Cotton emphasized to the committee that the strategic security spectrum is rapidly evolving and increasing in complexity across the geopolitical landscape.
“Today’s global environment does not allow for diminished strategic deterrence," Cotton said. “China has modernized at breathtaking speeds, and we expect them to have over 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030, nested within in a modern triad. Meanwhile, Russia has recapitalized over 80 percent of their nuclear forces and are developing new weapons capabilities as we speak.”
Cotton told the committee members that AFGSC continues to provide safe, secure and reliable deterrence.
“Make no mistake. We are locked in an age of long-term strategic competition, informed now by two nuclear-capable peers, and the advent of non-nuclear strategic weapon systems. Throughout all of this, our strategic deterrence continues to hold as the cornerstone of national security,” Cotton said. “I must always be ready to present credible and viable forces, and for this reason, we maintain constant readiness 24 hours a day. From our missile crews on alert and our bomber crews accomplishing Bomber Task Force Missions, we remain ready to hold our nation’s adversaries at bay.”
However, Cotton stressed that modernization is the key to that continued readiness.
“To guarantee continued deterrence into the future, it is imperative that we remain on schedule as we bring new weapons systems online within the triad. I am happy to share that we continue to make tremendous progress across our portfolios.”
Cotton said that AFGSC remains committed to sustaining its bomber and ICBM forces as the command brings the LGM-35A Sentinel and the B-21 Raider online within the scheduled timeframe and planned budget for each system.
During the question and answer portion, Committee Chairman Senator Angus King (I-Maine) asked the general about the progress on the Sentinel ground-based strategic deterrent project.
“I’m happy to say that GBSD, now known as Sentinel, is in a really, really good place,” Cotton said. “I will say it is a mega-project, so I don’t want to overstate the fact that what we’re talking about is not just the replacement of a missile, we’re talking about the replacement of the entire weapon system, the Minuteman weapon system.”
He told the subcommittee that F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, which will be the first base to receive the Sentinel, has already started to break ground.
“Everything is on time and on schedule. I’m not concerned with what we’re seeing with the program,” he said.
As questioning continued, Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb) addressed the recapitalization of the E4-B with the Survivable Airborne Operations Center and asked Cotton’s perspective on the importance of replacing that system.
“It’s absolutely critical. As you know, the National Airborne Operations Center is an older airframe of which we only have four. I’m happy to say I think we’re in a pretty good place on where we’re going to move forward in regards to SAOC, its replacement,” Cotton said.
Additionally, Chairman King asked Cotton about the progress of the B-21 program, the bomber that will eventually replace the B-1 and the B-2 bombers.
“I think it’s a model acquisition program for the department. I’m very satisfied with where we are on the progress of the B-21 program. It is on time and on budget,” the general said.
During the remainder of the hearing, Cotton continued to highlight the importance of modernizing the nuclear portfolio. In his written statement, he concluded by telling the subcommittee that despite the current global environment, the command stands ready to defend the nation.
“AFGSC is the home of nuclear and conventional long-range precision strike for the United States and the free world. We continue to sustain legacy systems while modernizing our force to meet the challenges inherent in an increasingly complex global security environment,” he said. “Our Airmen, the very core of our mission, ensure we provide safe, secure and lethal combat-ready forces to the Combatant Commanders. It is because of our people, we are always ready to provide long-range conventional or nuclear precision strike anytime, anywhere.”
General Anthony Cotton commands 33,700 Airmen and civilians responsible for the nation's three intercontinental ballistic missile wings, the Air Force’s entire bomber force, to include B-52, B-1 and B-2 wings, Air Force Nuclear Command, Control and Communications (NC3) systems, and operational and maintenance support to organizations within the nuclear enterprise. The full hearing video can be accessed here.