Secretary of defense: Don't neglect nuclear deterrence - Albuquerque Journal

Secretary of defense: Don’t neglect nuclear deterrence

Decades of minimal investment in the nation’s “nuclear enterprise” needs to be reversed to maintain the nuclear deterrence America and its allies have maintained for decades, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Tuesday during a tour of Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratories.

“The honest truth is that we not only have to pay attention to the year in which we live, we have to catch up a little bit on the underinvestment we have made,” Carter told about 75 civilians and uniformed airmen at Kirtland’s Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center.

Kirtland, home of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, and Sandia, which, among other missions, is involved in the sustainment of nuclear weapons, play key roles in the nuclear enterprise, Carter said.

Carter, who started a multi-day tour of the nation’s nuclear facilities Monday at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, is urging Congress to increase spending on all three legs of the aging nuclear triad: strategic bombers; land-launched intercontinental and medium-range ballistic missiles; and submarine-launched missiles.

The Defense Department spends about $15 billion annually on nuclear sustainment and operations, but Carter is requesting $19 billion for 2017 – part of $108 billion over the next five years to “recapitalize” the nuclear force.

“The nuclear mission is the bedrock of American security. … It is what everything else rests upon,” he said.

“It’s hard to keep that in perspective, even if you’re a part of it, as you are, because it’s not in the headlines every day.”

“My observation is, we’re in real trouble when what you do is in the headlines,” he said.

“Your job is to make a deterrent so strong, so effective, so reliable, so secure and safe, that no one can doubt” America’s ability and resolve to protect its people, friends and allies – as it has done for decades – Carter told the audience, most of whom received a Secretary of Defense coin as a memento of his visit.

“That’s becoming a more complicated task in today’s world than it was in decades past,” he said, noting that it’s not only belligerent superpowers and would-be superpowers that America must consider, but new players hoping to become nuclear players.

“The type and variety of nuclear use that we are called upon to deter is more varied than it was in the Cold War,” he said. “That’s going to require a nuclear enterprise that we continue to invest in, both its people and all three legs of the nuclear triad.”

Carter thanked New Mexicans for their “long-standing and true support of the nuclear enterprise,” the “tremendously dedicated people you have here” and the “deep technical expertise” at its military installations and national laboratories.

After addressing nuclear workers and Kirtland airmen, Carter held a brief news conference and then toured Sandia Labs.

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