AURORA, Colo. --
Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, Air Force Global Strike Commander, spoke to hundreds in attendance and thousands more via live stream at the 2023 Air and Space Forces Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colorado, on Tuesday.
“Integrated deterrence is enabled by credible forces that are backstopped by a safe, secure, effective nuclear deterrent,” he told the audience.
Bussiere discussed the threats facing the nation, the National Defense Strategy and what is needed from the Global Strike perspective to win in this new era of strategic competition.
“Air Force Global Strike command is foundational to our nation’s defense,” Bussiere said, mentioning “right this minute, our warriors are ready. This is an obligation we take very seriously.”
Discussing the geostrategic environment, Bussiere noted the world watches as Russia pursues its ambitions in Eastern Europe after the nation launched an unprovoked war, while also continuing with its aggressive nuclear saber-rattling messaging. The general also spoke about Russia’s substantial modernization efforts, including the expanding of its nuclear arsenal. He said Russia recapitalized more than 80% of its nuclear strategic forces and is also developing new exotic nuclear weapons systems.
Moving to the nation that Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., call the “pacing threat,” Bussiere said China is expanding, modernizing, and diversifying its nuclear forces: “Sprinting to parity…with a purpose,” he said, noting the Chinese intent to become the leading global economic and military power by 2050.
The nation and its president, Bussiere said, “worked to modernize their military, in all domains.”
Due to these factors, the National Defense Strategy shifted, he said, with China and Russia now the central focus and “integrated deterrence” central to the strategy. Bussiere also highlighted the Air Force budget is linked to that strategy and further explained why those factors are critical at this moment in history.
“Just two weeks ago, Russia withdrew from the START treaty. That was the last vestige of arms control treaty that the United States had. We do not have an arms control treaty with China … China and the CCP are sprinting to parity with their nuclear force - diversifying, expanding and modernizing at a pace that we haven't seen since the Cold War,” Bussiere said. “It is the most complicated international order I've ever experienced in my military career.”
So, what does the United States need to win this competition?
A large piece of the answer, Bussiere said, is nuclear deterrence and long-range strike.
“We need credible, modern systems,” Bussiere said. “Fundamentally it’s all about combat credibility - we deliver long-range strike and we provide nuclear and conventional deterrence.”
That combat credibility is provided by aging platforms and weapons systems, but also by Striker Airmen, who Bussiere called “the silent warriors maintaining the foundational defense of our nation.”
Earlier in the day, Kendall emphasized the importance of modernization and the need to modernize, a point with Bussiere expanded upon.
The current ICBM force, for 50 years, remained and continues to remain ready 24/7/365. The force remains credible and capable, as witnessed by multiple Minuteman III ICBM test launches each year. However, the future is Sentinel.
The Minuteman III will remain on watch until relieved, but Bussiere said, “Sentinel is the next-generation ICBM we need.”
He said Sentinel will replace the MMIII with a secure, modular, adaptable system that will lead the way in digital engineering.
Moving to bombers, the current and future air leg of the Nation’s nuclear triad, Bussiere mentioned the attributes of credible, long-range and visible.
The bomber fleet is visible and projects power for both deterrence and assurance; the bombers assure allies and partners and is the only bomber fleet for those allies and partners. The bomber fleet is credible: all three bombers are combat-tested. And, the bomber fleet provided long-range strike, delivering standoff, stealth, & speed for the nation and for allies and partners. Each bomber –- B-1, B-2, B-52 - brings and provides unique attributes to combatant commanders, Bussiere said.
Bomber task force missions are one visible aspect of the bomber fleet.
“We execute multiple BTFs year-round, and we integrate and train with allies and partners all over globe,” Bussiere said. “The friendships and relationships we have are a strategic advantage our competitors will never have.”
Looking forward, Bussiere also spoke about the future bomber force. Although the B-52 is the oldest of all bombers, he said it is not a “legacy platform.” It will remain viable until “at least” 2050, further noting the B-52J will be very different.
“We’re updating everything - new radar, engines, upgraded communications and datalink capabilities,” Bussiere said, expanding by stating the upgraded B-52J will be more easily sustained, maintained and “adaptable to future threats.”
The second component of the future bomber force is the B-21 Raider, a penetrating bomber that is both nuclear and conventionally capable, and adaptable for future threats.
The “future backbone of the bomber fleet,” Bussiere said the minimum fleet will comprise 100 B-21s; however, he said, the Air Force’s current long-term bomber force structure plan targets 220 or more bombers. He also said the program is meeting cost, schedule and performance criteria per the government's baseline.
The B-21 is “on track to deliver operational aircraft to its first main operating base in the mid-2020s,” he said.
Further, Bussiere said its open systems architecture enables rapid insertion of mature technologies and it is also designed with sustainability in mind. The B-21 is designed up-front for supportability and maintainability.
“The technologies that are integrated and the open architecture system will provide any potential capabilities to advance, modernize and keep that weapon system on the leading edge of a threat in the future,” he said.
The general also discussed the other critical elements of the AFGSC mission, including nuclear command, control and communications. “Credibility of the triad is our ability to C2 in our nation’s most stressful environment …NC3 ties it all together,” he said, further stating, “We’re working to upgrade legacy systems and improve oversight.”
Similarly, the National Airborne Operations Center is a vital link in the National Military Command System, providing command and control of the triad; it also serves the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff directly: “Anytime SecDef travels overseas, we have his back,” Bussiere said.
For the future, the general said the Air Force is “progressing toward a competitive contract award for the new Survivable Airborne Operations Center,” which will replace the E-4B - estimated to reach the end of its serviceable life in the early 2030s timeframe.
Yet another modernization program in the works is the MH-139 Grey Wolf. Bussiere said the UH-1N Huey has been a fantastic helicopter for decades, but it’s time to replace it. The MH-139s will provide up to 84 helicopters to support nuclear security and continuity of government operations with its increased speed, range, lift and endurance while also meeting missile field security requirements.
Bussiere wrapped up the discussion by making two key points:
“There is no operational margin left; we have no choice but to modernize,” he said. “Global Strike Command’s unique mission requires full operationally capability until replaced.”
He stressed that final point, the need to continue to provide a safe, secure effective deterrent 24/7/365, by stating:
“We have the privilege and honor of maintaining two thirds of our nation's nuclear triad with the ICBM leg and the air leg. That's a responsibility and an obligation to take very seriously - it's a no fail mission. “It underpins everything in our nation’s defense - it's an assumed underpinning of our nation's defense.”
Bussiere closed by re-emphasizing that point by addressing Global Strike Airmen directly.
“To the Strikers of AFGSC, remember why we exist,” he said. “We are stewards of two-thirds of our nation’s nuclear triad and serve as our nation’s foundational defense force, 24/7/365.”