(CNSNews.com) – A Republican lawmaker raised concerns on Capitol Hill this week about the fact Russia and China are developing sophisticated new nuclear weapons, and asked military officers overseeing the U.S. nuclear deterrent whether the U.S. was doing the same. The answer he received was no.
During a House Armed Services’ Strategic Forces subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) noted that since the U.S. and Russia signed the New START arms limitation treaty in 2010, both Russia and China have developed significant new nuclear weapons.
He listed some of the Russian weapons – the “Skyfall” nuclear cruise missile; “Poseidon” nuclear-armed unmanned underwater vehicle; “Avangard” hypersonic glide vehicle; and “Satan” multiple-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
China, meanwhile, had developed and tested a hypersonic nuclear weapon, said Turner, who is also chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
“In our plans for modernization, are we planning new nuclear weapons, new nuclear capabilities, or are we modernizing the capabilities we have?” Turner asked two senior military officers on a panel of witnesses.
“Because these [Russian and Chinese systems] are new,” he continued. “Are – do we have on the board any new capabilities?”
“Congressman, no,” replied U.S. Air Force Gen. Thomas Bussiere, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, in charge of the U.S. ICBM fleet.
Vice Admiral Johnny Wolfe, director of the U.S. Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs, agreed with his Air Force colleague, except to point to the fact that the Navy is planning a third warhead variant to use with its existing Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
“Our focus is on just modernizing what we have in Trident today,” Wolfe said.
“We have – I believe, as a fallacy – pursued the view in policy that if we constrain, if we go down in our [nuclear weapons] numbers, that others will follow,” Turner said. “Clearly China and Russia are not following. They’re reaching new capabilities; they’re increasing their overall numbers.”
He asked Defense policy officials on the panel why, in that case, had the administration’s most recent Nuclear Posture Review not recommended changes to the U.S. nuclear posture.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb replied, “Under the current security environment we saw – we see no need to change our nuclear force posture.”
“But the Nuclear Posture Review makes clear that we’re going to continually review the security environment and make changes if required,” he added. “So, I don’t want the concept that we’re not changing right now to indicate that we aren’t looking towards the future, and constantly reevaluating to see what might need to be done.”
Putin claims new weapons will outsmart Western missile defenses
Russia last month suspended its participation in New START, the last remaining nuclear treaty between the two countries, and is increasingly moving away from compliance.
China’s nuclear arsenal is not covered by the treaty.
The Russian systems referred to by Turner were first announced by President Vladimir Putin in a March 2018 speech, when he said the array of new weapons under development would render Western missile defense systems “completely useless.”
“Skyfall” is the NATO designation for the Burevestnik nuclear-capable and nuclear-powered cruise missile. Putin claimed that it has “almost unlimited range, unpredictable trajectory, and ability to bypass” Western missile defenses.
The “Poseidon” nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed unmanned underwater vehicle, according to Putin, also boasts “unlimited range,” and could be deployed against enemy aircraft, coastal fortifications and infrastructure.
The “Avangard” hypersonic glide vehicle is reportedly capable of delivering nuclear or conventional payloads. The commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in late 2020 that the system had become operational.
“Satan II” is an informal name for Russia’s new Sarmat heavy ICBM (NATO reporting name SS-X-30), which Putin in his 2018 speech said was capable of reaching targets via both the North and South poles, and of operating “untroubled by even the most advanced missile defense systems.”
After testing the Sarmat in April last year, Putin called it “a wakeup call for those who are trying to threaten our country.”
The Chinese nuclear-capable hypersonic missile cited by Turner was tested in the summer of 2021, a development which chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley in a later interview described as “a very significant event” and “very concerning.”
Hypersonic missiles fly in low orbit at around five times the speed of sound, and are potentially able to outmaneuver conventional missile defense systems.
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