WASHINGTON — As the clock ticks down on the final term of US President Barack Obama, who is believed to be reviewing a potential disarmament agenda for his last months in office, there has been a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill to try to influence the internal debate.
Lawmakers both pro and con for nuclear modernization have fired off dueling letters—the latest a July 20 letter to Obama from five key House Democrats who want to scale back standing nuclear modernization plans.
In addition to potential budget cuts, the White House is mulling several other disarmament initiatives. The Washington Post reported earlier this month that they included a five-year extension of the New START agreement, United Nations approval of the unratified Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and a public pledge that the United States would never use nuclear weapons unless another nation used them first—as well as the cancellation of the Long-Range Stand Off (LRSO) weapon program to replace aging cruise missiles.
Following the report came the letter signed by House Armed Services Chairman Ranking Member Adam Smith, D-Wash., and others, which backed the no-first-use policy declaration and eliminating the launch-on-warning nuclear posture as “steps that could avoid an unintentional or hasty start to unprecedented and catastrophic nuclear devastation.”
Nuclear modernization plans have become unaffordable and untenable in the face of statutory budget caps, the letter warns.
“At a time when the United States is facing an extremely complex threat environment and Congress shows no indication that it will eliminate its budget caps, this plan risks squandering hundreds of billions of dollars on certain weapons programs that will likely be either delayed or cancelled, and it will plunder much-needed funds for conventional military forces in the process,” the letter reads.
While lawmakers agreed to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia amid the administration’s assurances it would modernize what remained, “We’ve not kept that promise, so it’s like other situations: I’m grateful the administration plan is not worse.”
Key military officials back nuclear modernization. The House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee hosted military officials in charge of the nuclear arsenal July 14, where Adm. Cecil Haney, head of U.S. Strategic Command, said the president’s 2017 budget request, contained “no margin to absorb” cuts.
Gen. Robin Rand, chief of Air Force Global Strike Command, defended the LRSO, which would replace the Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) program. ALCM is scheduled to age out in 2030, and LRSO would replace it with 1,000 to 1,100 cruise missiles, representing the Air Force’s standoff nuclear delivery capability.
Rand described the ALCM as “a ten-year missile in its thirtieth year” which will be increasingly vulnerable to enemy air defenses, while the nascent stand-off weapon will be tougher for an enemy to target.
“You don’t want to get into the eye of the tiger if you can avoid it,” Rand said.
Full article: White House Mulls Big Nuclear Policy Changes, and Lawmakers Speak Up (DefenseNews)