The top officer of U.S. Strategic Command said the country faces big challenges in maintaining and upgrading its nuclear arsenal.

DODFrom a long-delayed satellite system and aging missiles to battling brain drain and upgrading infrastructure at the nation’s nuclear research laboratories, the top officer of U.S. Strategic Command said the country faces big challenges in maintaining and upgrading its nuclear arsenal.

Gen. Kevin Chilton, speaking at the Air Force Association conference near Washington, D.C., stressed the role of deterrence in the country’s national-security strategy but held little back in describing shortcomings he feels the nation needs to address soon.

Among the issues Chilton addressed include:

  • The Space-Based Infrared System, a satellite and sensor system that has run into cost overruns and repeated delays. The program is 2½ years behind schedule.
  • A need for more investment in the communications link between the president and top military advisors during a nuclear attack.
  • More work to upgrade the Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles, which have been in place since the 1970s. The ICBMs have received substantial funding for upgrades in the past few years, Chilton said, but more needs to be done.
  • The need to begin thinking about a replacement for the Minuteman 3, which military officials expect to last at least through 2030.
  • Recruiting and retaining the next generation of nuclear scientists, who will likely be prevented from testing nuclear warheads.
  • Infrastructure issues at nuclear research laboratories. One particularly sore point was the nature of the facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory outside Knoxville, Tenn., which opened in 1943 and was instrumental in developing the atomic bomb.

“You would be appalled if you visited Oak Ridge, Tenn., and saw our uranium facility, which was built during the Manhattan Project,” said Chilton, who is retiring in December. “When you think about the work we require people to do on elements of nuclear weapons, of course you’d think they’re working in very pristine and state-of-the-art facilities. They are not. And our country needs to fix that problem and make the investments.”

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Source: Scott Fontaine | Air Force Times
Photo: U.S. Department of Defense