themselves they might prove inoffensive to their enemies.” I’d like to ask you, Admiral Richard, if you could describe in a little bit more detail what we are seeing from the Chinese, in particular. I don’t think the American people fully recognize and understand the nature and the expanded nature of that threat. Also, what it means when we say that Minuteman III is so old, what does that mean in terms of what’s available, what’s not available, what it would really mean if we were to ask you simply to extend the life of that program once again?
ADMIRAL CHARLES A. RICHARD: Congresswoman, thank you for the question. I ran through it very quickly in my opening statement, but I’ll elaborate that we are seeing this very rapid expansion of Chinese capabilities. I’ll give you the specific numbers in the closed session, but this is rapid expansion of their road-mobile capability. This is an intercontinental ballistic missile that’s on a very large truck. Russia and China have them, we do not. Those are very large countries, and they simply drive the missile around. It is a challenging thing to keep up with them. They have this new capability, expanding rapidly, they have many new solid fuel intercontinental ballistic missile silos, these are the same ICBMs, by the way, that we’re talking about either life extending or otherwise trying to use ourselves. A solid fuel rocket is very responsive and that coupled with their new nuclear command and control gives them a launch under warning or launch under attack capability that right now only the U.S. and the Russians possess. They’re about to complete a triad so they have a strategic bomber with an air launched ballistic missile capability on that, so for the first time they have a complete triad. They have six second generation ballistic missile submarines so they can do continuous at sea deterrent patrols, i.e. a survivable second strike capability and a missile that can reach the continental United States from a protected bastion in the South China Sea. You add all of this together and they can do any plausible nuclear employment strategy regionally. This will backstop their conventional capability and will potentially constrain our options. In other words, we’ll be the ones that are getting deterred and if I don’t have the capability to similarly deter them. The key point is that this is about to become additive to what the Russians can do. So, that’s the threat, more detail in the closed session, but this is a breathtaking expansion. I just gave an order at STRATCOM that if you have a China brief that is more than a month old, take it back to the intel people and get it updated because it is out of date. That’s how rapidly they’re moving. Remember, STRATCOM is not the source of this intelligence. The intelligence comes from the Intelligence Community. We’re simply the ones that interpret it operationally like other commands.
REP. CHENEY: Thank you, Admiral. I think it’s important to just reaffirm the words that you’ve used, that the Chinese are at an inflection point. This is a breathtaking expansion accelerating rapidly, and we’re asking you to be able to deter both China and Russia simultaneously. I think from the perspective of this Committee and our obligation to ensure that you have the resources you need, the notion that we’re asking you simply to life extend, one more time, technology from the 1970s is completely irresponsible. I think we need to face the consequences of that choice if that’s the path we choose to go down.
ADMIRAL RICHARD: Congresswoman, if I could just add. Again, I’ll defer to the U.S. Air Force and the Secretary of Defense as to whether or not Minuteman III can be life extended, they provide me this system. Here’s why I say I’m just not sure it can be done: they have a long list of parts that are in very short supply. For example, right now there’s only two of these launch switches that go into every launch control center. So, only two in supply, you’ve got to have 45 of them for each launch control center, nobody makes the inside of the switch anymore, no company is going to make the inside of the switch, this is like asking a company to make a dial-up modem, right? There’s no profit in doing something like that. The Air Force has been consistently pulling rabbits out of a hat to solve these problems. I’m afraid there’s a point where they won’t be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat and the system won’t work.