Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, Obama's nomination to be the Pentagon's No. 2, echoed the testimony last week by Gen. Joseph Dunford in naming Russia as the main national security threat to the U.S., while also saying ISIS "does not threaten us at home."
"I would put the threats to this nation in the following order: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and all of the organizations that have grown around ideology that was articulated by al Qaeda," Selva said.
Selva, head of U.S. Transportation Command, was testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on his nomination to become vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, succeeding the retiring Adm. James "Sandy" Winnefeld.
Sen. John McCain, the SASC chairman, seemed surprised at the list and asked Selva why he didn't rank ISIS as a threat to the homeland.
Selva said that ISIS "does not present a clear and present threat to our homeland and to our nation. It is a threat we must deal with," he said, but "it does not threaten us at home" or present an existential threat as Russia does with nuclear weapons.
When asked about the threat of "lone wolves" inspired by ISIS, Selva said they also "do not present an existential threat to the security of our nation."
Senators on the committee took the opportunity to ask for Selva's stance on the Iran nuclear deal announced Tuesday morning. Selva responded saying he would monitor closely whether Iran uses the funding windfall from the lifting of economic sanctions to promote terror in the Mideast.
Selva said the extra money could allow Iran "to sponsor state terrorism should they choose to do so" under the nuclear accords reached early Tuesday, and he pledged to give President Obama a range of options to counter the threat.
Joining Selva at the witness Table was Air Force Gen. Darren McDew, head of the Air Mobility Command, who has been nominated to succeed Selva at TransCom.
McDew, 54, a 33-year Air Force veteran with more than 3,300 hours flight time in a range of aircraft from the C-17 to the KC-135, said he was particularly concerned about the cyber threat to TransCom, and the vulnerability of networks shared with commercial carriers. The U.S. Air Force depends heavily on commercial carriers to deliver supplies.
"As we go forward, the threat only gets worse," McDew said.
Selva, 56, of Biloxi, Miss., has been head of TransCom for 13 months. Before that, he also headed the Air Mobility Command. He has more than 3,100 hours in aircraft including the C-5, C-17A, and the KC-135A.
In earlier written responses to SASC questions, Selva addressed the announcement last week that the Army would be drawing down to an end strength of 450,000 by the end of 2017, while the Marine Corps would reduce to 182,000.
"I believe that any change in end strength needs to be understood in terms of risk. Reducing our Army and Marine Corps end strength increases risk and may impact our ability to shape world conditions, assure allies, and deter conflicts," Selva said.
"However, I believe our current strategy is still achievable at these end strengths, though at increased risk. Any further cuts though, would dramatically increase our strategic risk," Selva said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org