Air Force leaders discuss nuclear enterprise

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joseph Raatz
  • Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs
The nuclear enterprise must modernize to remain a viable and essential part of the United States' defense strategy, maintained Air Force senior leaders at the Air Force Association's annual Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition here, Sept. 16.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, was joined by Maj. Gen. Sandra Finan, Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center commander and Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak, the Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration assistant chief of staff at a panel to discuss the current state of the nuclear enterprise.

"We're supremely focused on making sure we have a force that is safe, secure and effective every single day," Wilson said. "We've got a credible force that deters our adversaries and assures our friends and we're working hard on building and empowering the team and shaping the future"

Much of the discussion centered on the modernization efforts the Air Force is undertaking in regards to its nuclear force.

"Our rival powers are investing billions of dollars to modernize and improve their nuclear systems, so to remain credible we must ensure nuclear capabilities remain an Air Force priority," Finan said.

AFGSC is coordinating with the AFNWC to procure an alternative for the Minuteman III ICBM weapon system. These intercontinental ballistic missiles, first introduced in the early 1960s, are reaching the end of their life cycle and are due for replacement.

"We are moving forward with the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program as a replacement for the current Minuteman III missile system," Finan said. "However, until the GBSD comes online, we must continue to modernize and sustain our current Minuteman III system. We are doing this through upgrades to the launch control centers and launch facilities as well as modernizing missile components to ensure the Minuteman III continues to be a credible system until it is replaced."

The upcoming Long Range Strike Bomber was also a topic of discussion.

"We're partnering with Air Combat Command on the LRS-B," Wilson said. "It will be essential as we move forward to have a bomber force that can penetrate any place on the globe and hold any target on the planet at risk."

Other modernization efforts discussed included the new Long Range Standoff Missile, a replacement for AFGSC's UH-1 helicopters and a new variant of the B61 Nuclear Bomb.

In addition to the Air Force's two legs of the U.S. nuclear triad, partnership with the Navy was also discussed.

"We need to make sure that everybody understands how valuable the triad is in protecting America." Harencak said. "The triad is complementary, and it is the best defense of the nation against its only existential threat."

"We realize that this is not a zero sum game," Harencak continued. "We need to work together to convince the American people and our government leadership, of the value and relevance of the triad... As we work toward common adaptable systems and as we modernize our nuclear forces, one of the key things we do is we make sure we are attached at the hip when it comes to advocating for a strong nuclear deterrent. It's as relevant today, and it will be as relevant tomorrow, as it was in 1954."