Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, during a two-day round of base visits to highlight top budgetary concerns, told an all-hands gathering of nuclear submariners today that America’s military has let its focus on nuclear issues “drift” under pressure from the last 13 years of land wars.
“Over the years we’ve let our focus on the nuclear deterrence aspect of our national security drift a little, that’s somewhat understandable,” he said, “noting that “for 13 years this country has been at war in long, large landmass wars.”
Hagel was referring obliquely to two scandals involving nuclear materials, one involving drug use and cheating on proficiency exams at an Air Force nuclear missile base and the other involving cheating by some of the enlisted men and women who teach submariners to maintain and operate the nuclear plants that power our attack and nuclear-missile submarines.
The visit is part of Hagel’s ongoing review of the nuclear enterprise and is certainly meant to highlight the importance of the replacement for the Ohio-class submarines that carry and launch ICBMs armed with nuclear warheads.
During his visit, Hagel toured the USS Tennessee, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine and restated the Pentagon’s commitment to replacing them
The Navy has now admitted it cannot afford the fleet it plans to buy over the next 30 years and much of the reason for that is the cost of the Ohio-class replacement boats and is arguing that a sort of national fund must be created to bear the cost of what is, they argue, a national asset.
Tomorrow, the secretary hits Eglin Air Force Base, home to the Air Force’s first full squadron of F-35As and the place where on June 23 an F-35A caught fire on takeoff. All three versions of the Joint Strike Fighter remain grounded as a result of the fire. A decision whether to let four F-35Bs fly to the UK to take part in the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and the Farnborough Air Show remains to be made. Time is running very short for the plane to appear at RIAT.
Sydney is traveling with Defense Secretary Hagel and will be filing from Eglin and Fort Rucker.