The world is changing and Air Force Gen. Anthony J. Cotton, the nominee to be commander of U.S. Strategic Command, says Stratcom will have to confront these changes.
If confirmed, Cotton, who testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, will have to ease new capabilities into the U.S. nuclear triad. He will have to ensure the communications/command-and-control systems are robustly rebuilt. Finally, he will have to position the U.S. Strategic Command to handle two, near-peer rivals — Russia and China — where his predecessors only had to deal with the threat from Moscow.
“In a world where we now face two, near-peer competitors, we must deter the pacing challenge of China and address the acute threats presented by Russia,” Cotton told the Senate committee.
China, which first exploded an atomic bomb in 1964, has made a goal of expanding its nuclear arsenal. United Nations figures say China has roughly 350 nuclear weapons today. Chinese officials have said they want to increase that arsenal to around a thousand in just a few years.
Russia has just under 6,000 nuclear weapons.
Cotton says China’s accelerating nuclear program must be considered in U.S. strategic calculations. Cotton told the senators that the United States has generations of experience in dealing with Russian nuclear strategy, but China’s strategy is changing. How it changes and what the United States and its allies should do in response needs to be studied, he said.
U.S. nuclear capabilities “continue to be safe, secure, reliable and effective,” the general said. Cotton, who serves as the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, would be in charge as the nuclear triad modernizes with the B-21 Raider, the Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine, and new intercontinental ballistic missiles coming online.
The new systems mean the United States “will continue to ensure the credibility of deterrence for decades to come,” Cotton said.
Underpinning the triad modernization is the nuclear command control and communication systems. “While the current system is secure and resilient, modernization and sustainment of this capability is just as important as the weapon system platforms themselves,” he told the senators. “If confirmed, I will use my authorities to ensure that NC3 [nuclear command, control and communications] systems continue to outpace the threat.”
U.S. Strategic Command is responsible for monitoring global threats and executing operations in accordance with the national defense strategy. “I commit to commanding a resilient joint force capable of conducting multi-domain operations focused on deterring aggression, and, if necessary, defending this nation,” he said.
Cotton said the command needs “stable, predictable, adequate and timely funding. My job, if confirmed, as the commander of Stratcom, is to ensure that we also have stable requirements.”
This is important because the significant investment in nuclear modernization is meant to be modular and effective for decades, he said.