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ICYMI: SASC Chairman Inhofe Questions Witnesses at STRATCOM/NORTHCOM Hearing

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed
Services Committee, questioned witnesses this morning at a SASC hearing on
United States Northern Command and United States Strategic Command in review of
the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2021.

Witnesses included: Admiral Charles Richard, Commander of U.S.
Strategic Command; and General Terry O’Shaughnessy, Commander of U.S. Northern
Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command.


Inhofe: We’ll go ahead
and start with questions. I only have one that I really want to get to. I’ve
talked to both of you guys on other occasions about this, but what we ran up
against, and this was kind of a surprise to a lot of us — the NNSA’s primary
job is to build nuclear warheads to meet the requirements of the Department of
Defense. Earlier this year, when we heard that the NNSA budget had been cut, we
called the DOD and asked them what they thought. To my surprise, when I got a
hold of them, they said they didn’t know because they don’t get it until after
such time as — I think Energy gets it first — and so they didn’t have it. I’m
not sure how it happened. Then I went back, and I’ve talked to you folks. What
are you really able to do if you don’t hear about the budget before it’s
already signed off or in the process of being concluded? And that is something
we have a concern about it.

And then it
reminded me back when I was first elected, and that’s when David Boren had this
job. He called me — I remember this, this was way back in 1994 — he called me
up and said, ‘Inhofe, there’s something I’ve been trying to get done for a long
time and I’ve failed. Maybe you can do it.” And it was correcting this very
problem that we’re pointing out right now. We may be addressing this.

So the question I
would ask you is, do you agree this thing ought to be changed? You’ve got to be
in on this thing to know. You remember what we did earlier this year? We had to
go in and talk to the president because they had had dropped the budget down
about 8 percent on NNSA, and nobody was aware of it except the Department of
Energy. So we went and talked to the president and had a meeting, and we
brought it back up just under the ’20 figure. So that’s what happened there.

Do the two of you
agree that this is something that needs to be corrected after all these years?

Adm. Richard: Senator, one,
I applauds yours and the committee’s leadership in addressing the necessary
resources for the nuclear weapons complex. That, along with nuclear command and
control and recapitalization of the triad systems, are essential for
maintaining strategic deterrence, which is foundational for everything else we
do inside the Defense Department. Chairman, you are well aware of the
responsibility of the Nuclear Weapons Council to certify NNSA’s budget, and I
have a role in providing a recommendation to the Nuclear Weapons Council to
that end.

Inhofe: Okay.

Adm. Richard: If there are
weaknesses, and you described one in terms of our ability in a timely manner to
do that, that is something that I will take up with the Secretary to address
how we might be able to do that better.

Inhofe: Why don’t we
do this for the record? We’ll just start this discussion going and not try to
do it under the timelines we’re dealing with today. I’ll go ahead, and I have
one area to bring up. Last summer, the Missile Defense Agency cancelled the
program to modernize the ground-based interceptors up in Alaska, due to
technical failures. The Next Generation Interceptor, then we find, will likely
not be fielded until 2030. I think that would be a good thing for you to answer
on the record as to, what about that gap? Can we handle that gap? Because
everyone up here is going to be interested in that.

here to read Sen. Inhofe’s opening remarks for the record.

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