AFA NEWS: Experiments Informing Nuclear Command, Control Upgrades

By Jon Harper

Photo: Defense Dept.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Defense Department is performing “a lot of experiments” to try to figure out the best way to upgrade its nuclear command, control and communications capabilities, the head of Air Force Global Strike Command said Sept. 20.

The Pentagon is pursuing a variety of new systems for its nuclear triad, which includes air-, ground- and sea-based platforms. The Air Force is developing new bombers, air-launched cruise missiles and ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, while the Navy is building new ballistic missile submarines and has plans for sea-launched cruise missiles.

However, another critical element that doesn’t get as much public attention because it’s “not as sexy” is nuclear command, control and communications, Gen. Anthony Cotton said during a panel at the Air Force Association’s Air-Space-Cyber conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

NC3 is the “tapestry for the entire triad,” he said.

However, much of the current architecture was built decades ago and it needs to be upgraded, he noted.

“Being able to modernize this system to be able to fight the fights that we’re going to have to be dealing with and the threats that we’re going to have to deal with in the future, is something that we have to have a serious conversation” about, he said.

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten has warned that China is building capabilities that could threaten the U.S. military’s current ability to communicate with its nuclear forces.

The Pentagon needs “assured comms” to enable its nuclear command and control capabilities, Cotton said.

“We should be able to build a system that [is] state of the art 21st century technologies and … understand the vulnerabilities,” he added. “Right now, we’re having a lot of experiments to be able to kind of pull that off … [and] see how we could do that.”

Cotton did not provide details about what the experiments entail, but he noted that the Air Force is looking at how its nuclear command, control and communications network would fit in with the service’s future Advanced Battle Management System.

The legacy network is a hardened apparatus that includes thousands of miles of deeply buried underground cables, according to Hyten.

“Back in the ‘60s when we developed our NC3 system, it was a standalone system,” Cotton said. But that’s not what the Pentagon wants or needs in the future. The United States shouldn’t try to build a new NC3 architecture the way it did decades ago, he said.

“That’s unaffordable. We’re not going to be able to do it that way,” Cotton said. “The 21st century way of being able to do that business will actually be more effective and more efficient for us moving forward.”


Topics: Air Force News, Air Power

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