JUST IN: Navy Flowing Forces to Pacific as China Grows Nuclear Arsenal
With China rapidly strengthening its nuclear capabilities, the Navy has begun shifting the focus of its own nuclear deterrent to the Pacific, a senior Navy official said.
China is undergoing a significant expansion of its nuclear force, according to the Defense Department’s 2021 China Military Power Report. China likely intends to have at least 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030 and has made efforts to establish its own “nuclear triad” of air-, ground- and sea-based capabilities, the report stated.
In response, the Navy has undergone “a flow of forces from the Atlantic to the Pacific based on the change in the threats that we're seeing in the world today,” said Rear Adm. Scott W. Pappano, the Navy’s program executive officer for strategic submarines.
Due to the sensitivity of the matter, he did not disclose any details about the size, composition or basing locations of the forces being redeployed to the Pacific.
However, the concentration of forces in the Pacific will not leave the United States vulnerable elsewhere, he added.
“Our [ballistic missile submarine] force is capable of supporting multiple packages from either coast,” Pappano said during an event hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies Aug. 24. The service has the ability and flexibility to respond to “whatever threats are out there right now," he added.
“What ocean [Navy submarines are] in, it is less dependent than it used to be in the past,” he said.
As China is building up its nuclear arsenal, the Navy — which accounts for 70 percent of the United States’ nuclear deterrent — is undergoing its own modernization efforts, Pappano said. The Navy is constructing a new class of nuclear submarines called Columbia, which will replace the current Ohio-class submarines, which are scheduled to start going offline in 2027.
The Navy is determined to ensure the transition from Ohio to Columbia runs smoothly “to make sure an uninterrupted sea-based strategic deterrent is maintained,” said Pappano.
Maintaining a strong nuclear deterrent is especially important in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, he added.
“For a long, long time, I think [nuclear deterrence] has not been on the forefront of the public's mind,” he said. “Now that we have a nuclear power in a conventional war with a neighbor, I think that has brought that to the forefront again.
“I think the easiest way to sell that message is to ask ourselves whether we're deterred or not by Russia's nuclear arsenal right now,” he continued. “Would we be doing more in Ukraine if Russia was not a nuclear power? I'm not a policy guy, but ... I think the answer is yes.”