Just as President Trump started revitalizing the ‘Triad’ of aging U.S. nuclear forces to counter China and Russia’s rapidly growing capabilities, presumptive President-elect Joe Biden has promised to cut them. Biden says he wants to reduce what he calls America’s “excessive expenditure” on nuclear arms.
Biden has also criticized President Trump’s decision to develop new sea-based weapons, including a submarine-launched cruise missile.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the “incoming Biden administration is planning a review of the nation’s $1.2 trillion nuclear-modernization program with an eye toward trimming funding for nuclear weapons and reducing their role in Pentagon strategy.”
However, a Pentagon fact sheet published in November, states that not only do we need more nuclear weapons to counter Russia and China, but: “Most of the systems that compose the Triad [Land based, Air Launched, and Submarine Launched] are operating well beyond their original design lives,” read. “They must be modernized, or they will be lost.”
Meanwhile, as I have written, both Russia and China are furiously modernizing and expanding their nuclear arsenals. China intends to more than double its current nuclear force by 2030, and new estimates have shown China may have far more nuclear weapons than currently believed.
But Russia is the more immediate danger. Moscow is regularly adding additional cutting-edge nuclear capabilities.
Russia has stepped up the development of its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). In the New Year, its Strategic Missile Force will receive thirteen launchers equipped with the latest Yars and Avangard ICBMs. The Russian Ministry of Defense also announced that additional funds have been allocated for the production of the systems.
Sucio adds that the Russian Ministry of Defense is placing its new nuclear weapons on combat alert. As reported by Tass:
In 2021, the Defense Ministry will deal with a number of priority rearmament tasks. It will have to put 13 launchers with Yars and Avangard intercontinental ballistic missiles on combat duty in the Strategic Missile Force,” said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Monday.
Shoigu added that Russia is now completing construction of the infrastructure for Yars and Avangard ICBM platforms, to deploy the missiles in Kozelsk, Yasny, Uzhur, Novosibirsk and Yoshkar-Ola.
U.S. nuclear strategists are especially concerned about Russia’s hypersonic and maneuverable Avangard boost-glide vehicle, reportedly capable of flying at Mach 27— or about 32,000 kilometers (almost 20,000 miles) per hour — using its speed and maneuverability to overcome U.S. anti-missile defenses.
The RS-24 Yars, a modification of the Topol-M ballistic missile, is also a far more capable mobile or silo-based solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with MIRVed (multiple independently targetable vehicle) warheads.
Trump was right to start reviving and upgrading the Triad of U.S. nuclear forces. Both Russia and China are striving to match or overcome U.S. nuclear capabilities. In the escalation dominance game, this will allow them far more flexibility in their increasingly aggressive adventurism, and can only heighten global risks.
Biden should tread carefully in seeking to undermine this critical national security capability.