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US Air Force wants ‘patriotic’ private firms to share their satellites for NUCLEAR command & control

US Air Force wants ‘patriotic’ private firms to share their satellites for NUCLEAR command & control
The US Air Force has proposed piggybacking nuclear command and control onto the growing network of commercial satellites, floating the idea as a money-saving possibility as its nuclear infrastructure decays into obsolescence.

“One of the areas that I think we're going to be able to leverage significantly is…the rapid and exciting expansion of commercial space and bringing low-earth orbit capabilities that will allow us to have the resilient pathways to communicate,” Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein told an audience at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies on Wednesday. “Whether it's Silicon Valley or commercial space, there are unlimited opportunities ahead right now for us in terms of how we think differently on things like nuclear command-and-control.”

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Staring down a steep price tag - the Congressional Budget Office estimated in January that it would cost $494 billion over the next nine years for the Department of Defense and Department of Energy to update and modernize the “nuclear triad,” which consists of bombers and ICBMs (both operated by the Air Force) and nuclear submarines (operated by the Navy) – the Air Force is casting a jealous eye at the commercial space industry. The Air Force is already looking to “save costs and optimize best practices” by finding synergies with the Navy, Goldfein pointed out – why not take the extra step and capitalize off existing commercial space infrastructure?

Asked whether private corporations might balk at allowing their communications satellites to be used to launch nuclear weapons and potentially annihilating life on earth, Goldfein dismissed the possibility, arguing “patriotism” would carry the day. “I really think we can come to that common ground because I see no shortage of patriotism in industry anywhere,” he declared.

Besides, it's not like the Air Force would actually be using those satellites to launch nukes – it's just in case the main nuclear communications satellites get knocked out by the bad guys, Goldfein continued: “We want to get to a point…where if some portion of the network is taken out…I've got five other pathways” to relay nuclear commands.

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Our command and control systems right now are not as agile as they need to be,” Goldfein lamented, complaining that the “central nervous system of our nuclear deterrent,” the command and control system, was built separately from conventional command and control because some people don't believe in “limited” or “tactical” nuclear strikes. As a result, the NC3 system hasn't been upgraded since the 1980s, according to the Mitchell Institute. B-52 bombers are also past their sell-by date, though their replacement is expected to roll out in the next decade, and the Long-Range Stand-Off missile is expected to be ready for use in 2030, providing a “lethal, tailorable standoff nuclear strike capability.” But not if the Air Force can't afford the infrastructure required to hit its targets.

But the cost of upgrading the nukes is nothing compared to the cost of not upgrading the nukes, Goldfein declared. “Our nuclear deterrent underwrites American freedom and prosperity in both competition and war.”

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The nuclear force has been termed the “problem child of the Air Force” by internal reviews and panels in recent years, and a massive initiative to “sustain and recapitalize” the division was launched in 2016 after disturbing scandals like drug abuse, cheating on nuclear proficiency exams, and one particularly horrifying incident in which six live nuclear warheads were accidentally taken on a B-52 transport drill without anyone on the crew being aware of their deadly cargo forced some soul-searching among the ranks.

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