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Nuclear Deterrence Remains Department's Highest Priority Mission

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (May 13, 2021) -- While the Defense Department is conducting a series of strategic reviews that will include U.S. nuclear policy and posture, the department still considers nuclear deterrence its highest priority mission, defense leaders said.

"Our nuclear forces remain essential to ensure that no adversary believes they can ever employ nuclear weapons for any reason, under any circumstances, against the United States or our allies and partners without risking devastating consequences," Leonor Tomero, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

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The department plans to begin specific reviews of nuclear posture and policy soon, Tomero said, and those reviews will extend through the summer and fall.

"Our reviews will assess the U.S. nuclear modernization programs to ensure that they deliver on time and are aligned with policy," Tomero said. "Importantly, the reviews will include a renewed focus on strategic stability, including risk reduction and arms control."

Right now, the Defense Department is engaged in a recapitalization of the "nuclear triad," which involves new submarines, such as the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines; new intercontinental ballistic missiles as part of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program; and new bomber aircraft, such as the B-21 Raider.

Modernization of that triad remains a top priority for defense leadership, Tomero said.

"There is very strong support for modernization of the triad, as Secretary Austin testified before Congress, as Deputy Secretary Hicks testified," she said. "And so that will be a high priority for our ensure that we continue to modernize the triad. Of course, we'll look at how the programs are doing, what the program risks are to make sure that we have the capabilities we need when we need them."

While the president's fiscal year 2022 budget has yet to be given to Congress, Tomero did say she's aware there is support for nuclear modernization and sustaining U.S. nuclear forces, but she didn't go into more detail.

"Having a strong nuclear deterrence is one of our highest priorities," she said. "And, so, we will continue to maintain a strong and reliable nuclear deterrence, which has been the cornerstone of our national security."

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