Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Monday the importance of the US nuclear arsenal was likely to grow in importance in coming years as Russia moves to strengthen its nuclear forces.
Gates said he made the comment in a closed door question-and-answer session with rank-and-file airmen in explaining his decision to replace the air force leadership over two major nuclear blunders.
In a speech earlier, Gates told airmen he regretted having to remove General T. Michael Moseley as chief of staff and Michael Wynne as air force secretary.
“But there is no room for error in this mission. Nor is there, unfortunately, any room for second chances — especially when serious questions about the safety and security of our nuclear arsenal have been raised in the minds of the American people and international partners,” he said.
Reporters were made to leave the room when Gates opened the floor to questions from the airmen at this headquarters for US air combat forces.
However, Gates told reporters later on a flight to Colorado Springs, Colorado that among the points he made is that the US nuclear deterrent was likely to grow in importance, not diminish.
He said that was in part because of the risk of nuclear proliferation, but also because Russia has shifted its efforts from a traditional focus on conventional forces to strengthening its nuclear forces.
“It seems clear that the Russians are focused, as they look at the future, more on strengthening their nuclear capabilities,” he said. “So to the extent that they rely more and more on their nuclear capabilities, ... it underscores the importance of our sustaining a valid ...nuclear deterrent,” he said.