Drone aircraft recently carried out unauthorized intrusions over Air Force and Navy nuclear facilities, and the incidents pose a growing threat, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command disclosed to Congress Wednesday.
Gen. John E. Hyten revealed the drone threats in written testimony before the House Armed Services Committee for a hearing on nuclear deterrence.
“Of recent concern have been the unauthorized flights of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) over Navy and Air Force installations,” Gen. Hyten said. “These intrusions represent a growing threat to the safety and security of nuclear weapons and personnel.”
Currently, the Navy and Air Force are planning to deploy counter-unmanned aerial system defenses that Gen. Hyten said will “effectively detect, track and, if necessary, engage small UAS vehicles.”
The commander said protecting U.S. nuclear forces and facilities is a top priority.
“We are continually assessing threats to ensure our security apparatus is capable of denying unauthorized access or use of nuclear weapons,” he said.
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No other details were disclosed about the location of the incidents, or how many took place.
Current Air Force and Navy nuclear facilities include Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana; Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri; Bremerton Naval Submarine Base, Washington state; Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, Georgia; Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota; and F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming. The bases are home to U.S. land-based missiles, bombers and nuclear missile submarines.
There have been no news reports of drones making flights over nuclear facilities.
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work warned during a visit to the Kings Bay naval base in April that small drones could penetrate security at nuclear missile and submarine bases. He mentioned that a Netherlands company, Guard From Above, uses birds to attack drones that fly near nuclear power plants, Defense News reported.
The Air Force Global Strike Command, which handles security at nuclear sites, is purchasing electronic equipment capable of disrupting the signals that control drones.
The most recent National Defense Authorization Act, signed in December, contains a provision that calls on the Energy Department to protect nuclear sites from threats posed by unmanned aircraft. The Energy Department operates 10 nuclear sites in the United States.
Drones were detected flying over the Savannah River Site nuclear arms complex last year, and FBI agents questioned an anti-nuclear activist about the flights, the Columbia, South Carolina, newspaper The State reported.
The Navy in February 2016 investigated a drone that was spotted flying over Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, where U.S. nuclear missile submarines are deployed.
Gen. Hyten and other senior military leaders in charge of nuclear weapons warned during the hearing that any delays in carrying out an urgently needed nuclear weapons modernization program would increase the risk of undermining that U.S. deterrence of nuclear adversaries.
“Nuclear modernization can no longer be deferred,” said Gen. Hyten. “Any disruption of the current program of record for future acquisition plans will introduce the risk — significant risk to our deterrent.”
The military is building new missiles, missile submarines and bombers to replace currently aging systems.
U.S. nuclear cuts during the Obama administration were not matched by China and Russia, and both countries are rapidly modernizing their nuclear forces, the military leaders testified.
Navy Chief warns on info security
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson earlier this month issued a memorandum to all senior officers and civilians to be on guard against giving out too much information about the service’s war fighting capabilities.
“I need your help to ensure we are not giving away our competitive edge by sharing too much information publicly,” the four-star admiral stated in the March 1 memo.
Citing the need to assure allies and deter adversaries, Adm. Richardson said that when it comes to making public communications about Navy operational capabilities, “less is more.”
“Sharing information about future operations and capabilities, even at the unclassified level, makes it easier for potential adversaries to gain an advantage,” he said.
“Make no mistake, our adversaries are looking for any possible edge,” he said. “Let’s not make their task any easier.”
The concerns expressed by the CNO are raising questions among security analysts about why the U.S. military is continuing to engage in potentially damaging military exchanges with China.
During the Obama administration, Chinese military officers were feted on scores of visits to advanced military facilities and systems. And ships of the People’s Liberation Army Navy were allowed to take part in the large-scale Rim of the Pacific international military exercises — and then proceeded to send intelligence-gathering ships to spy on the maneuvers.
So far under the Trump administration, few military exchanges with China have been carried out.
CNO spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello said Adm. Richardson was not referring to Chinese military visits or participation in RIMPAC in the memo.
“His focus and intention is just on public communications,” he said, adding that concerns over Chinese military information gathering from exchanges “may be looked at in the future.”
“Those types of conversations are ongoing between the Navy here in D.C. and at” the Pacific Command, Cmdr. Servello said. “Given this new competitive environment, we’re going to look at all the things we do.”
Critics of decadeslong programs of military exchanges with China have said the interactions do little to build trust between the Communist Party-ruled Chinese military and the U.S. military. Additionally, China has gained valuable war fighting information from the program.
China poem: Busy Hating
A protest poem has gone viral on social media in China. The poem employs what has become a common feature of many online Chinese for dealing with a repressive communist government: wry humor. In this case, the poet was making fun of official government propaganda excoriating Beijing’s foreign enemies.
The poem surfaced as officially sanctioned protests broke out in many cities in China to criticize South Korea’s deployment of the U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile defense system. The poem was translated by China Change, an unofficial website that monitors popular culture.
In the morning I hate America
At lunchtime I hate Korea
In the evening, I hate the Japanese
I have to squeeze in hate for Singapore and the Taiwanese
Then at night when I dream
I hate on Vietnam and the Philippines
On Monday I oppose Korea
On Tuesday, Japan
On Wednesday, it’s the Americans
On Thursday I oppose the independence of Taiwan
Friday, that of Hong Kong
Come Saturday, against independence in Tibet is what I am
On the Sabbath, it’s that of Uighurs in Xinjiang
My life is so wonderful and rich
Of everything else, I have no time to think or bitch.
— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.