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Deputy SECDEF nominee stresses nuclear deterrence, cost-cutting

Deputy SECDEF nominee stresses nuclear deterrence, cost-cutting
Kathleen H. Hicks appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington Tuesday during a hearing to consider her nomination to be deputy secretary of defense. Photo by E.J. Hersom/U.S. Department of Defense

Feb. 2 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden's nominee to serve as the Pentagon's No. 2 civilian said nuclear deterrence is the department's number one goal -- and that the key to deterrence is modernization.

"Nuclear deterrence is the cornerstone of American national security," she said, "and I think it must be modernized in order to be safe, secure, credible," Kathleen Hicks, Biden's nominee for deputy secretary of defense, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. "And I would just add that I am worried about the state of the readiness of the nuclear triad. And, if confirmed, that's an area I would want to get my team in place and start to look at right away."

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During the three-hour confirmation hearing, Hicks also said she'd support shipbuilding, modernizing shipyards, cybersecurity and advancing green initiatives like electric vehicles.

She said China is the United States' most significant adversary, with Russia continuing to pose a significant challenge as well.

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"Armed conflict between the United States and China is not desirable, and it is not inevitable. The U.S. military plays a critical role in preventing that outcome," she said.

Hicks also suggested the Pentagon could make plans to change the Navy's shipbuilding plan, saying it contains some "really interesting operational themes" as well as some items that further analysis is in order.

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Hicks also expressed concern about consolidation in the arms industry, signaling that the new administration may more closely scrutinize mergers in the field.

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Eliminating competition could be elevating prices, Hicks suggested -- and green initiatives could also be key to trimming the defense budget. "We have to make every dollar that the taxpayer puts in have a return, and that return should be measured in terms of joint capability," Hicks said. "So, that means we need to squeeze out waste and abuse and that will be a priority for me."

Hicks also described a need to weed out extremists in the military -- an issue that has drawn increased scrutiny amid reports of military veterans participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol and condemnation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We must root out violent extremism, systemic racism, sexual assault and harassment and other inhibitors to readiness - and this is a matter of readiness. We will not be able to attract and retain the world's finest force, one that represents our democracy, if we cannot hold accountable those who threaten its viability from within."

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Both outgoing Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and his successor, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. have said they would support Hicks' nomination out of the committee.

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