Sending mixed nuclear messages: Revelation 16

The Steward Of America’s Nukes Is Sending Mixed Messages About B-1 Bombers—And That’s Dangerous

David AxeForbes Staff

Aerospace & Defense

I write about ships, planes, tanks, drones, missiles and satellites.

It’s a useful exercise in geopolitics to try seeing your country’s actions from the point of view of your adversaries.

Someone should explain that to U.S. Strategic Command, the headquarters that oversees America’s nuclear forces. The command has been celebrating trials testing out a new capability on the U.S. Air Force’s B-1 bombers.

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But the rhetoric, from the perspective of Russian and Chinese officials, is pretty alarming. It sounds atomic. And treaty-busting.

“Strategic deterrence is the foundation to our survival as a nation,” STRATCOM tweeted about the B-1 on Dec. 5. “In order to stay ahead of the competition, we have to pave the way to modernize current systems to enhance our readiness and capabilities.

The problem is, the B-1 pointedly lacks nuclear capability. To comply with the 2011 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States USM and Russia, the Air Force stripped out the special wiring and external hard-points that allowed the swing-wing bomber to carry nuclear weapons.

If the B-1 could haul nukes, it would represent a violation of the last major arms-control accord between Washington and Moscow. Which is why it was so startling when STRATCOM used the words “strategic deterrence” while promoting efforts to add to the Air Force’s 62 B-1s new external hard-points for non-nuclearweapons.

Strategic deterrence” usually means nukes. The implication of the STRATCOM’s messaging, therefore, is that the B-1 might return to the nuclear fold. In fact, the B-1 modifications “will keep the aircraft compliant with the New START agreement,” the Air Force stressed in a news release.

The military is sending a mixed message. The B-1s are part of America’s strategic deterrence, STRATCOM says. But not really, the Air Force adds.

Confusing communication probably isn’t a good idea when it comes to world-ending weaponry.

“When STRATCOM talks about ‘strategic deterrence,’ it means all strategic deterrence: nuclear as well as conventional,” said Hans Kristensen, a nuclear expert with the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C. “So it’s not like they’re making a mistake in the the tweets, but I would like them to be more specific so not to create confusion about what they’re talking about.”

The hypocrisy is just the icing on the messaging cake. “STRATCOM is part of the national security community that is criticizing China and Russia for being too opaque about their nuclear postures,” Kristensen said.

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