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It’s back to the future for national security, Munns tells Rotary Club

July 24, 2018 GMT

Describing the state of national security today, U.S. Department of Defense special adviser Chuck Munns said, “It’s complicated,” during a presentation to the Rotary Club of Aiken on Monday at Newberry Hall.

In addition, Munns believes this country faces a situation similar, in some ways, to one that created a lot of tension in the aftermath of World War II and continued to do so for decades.

“We’re back to the future,” Munns said.

After a focus on terrorism that began in 2001, concerns have shifted more toward another worry.

“We’re now back to strategic competition,” Munns said. “That’s where we were in the Cold War. It was us against the Soviets, peer to peer. But back then, it was only two countries, us and them. And it was only one threat, nuclear. But things have changed. There are now multiple players, including China, in a time of economic globalization. And there are also multiple capabilities, not just nuclear. There’s cyber, counterspace, stealth, special operations forces and so on and so forth.”

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Munns served in the Navy for more than 30 years and was a vice admiral when he retired. He also is a former commander of the U.S. and NATO submarine forces.

From 2008 until 2010, Munns was the president and CEO of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions.

Today, “I am a DOD (U.S. Department of Defense) special adviser to U.S. Strategic Command,” he said.

During the Rotary meeting, Munns spent most of his time talking about a document called the Nuclear Posture Review, which establishes the role of nuclear weapons in this country’s security strategy.

The process to create it is legislatively mandated, and it happens periodically. The Trump Administration’s version was released earlier this year.

Based on a chart Munns showed the Rotary Club, the U.S. has been much less active in adding new nuclear weapon delivery systems to its arsenal since 2010 compared to Russia, China and North Korea.

In terms of deterrents to prevent nuclear attacks, “we’re still very capable, but our edge is eroding,” Munns said. “We are still relying on the peace dividend from three decades ago, so one of the themes (in the Nuclear Posture Review) is the need for investment to fill the gap – not to necessarily build more warheads, but to build more capable systems in this modern, complicated, complex environment.”

According to the Nuclear Posture Review, at its highest peak, the estimated cost of the investment will represent “approximately 6.4 percent of the current DOD budget.” Now, between 2 percent and 3 percent of DOD’s budget is required to maintain and operate existing nuclear forces.

The components in those modernized systems will include the new Columbia-class submarines and the new B-21 long-range bombers, Munns said. There also will be new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent missiles.

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In the short term, DOD and the National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, will modify a small number of existing submarine-launched ballistic missiles to provide a low-yield option. They also will pursue the development of a nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile.

Upgrades of the nuclear command, control and communications system also are planned.

Part of the Nuclear Posture Review’s strategy is to increase U.S. capability to produce plutonium pits, which are nuclear weapon triggers.

That could bring a new mission to the Savannah River Site, or SRS. Under a NNSA proposal, SRS would produce 50 pits per year, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico would produce 30 per year.

Munns answered questions from the audience after he finished speaking, and one was about the future of the Mixed Oxide, or MOX, Fuel Fabrication Facility, which is being built at SRS. NNSA and DOD want to repurpose MOX for plutonium pit production.

In expressing his opinion about MOX, Munns referred to the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement between the U.S and Russia, which originally was signed in 2000 and was later amended.

Both countries agreed they would each dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. Through the MOX process, the plutonium would be turned into fuel that could be used in a nuclear power reactor.

“If we start with a clean sheet of paper, there may be a more economical way to do that today, but that doesn’t matter,” Munns said. “It’s an agreement with the Russians. Until we can get out of that agreement … I think we should press forward (with MOX).”