The head of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) said Tuesday the U.S. needs more low-yield nuclear weapons and platforms as a deterrence against Russia.
“Russia is going to have at least 11 different delivery platforms for low-yield nuclear weapons that they can use in different places and different times. Right now, we have one, and that’s an airplane,” John E. Hyten said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
Speaking about the U.S. Strategic Command fiscal year 2019 budget, Hyten noted the U.S. needs another delivery option such as submarines for low-yield submarine-based cruise missiles as well as sea-based cruise missiles since an airplane loaded with low-impact nuclear weapons is difficult to use.
The Air Force general claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin could use a nuclear weapon in a conventional fight, citing Putin’s own words in a speech on nuclear policy in 2000 to “escalate to de-escalate the conflict by using a tactical nuclear weapon to halt hostilities”.
“President Putin, in April of 2000, almost 18 years ago, said the doctrine of Russia will be to use nuclear weapons on the battlefield in a conventional scenario,” said Hyten.
“And that has been the continuing doctrine of Russia for almost 18 years. This is nothing new. We need the ability to effectively respond to that. We need the ability to deter that.”
When asked whether a sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) is being requested for use as a bargaining chip for Russia’s return to compliance with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Hyten rejected the claim, saying “everything”, including low-yield nuclear weapons and SLCMs, are in response to a threat.
The INF Treaty, a 1987 agreement between Washington and Moscow, aims to eliminate all short-range nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges of 310–620 miles (500–1,000 kilometers) and intermediate-range missiles with ranges of 620–3,420 miles (1,000–5,500 km) as well as their launchers.
Hyten has also argued that the U.S. has no defense system to defend against hypersonic weapons that have been “aggressively” pursued by Russia and China.
“We do not have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us, so our response would be our deterrent force, which would be the triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat,” he added.