US nuclear forces chief says Ukraine ‘just the warmup’ for larger crisis

The senior naval officer in charge of America’s nuclear triad says the current worldwide tensions sparked by Russia’s war against Ukraine could be the opening act for a larger conflict that the US must prepare for.

In remarks at the Naval Submarine League's 2022 Annual Symposium & Industry Update, US Strategic Command commander Admiral Charles Richard said the Ukraine crisis “is just the warmup”.

"The big one is coming, and it isn't going to be very long before we're going to get tested in ways that we haven't been tested a long time,” he said.

Mr Richard said US forces’ “level of deterrence” against China – a major competitor and adversary – is “slowly sinking” because the Chinese have been able to build and deploy more “capability in the field” at a faster rate than their American counterparts.

“As those curves keep going, it isn't going to matter how good our [operating plan] is or how good our commanders are, or how good our horses are – we're not going to have enough of them. And that is a very near-term problem,” he said, though he added that the US submarine force remains “maybe the only true asymmetric advantage we still have against our opponents”.

In August, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday told the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank that the most significant barrier to boosting US naval capabilities is “an industrial capacity that’s limited”.

Successive waves of base closures and defence budget cuts have led the US to close formerly government-owned naval shipyards and transfer more and more responsibility to private contractors, leaving far fewer facilities capable of building or maintaining warships than were available during prior conflicts.