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Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson, right, testifies before the House Armed Services Committee on March 8, 2017. With Wilson were Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva; U.S. Strategic Command commander Gen. John Hyten; and Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran. Air Force photo by Scott M. Ash.

Modernizing the nation’s arsenal of nuclear weapons is the top priority for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Vice Chairman of the JCS Gen. Paul Selva told Congress Wednesday. In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Selva advised lawmakers to “modernize all three legs of the triad,” and said that doing so would require devoting “six to seven percent” of the Department of Defense budget annually to nuclear modernization costs. That would more than double what the DOD spends on nuclear modernization currently. “There is no higher priority for the Joint Force,” Selva said. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Selva said, “we took our eye off the nuclear strategic deterrent.” But, he said, the nation is now “approaching a crossroads” where it is faced with “the concurrent recapitalization of each element of our nuclear deterrent.” All parts of the nuclear triad have been stretched “well beyond their service life,” US Strategic Command boss Gen. John Hyten added, presenting the US with a “significant future challenge in sustaining the nuclear deterrent.” The average age of US nuclear warheads, for example, is 26 years old, Hyten told the committee. Selva said the JCS is advising Congress to act with “urgency” in no small part because “nuclear weapons pose the only existential threat to the Unites States.”