April 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. Strategic Command has declared the new nuclear command center in Nebraska has reached initial operational capability.
The center's readiness was determined Wednesday, according to an Air Force news release.
The Nuclear Command, Control and Communications Enterprise Center, known as NC3, is located at Offutt Air Force Base. NC3 is involved in restructuring situation monitoring, decision-making, force direction, force management and planning.
Offutt became the host base for the U.S. Strategic Command, known as USSTRATCOM, which was established in 1992 from the Strategic Air Command and the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff. It comprises the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force branches.
USSTRATCOM has taken over the modernization of NC3 from the Air Force Global Strike Command. Following the Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review last May, the Defense Department decided to give it to STRATCOM, the combatant command that oversees the nation's nuclear forces.
USSTRATCOM's responsibilities include strategic deterrence, nuclear operations, space operations, joint electromagnetic spectrum operations, global strike, missile defense, and analysis and targeting.
In 2018, Secretary of Defense James Mattis appointed the commander of USSTRATCOM -- Gen. John Hyten -- to be the single operational lead for NC3, with increased responsibilities for operations, requirements and systems engineering and integration.
"The center was created to help break down stovepipes in NC3 operations across the Defense Department," Elizabeth Durham-Ruiz, USSTRATCOM NC3 Enterprise Center director, said in an Air Force news release. "We want to bring a whole-of-government approach to NC3 as we focus on operations, requirements, systems engineering and integration and analytics for the entire enterprise."
She manages more than $20 billion of on-orbit communications assets, as well as implementing communications and information policies across the command. The center is inside the command's headquarters in Nebraska, with a second location in the Washington, D.C. area.
"There are multiple organizations currently responsible for operating, procuring and building different elements of the NC3 enterprise," she told Space News. "We want to bring a holistic focus on operations, requirements, systems engineering and integration, and analytics for the entire enterprise. The staff is small. We are leveraging the expertise in the military services and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense who have been doing a lot of these activities already."
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the overhaul of the U.S. nuclear command, control and communications system will cost $77 billion. That is part of the $494 billion earmarked over the next decade to maintain and update nuclear forces.
"This is an exciting time for USSTRATCOM. We are laying the ground floor to develop the NC3 architecture of the future that will serve the nation for decades to come," said Vice Adm. David Kriete, USSTRACOM deputy commander.
The NC3 is a classified system designed in the 1960s and 1970s during the height of the Cold War.
An updated system is sought to handle the next generation of nuclear platforms: the B-21 stealth bomber, the Columbia-class strategic ballistic missile submarine and the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent intercontinental ballistic missiles.
"Gen. Hyten likes to talk about the fact that the architecture is very old but it's functioning amazingly well for as old as it is," Durham-Ruiz said. "It's been through great effort that we have been able to keep this functioning as well as it has been. But in the future, of course, everything will have to be replaced."
She said timelines have not been decided. "After we develop the architecture, we have to work to define the individual parts and work through the services to ensure the technologies are purchased. That will be a long process," Durham-Ruiz said.