Thursday July 19th, 2018 3:12PM

Defense chief says US must keep all 3 parts of nuclear force

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (AP) — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday he has become convinced that the United States must keep all three parts of its nuclear force, rather than eliminate one, as he once suggested.

Some argue that ground-based missiles may no longer be necessary to America's policy of deterrence, and the Trump administration has been reviewing the military's nuclear posture.

Mattis has called the submarine-based component "sacrosanct" and has said it is necessary to retain the ability to fire nuclear weapons from planes.

Together, those three prongs constitute what the military calls its nuclear triad.

Before he took over in January as President Donald Trump's Pentagon chief, Mattis had suggested that long-range, silo-based weapons, known as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), might be expendable.

"I've questioned the triad," Mattis told reporters flying with him to Minot Air Force Base, a nuclear base in northwestern North Dakota. He said his view has changed.

"I cannot solve the deterrent problem reducing it from a triad. If I want to send the most compelling message, I have been persuaded that the triad in its framework is the right way to go," Mattis said.

Mattis has previously indicated this evolution in thinking, but his statements Wednesday were emphatic.

The key to avoiding nuclear war, he said, is maintaining a nuclear arsenal sufficient to convince a potential enemy that attacking the U.S. with a nuclear weapon would be suicidal.

"You want the enemy to look at it and say, this is impossible to take out in a first strike, and the (U.S.) retaliation is such that we don't want to do it," he said. "That's how a deterrent works."

Thus the U.S. will keep nuclear missile submarines, land-based nuclear missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft, he indicated.

Mattis also said the Trump administration is reviewing the value of the New Start treaty negotiated with Russia by the Obama administration in 2010. The treaty, already in effect, requires reductions by both sides to a maximum of 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads by February.

"We're still engaged in determining whether it's a good idea," Mattis said, adding that the question is linked to adherence by others to separate but related arms treaties. That was an apparent reference to U.S. allegations that Russia is violating the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty from 1987.

Mattis declined to discuss the matter further, except to say the administration is not considering withdrawing from New Start.

Trump has criticized New Start as a bad deal for America.

Mattis' trip was scheduled before the recent series of North Korean nuclear and missile tests. But those test were giving Mattis a chance to highlight what the Air Force promotes as an always-ready fleet of land-based missiles and B-52 bombers equipped to deliver nuclear devastation to nearly any point on the globe in short order.

The Minot base is home to more than 100 land-based nuclear missiles as well as nuclear bomb-carrying aircraft. After arriving at Minot, Mattis was flown by Huey helicopter to a "missile alert facility" and taken underground to a Minuteman launch control capsule.

He spoke to a missile launch crew on duty, including 2nd Lt. Tia Hewuse, who later told reporters that she expressed to Mattis her pride in serving as part of the nation's nuclear deterrent.

"It's what keeps our enemies at bay," she said.

Mattis also was touring a Minot facility where nuclear warheads are stored, and visiting with a B-52 bomber unit.

Minot hosts the 91st Missile Wing, which operates one-third of the nation's 400 Minuteman 3 missiles, as well as the 5th Bomb Wing, which flies those nuclear-capable bombers.

Minot in recent years was at the center of trouble in the ICBM force, including lapses in morale, training, performance and management. The Air Force has made an effort since 2014 to correct those weaknesses, which had accumulated over a period of years, with little attention from Congress.

Minot and Strategic Command headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska are timely backdrops for a related political message: The Trump administration intends to press ahead with a multibillion-dollar modernization of the entire nuclear arsenal.

The Pentagon is in the midst of an in-depth review of nuclear weapons policy, but it seems clear that upgrading the Cold War-era nuclear force is a foregone conclusion.

Last month the Pentagon signaled its intentions by awarding two key contracts.

One was to Northrop Grumman and Boeing, totaling nearly $700 million, for further development of an ICBM to replace the Minuteman 3. The other was to Lockheed Martin and Raytheon for $1.8 billion to work on a new nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missile.

The Air Force also is proceeding with development of a next-generation nuclear-capable bomber, called the B-21 Raider, and the Navy is building a new fleet of strategic nuclear submarines.

Mattis in recent weeks has all but dismissed the idea, which he raised himself in congressional testimony two years ago, that the country might be better off eliminating the ICBM fleet.

In June, the Air Force finished reducing the number of Minuteman 3 missiles by 50 to a total of 400, the lowest since 1962. But Mattis appears to have been persuaded by the argument that keeping ICBMs deployed in underground silos sprinkled across the western Great Plains is key to deterrence because an attacker would have to use hundreds of weapons to destroy all 400 launch facilities.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Online Headlines - Washington
© Copyright 2018
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Josh Duggar welcomes baby amid battle over fondling claims
Reality TV star Josh Duggar has announced the birth of a baby boy a day after a judge halted his lawsuit over the release of information related to allegations he fondled his sisters as a child
12:27PM ( 4 minutes ago )
AP NewsBreak: $20M-$30M Picasso portrait of muse up for sale
A late Picasso portrait of his paramour Jacqueline Roque is going up for auction for the first time, with an estimated price of up to $30 million
12:21PM ( 11 minutes ago )
Son: Pete Domenici, former GOP senator, has died
Pete Domenici, a former Republican senator from New Mexico who became a power broker known for his work on the federal budget and energy policy, has died
12:20PM ( 11 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Defense chief says US must keep all 3 parts of nuclear force
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says he's become convinced the United States must keep all three parts of its nuclear force, rather than eliminate one, as he had once suggested
12:01PM ( 30 minutes ago )
The Latest: Graham introduces last-gasp health overhaul bill
Four Republican senators are introducing a long-shot attempt to roll back much of former President Barack Obama's health insurance law
11:54AM ( 37 minutes ago )
AP interview: Ryan won't say tax cut won't raise deficit
House Speaker Paul Ryan is declining to say a tax overhaul Republicans are trying to write won't increase federal deficits
11:38AM ( 54 minutes ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Son: Pete Domenici, former GOP senator, has died
Pete Domenici, a former Republican senator from New Mexico who became a power broker known for his work on the federal budget and energy policy, has died
12:20PM ( 11 minutes ago )
Edith Windsor remembered as 'great' pioneer for gay rights
A gay rights pioneer is being remembered for bringing a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down parts of a federal law banning same-sex marriage
12:17PM ( 14 minutes ago )
Cops: Man asked stepdad to leave, then shot mom in hospital
Police say the husband of a woman fatally shot in a New Hampshire hospital said he saw his stepson point a gun at her and fire several shots before walking away without saying a word
12:16PM ( 15 minutes ago )
The Latest: Lawyers suggests problems with Ohio execution
A federal public defender who witnessed the execution of a condemned Ohio killer says she thinks mistakes were made
12:13PM ( 18 minutes ago )
The Latest: UK, Sweden urge UN action on Myanmar violence
The Latest: Britain and Sweden are urging the U.N. Security Council to call for an end to violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state that has driven at least 370,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh
12:12PM ( 19 minutes ago )