Opposing the Garamendi Amendment

May 22, 2024

Dear Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Smith:   

Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) may again offer an amendment designed to slow, or even end, the development of our nation’s replacement for the land-based component of our nuclear triad: the Sentinel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program. Despite costs which have exceeded the thresholds of the Nunn-McCurdy law, the critical importance of maintaining each leg of the triad has recently been reaffirmed by senior Department of Defense officials of the Biden Administration. Accordingly, the Air & Space Forces Association strongly opposes Rep. Garamendi’s amendment and supports the continued development of the Sentinel system.   

Recently, Ranking Member Smith asked Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, “…what is the true value of the land-based leg of the triad?” Secretary Kendall responded in sworn testimony by stating, “…You cannot put a value price tag on that.  The ICBM leg of the triad is the most responsive leg of the triad.”  

The Secretary further said, “[t]he risk of a preemptive surprise attack that decapitates us or takes out our nuclear force becomes much higher, if there’s no ICBM leg. If the stealth of the submarines is broken and the bombers are caught on their bases, you don’t have anything left.” “We’ve looked at tons of scenarios. We’ve looked at all sorts of different opportunities and possibilities.  The triad provides the most stable configuration. And it would be, I think, a lot of risk, more than we should accept….”    

This was echoed by the May 15, 2024 testimony of Under Secretary of Defense, William La Plante, in front of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. The Secretary stated in response to a question from Senator John Hoeven (R-ND):

Just to state the important thing right at the very beginning, as you said Senator number one, the modernization of our triad is the top priority of the Defense Department. The triad of course is the next generation bomber B-21.  The next generation SSBN Columbia… and of course Sentinel, which replaces Minuteman III.

…[T]he 2022 Nuclear Posture Review by this administration reaffirmed the need for a triad.  So Nunn-McCurdy or not, we have a policy of our country of having and sustaining a triad. In the case of the Nunn-McCurdy, I’m committed to working with the Air Force and with the cross DoD team to go through the letter of the law and make sure that we – if we do recertify and it’s not a guarantee that we… certify a program that is executable and will meet replacing that leg of the triad.  

Indeed, the Biden Administration’s position was further reinforced with Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense, Dr. Vipin Narang, whose testimony in front of the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces stated that, “[t]he ground leg is the most responsive and prompt element of the nuclear triad, as it is in a high state of readiness and communication can be achieved promptly. Intercontinental ballistic missiles deter aggression by signaling to any adversary that they can never be confident in disarming such a dispersed, reliable and responsive capability.”    

Clearly, maintaining an effective nuclear deterrent means modernizing each leg of our nuclear triad.  The Minuteman III ICBM system is 50 years old. According to a recent Rand Report “…[b]y 2030, it will have been 20 years or longer since the solid-rocket motors, guidance sets, and propulsion rocket system engines in the fleet were replaced or refurbished.” A replacement is required. 

Now is the time for the Congress to reaffirm its decades long bipartisan support for the foundational strategy of our national defense: the nuclear triad. Therefore, the Air & Space Forces Association strongly opposes Rep. Garamendi’s amendment.   


Lt. Gen. Burton Field, USAF (Ret.)
President & CEO