Nuclear Command, Control, Comms Under Scrutiny

By Jon Harper

Photo: Defense Dept.

The Pentagon is taking a closer look at its nuclear command, control and communications needs as it fleshes out what technologies it plans to buy.

Existing systems are aging. The last major upgrade of the architecture took place in the 1980s, noted a recent report by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies titled, “Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Command, Control and Communications.”

These capabilities include air-, land- and space-based sensors and platforms, communications networks and other technologies that enable the military to detect incoming attacks, report false alarms, securely communicate with senior leaders and command the use of strategic weapons.

“Modernizing NC3 is an open-ended process that is likely to intensify over the next decade,” the report said.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that operating and modernizing these systems could cost $77 billion from fiscal years 2019 to 2028.

Maj. Gen. Stephen Davis, director of global operations at U.S. Strategic Command, said the Defense Department is setting up a new nuclear C3 enterprise center to refine operating concepts and future capability requirements that account for evolving threats and technologies. The organization is expected to be up and running in April.

“We know that our next NC3 system will be very different, but we don’t exactly know what it will look like,” he said at a recent conference on Capitol Hill. “We’re looking for a framework for a flexible, continuously evolving … set of capabilities,” he added.

The Pentagon will also be conducting a nuclear C3 portfolio management review this year. More than 100 acquisition programs will be examined, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Kevin Fahey noted at a recent conference hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.

“The biggest focus will be on how do we use it to inform our resources, … where do we have gaps, where do we need to fix programs and where do we need to work [on] technologies,” he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military is modernizing other components of its strategic arsenal, including the ground-based strategic deterrent, ballistic missile submarines, bombers and warheads. The CBO estimates that plans for operating, maintaining and modernizing the nation’s nuclear forces would cost $494 billion over the next decade.

Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute, said Congress will need to pony up the money required to modernize command, control and communications systems if the United States is to maintain an effective nuclear deterrent. “To spend billions on new mission systems without investing in the heart of the command-and-control system makes absolutely no sense.”

Topics: Budget, Strategic Weapons, Missile Defense

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