Air Force Gen. Kehler: U.S. will maintain a credible nuclear deterrent

Despite the end of the Cold War, the U.S. is committed to maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent, so long as nuclear weapons are still in existence, Air Force General C Robert Kehler said earlier this month.

"As long as nuclear weapons exist, U.S. Strategic Command's top priority must be to deter nuclear attack with a safe, secure and effective strategic nuclear deterrent force," Kehler, the Stratcom commander, said to the House and Senate armed services committee earlier this month. Kehler said that a foundation of U.S. national security is being able to operate nuclear capabilities effectively.

Kehler said the U.S. is still capable of deterring any threat, despite a 75 percent decrease in the U.S. nuclear stockpile since the end of the Cold War. Nuclear deterrence was affirmed as a priority to Stratcom in the president's 2010 Nuclear Posture Review and national defense strategy.

The safety and effectiveness of the entire nuclear stockpile of the U.S. is being analyzed with this review initiative. Every weapon from tankers to ballistic missiles are being reviewed, including the command-and-control system that connects the network of defenses.

"Our nuclear weapons and platforms are aging and are in need of either modernization or recapitalization, the majority occurring within the next 10 to 20 years," Navy Cmdr. Robert Thomas Jr. said.

The U.S. infrastructure's lifecycle for nuclear weapons is coming to an end. Ohio-class submarines, for example, are slated to operate through the 2020s, but will then reach their ultimate life expectancy at 42 years of age. New submarines are being developed to replace those that are expected to be retired.

"We are not talking about developing any new capabilities or new weapons," Thomas said. "That is not what we are doing. What we are doing is maintaining the capability of our nuclear deterrent."

"So it is as important now -- and perhaps even more important in a world that is more uncertain -- and into the future that we maintain a very credible nuclear force," Thomas said. "And as long as we have these weapons, we are ensuring that they are safe, secure, credible and effective. And we are taking the appropriate steps to accomplish that."