The Final Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, published 12 October, has recommended that the Department of Defense (DoD) establishes a third shipyard for the production of nuclear-powered submarines, as the committee has recognised challenges to resources and facilities in simultaneously constructing one Columbia-class submarine per year while sustaining the Ohio-class in parallel, while the same workforce and industrial base support Virginia-class submarine production.

The commission is “skeptical” that the current infrastructure can simultaneously support conventional and nuclear construction, highlighting that the AUKUS agreement between Australia, the UK, and the US, may place demands on capacity, and urge the Navy to consider schedule trade-offs between the Columbia and Ohio-class submarines. 

The large scale modernisation programmes of Russia and China have called into question the sufficiency of the US strategic posture, according to the report, highlighting the increase in China’s nuclear stockpile. 

“China is aggressively pursuing a rapid expansion and modernisation of its nuclear forces,” said John Plumb, Assistant Secretary of Defence, before adding that at its current pace China would field an arsenal of 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035. “The speed and scale has been nothing short of breathtaking. This effort includes the expansion of fissile material production, such as their fast breeder reactors… and the development of more and more diverse nuclear weapons systems.” 

The commission recommends a number of changes to strategic posture, which include a great many urgent adjustments to the nuclear force posture. 

These include preparing to upload some or all of the nation’s warheads, bringing them out of storage, and potentially breaching the New START treaty prohibition on deploying more than 1,550 warheads. The commission would also double the number of warheads on Sentinel inter-continental ballistic missiles.

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The commission also recommends increasing the planned production of Columbia SSBNs beyond 12 missiles, and increasing production of Trident missiles.