In April 2009, Bob Gates openly mused about eliminating the Triad. I was a little surprised, to say the least.
Now, he’s gone and done it again.
Gates stopped openly musing about eliminating a leg of the triad once the Obama Administration chose to make the Nuclear Posture Review a continuity document that would reinforce ratification efforts for the New START treaty — and the hefty modernization price tag that accompanied the treaty.
Now, Gates is at it again, suggesting that the Obama Administration should consider eliminating a leg of the Triad:
Q: … And Mr. Secretary, going back to the budget, last time you raised the nuclear triad modernization. Would you look at eliminating one leg of the triad as a big cost savings and — or is that kind of thing off the table?
SEC. GATES: I would just repeat, in essence, what I said before on the budget issues. If the political leadership of this country decides that it must reduce the investment in defense by hundreds of billions of dollars, then I don’t think we can afford to have anything that’s off the table.
I find this curious. On one hand, the Triad is a sacred cow and, well, I think sacred cows make tasty burgers. But cost-savings?
I have always been convinced by the argument that David Mosher made is his epic The Hunt for Small Potatoes (subtitled “Savings in Nuclear Deterrence Forces” in Holding the Line: U.S. Defense Alternatives for the 21st Century). The likely savings from further force cuts in US nuclear forces are likely to be quite small, especially compared to spending on missile defense and other big ticket items.
I find it hard to believe that eliminating, say, the bomber leg would generate large savings.
(By the way, for a defense of the capabilities offered by maintaining a bomber leg in the Triad, see: Bridge Colby and Tom Moore, Maintaining the Triad in Armed Forces Journal.)