Mat­tis backs nu­clear triad

U.S. de­fence chief ‘per­suaded’ to change view on land-based nu­clear mis­siles

The Niagara Falls Review - - WORLD NEWS - ROBERT BURNS THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. — De­fence 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 U.S. 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 nu­cle­arca­pable 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 tests were giv­ing Mat­tis a chance to high­light what the Air Force pro­motes as an al­waysready 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 nu­cle­arca­pable bombers.

Minot in re­cent years was at the cen­tre 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 War­era nu­clear force is a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

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

One was to Northrop Grum­man and Boe­ing, to­talling 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.

JACQUELYN MARTIN/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

U.S. De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis said Wed­nes­day he has been per­suaded that all three prongs of the U.S. nu­clear triad — mis­siles based on land, sub­marines and air­craft — are nec­es­sary for proper de­ter­rence.

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