Ukraine war a 'warmup,' the 'big one is coming' and US behind in nuclear, admiral warns

The US Stratcom head warned that China and Russia are outcompeting America in the nuclear arena, losing deterrence.

US Army soldiers, assigned to the East Africa Response Force (EARF), 101st Airborne Division on a mission to bolster the security of Manda Bay Airfield, Kenya after an attack by Somalia's al Shabaab militants that killed three Americans, board a transport plane in Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti January 5, (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Army soldiers, assigned to the East Africa Response Force (EARF), 101st Airborne Division on a mission to bolster the security of Manda Bay Airfield, Kenya after an attack by Somalia's al Shabaab militants that killed three Americans, board a transport plane in Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti January 5,
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The war in Ukraine is a prelude to greater military challenges to the US in the near future, and America is losing its competitive edge in nuclear weapons capabilities, US Strategic Command head Admiral Charles Richard warned in a speech at the Naval Submarine League's 2022 Annual Symposium & Industry Update on Wednesday, the US Defense Department reported. 

"This Ukraine crisis that we're in right now, this is just the warmup," said Richard. "The big one is coming. And it isn't going to be very long before we're going to get tested in ways that we haven't been tested in a long time."

"As I assess our level of deterrence against China, the ship is slowly sinking."

US Strategic Command head Admiral Charles Richard

Nuclear competition with Russia and China

Richard warned that the US was losing its nuclear deterrence against competitors like China and Russia.

"As I assess our level of deterrence against China, the ship is slowly sinking," he said. "It is sinking slowly, but it is sinking, as fundamentally they are putting capability in the field faster than we are."

In its October 27 National Defense Strategy paper, the Pentagon also presented a dire situation in the nuclear balance between the US and Russia and China. 

 A deactivated Soviet-era SS-4 medium range nuclear capable ballistic missile is displayed at La Cabana fortress in Havana October 15, 2012. (credit: REUTERS/DESMOND BOYLAN) A deactivated Soviet-era SS-4 medium range nuclear capable ballistic missile is displayed at La Cabana fortress in Havana October 15, 2012. (credit: REUTERS/DESMOND BOYLAN)

"Our principal competitors continue to expand and diversify their nuclear capabilities, to include novel and destabilizing systems, as well as non-nuclear capabilities that could be used to conduct strategic attacks," said the nuclear posture review.  "They have demonstrated little interest in reducing their reliance on nuclear weapons. By contrast, the United States is focused on the timely replacement of legacy fielded systems that are rapidly approaching their end of service life." 

China seeks to possess at least 1,000 deliverable warheads by the end of 2030, and Russia intends to deploy 1,550 START treaty-limited warheads on delivery vehicles.

"The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the overall pacing challenge for US defense planning and a growing factor in evaluating our nuclear deterrent. The PRC has embarked on an ambitious expansion, modernization, and diversification of its nuclear forces and established a nascent nuclear triad." said the nuclear posture review. "Russia continues to emphasize nuclear weapons in its strategy, modernize and expand its nuclear forces, and brandish its nuclear weapons in support of its revisionist security policy."

Sabrina Singh, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary, expressed more confidence regarding the competition China presented in a press briefing on Friday. 

"I think we feel very confident in our capabilities when it comes to China, or just generally in the Indo-Pacific," she said.  "The secretary [Richard] laid out in his National Defense Strategy that China remains our pacing challenge.  We know that in order to compete with China, we are doing more when it comes to our own readiness and our own exercises.  But I think we definitely are monitoring things that are happening in the Indo-Pacific and remain ready to act, if needed."

"This Ukraine crisis that we're in right now, this is just the warmup...The big one is coming."

US Strategic Command head Admiral Charles Richard

US needs to pick up the pace

Richard said that the one field that the US still dominated was undersea capabilities.

"Undersea capabilities is still the one ... maybe the only true asymmetric advantage we still have against our opponents," Richard said according to US Defense Department news. "But unless we pick up the pace, in terms of getting our maintenance problems fixed, getting new construction going ... if we can't figure that out ... we are not going to put ourselves in a good position to maintain strategic deterrence and national defense." 

The Stratcom commander called on the US military to look for inspiration in how it operated in the 1950s to restore its competitive advantage.

 "We have to do some rapid, fundamental change in the way we approach the defense of this nation," said Richard. "We used to know how to move fast, and we have lost the art of that."

 "Otherwise," Richard continued, "China is simply going to out-compete us, and Russia isn't going anywhere anytime soon."