Official: Money ‘Not An Issue’ for Future of Air Force Nuclear Deterrent
The Air Force will get the funding it needs for nuclear modernization, a top service official said July 21.
“The money is not the issue,” Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, said at a speech hosted by the Air Force Association in Arlington, Virginia. “The president has always supported nuclear modernization in the budget.”
Concerns about the oncoming "bow wave" for nuclear funding requirements have led analysts and officials to question the viability of the Air Force’s modernization plans. By the mid-2020s, it is expected to both develop and field the new B-21 long-range bomber and upgrade and ultimately replace its fleet of Minuteman III missiles. According to Weinstein, however, the Obama administration and the military are “firmly committed to all modernization programs” and don’t anticipate the bow wave to go up much further than 7 percent of the defense budget.
“When you look at what that number was in the 1960s and 1980s — it reached 10 percent at one point,” Weinstein said. “If we’re talking about supporting a foundation that works to keep our homeland safe, 7 percent doesn’t sound like a ridiculous amount of money.”
Budgetary issues inevitably come with modernization efforts, which necessitate prioritization, he added.
“In our current fiscal environment we must make difficult decisions about our priorities,” Weinstein said. “Twenty-first century deterrence will demand consistent and focused efforts.”
Support for a new long-range standoff weapon — an aircraft-launched nuclear cruise missile, which has been halted for budgetary reasons — has been inconsistent among lawmakers, but NATO holds a strong commitment to maintaining dual-capability aircraft, Weinstein noted. The LRSO is projected for deployment on the B-2 and B-52 bombers.
“I don’t see any future decrease in maintaining that capability,” he said. “NATO and our allies are extremely supportive of our LRSO project.”
The project faced multiple roadblocks for securing funding in the past, he said. The conversation has now shifted to a matter of when the project will continue.
“We get letters of support and dissent from both sides,” he said. “My job is to tell Congress what we need as a military based on what they’re asking us to do. What they choose to fund is their responsibility.”
Prioritization of nuclear deterrence initiatives will be crucial for the next administration. Nuclear strategies need to remain “flexible” so that both government and military officials are able to respond to the unexpected, he said.
“Our main goal is to deliver weapon systems on cost and on budget as effectively as we can,” Weinstein said. “Every capability we provide is for joint force advantages and we have to continue to modernize that capability.”
Photo: Air Force