The head of U.S. Strategic Command, who is in charge of the nation's nuclear triad, declined to back up President Donald Trump''s alleged claim in the Bob Woodward book "Rage" that the U.S. has a secret new nuclear weapons system to deter Russia and China.
"I have not seen [the book]," Adm. Charles A. "Chas" Richard, the STRATCOM commander, said in response to questions at a Pentagon briefing. "I'm not in a good position to help you address that question."
In Woodward's book, based on tapes recorded with Trump's permission, the president spoke to how close the U.S. had come to war with a nuclear-armed North Korea in 2018, and said the U.S. has since developed a new weapon at his direction.
"I have built a nuclear, a weapons system that nobody's ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven't even seen or heard about,""Trump told Woodward, the longtime Washington Post investigative journalist.
"We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before," Trump added, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. "There's nobody -- what we have is incredible."
When asked again about the new system, Richard said he could not discuss what may be classified and referred questions to the White House and the secretary of defense.
Trump may have been referring to the new low-yield W76-2 nuclear warhead for missiles on Trident submarines. The development of the W76-2 was publicly announced in the February 2018 Nuclear Posture Review.
Richard said the W76-2 was developed to counter the possibility that an adversary might use its own low-yield nuclear weapon, thinking the U.S. might then not respond with the full force of its nuclear arsenal.
In assessing the readiness of the nation's nuclear triad of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines and strategic bombers, Richard said, "The bottom line is we're ready," but pointed to the challenges ahead, particularly from China.
The Pentagon's annual "China Military Power" report to Congress, released Sept. 1, projects that the number of warheads on China's land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. will grow to roughly 200 in the next five years. Richard said he backs that assessment.
"China, in particular, is developing a stack of capabilities that, in my mind, is increasingly inconsistent with their stated ''no first use' policy," Richard said. "My responsibility is to deter what they're capable of doing, as opposed to what they're saying."
He referred to Beijing's longtime stated policy that China will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in the event of war. U.S. deterrence policy has been not to rule out first use.
Richard was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in November 2019 to head STRATCOM and succeed Air Force Gen. John Hyten. Hyten has since been confirmed as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.