Former Malmstrom commander takes over top U.S. nuclear command

Gen. Anthony Cotton assumed command of U.S. Strategic Command on Dec. 9 during a ceremony at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

Cotton previously served as commander of Air Force Global Strike Command at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana.

Strategic Command is the parent command to AFGSC and includes all of the U.S. nuclear enterprise. Malmstrom Air Force Base falls under those commands.

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Cotton was stationed at Malmstrom from 2009-2011 when he was vice commander and commander.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Cotton for his fourth star in 2021.

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Cotton is the first Black man to command AFGSC and the only running an Air Force major command, according to the Air Force Times in 2021.

Cotton assumed command of STRATCOM from Navy Adm. Charles Richard.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III oversaw the ceremony and told the audience that the command is adjusting to face new challenges, according to an Air Force release.

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Austin said STRATCOM’s mission is to responsibly manage the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

“Your mission is to deter war — and to do it with unmatched professionalism,” he said, according to the release. “The United States is on the verge of a new phase — one where, for the first time, we face two major nuclear powers as strategic competitors. The People’s Republic of China is expanding, modernizing and diversifying its nuclear forces. And Russia is also modernizing and expanding its nuclear arsenal.”

Austin said that Russia’s war on Ukraine and nuclear saber-rattling from President Vladimir Putin were examples of those threats.

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“So, make no mistake: Nuclear powers have a profound responsibility to avoid provocative behavior, to lower the risk of proliferation, and to prevent escalation and nuclear war,” Austin said.

STRATCOM oversees the U.S. nuclear triad, which includes ICBMs, the nuclear bombers and nuclear submarines.

All components of the triad are undergoing modernization.

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Cotton commanded AFGSC as it modernizes the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile weapons system to the ground based strategic deterrent that would replace the system at Malmstrom and the other two ICBM bases.

The new missile system has been dubbed Sentinel.

Nuclear deterrence is part of the U.S. National Defense Strategy, which includes the conclusions of the Nuclear Posture Review.

It’s not a numbers game, Austin said, which could spur a new arms race, but that the U.S. is also working to eliminate nuclear dangers.

“We are working to reduce the global role of nuclear weapons through arms control, nonproliferation and strategic stability,” Austin said, according to the Air Force release. “Deterrence has never been just about the numbers, the weapons or the platforms. The heart of American deterrence is the people who protect us and our allies. It’s the young missileers who keep the watch; the sailors who patrol the depths of the oceans; and the pilots who remain ready at a moment’s notice. It’s the technicians and operators who keep our systems humming.”