House Panel Would Bar Yow-yield Nuke Deployment, Open Skies Treaty Withdrawal
Joe Gould / Defense News
WASHINGTON (June 3, 2019) ― The Democratic-led House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee on Monday released its part of the draft defense policy bill that moves to stop the deployment of a new low-yield nuclear warhead, teeing up a partisan fight over America’s nuclear arsenal.
The Trump administration proposed the low-yield warhead, a modified Trident II D5 ballistic missile, or W76-2. The weapon was expected to be shipped to the Navy this fall. Before the GOP lost control of the House last year, it won a party-line vote that would have restricted funding for the W76-2’s development; $65 million in 2019.
The move comes as Trump administration officials suggest Russia has restarted very low-yield nuclear tests.
A skeptic of the arsenal’s size and cost, committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., is expected to offer still more restrictive language in the days ahead. Meanwhile, the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, and Strategic Forces Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Mike Turner ripped into the draft language.
“This is a partisan and irresponsible subcommittee mark that makes us less safe, hinders our ability to defend ourselves, weakens our ability to deter our adversaries, and therefore enables them to challenge us,” the lawmakers wrote. They called it “a significant departure” from the committee’s “tradition of bipartisanship.”
The bill would also bar any withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, which allows signatory nations to fly over each other’s territory to verify military movements and conduct arms control measures, unless Russia is in materiel breach. For its role, the U.S. operates the OC-135B, an aging airframe that has struggled with maintenance.
In recent years, Republicans have accused Russia of violating the treaty and used control of both chambers to limit funding for the treaty flights. The Trump administration has defended the treaty and the use of funds to upgrade U.S. sensors and aircraft.
The bill would eliminate the requirement for a conventional variant of the Long-Range Standoff Weapon
The bill also proposes a ban on any development of the Conventional Prompt Global Strike Weapon, or CPGS, that is unique to one platform to encourage development of a ship-based weapon. The idea is to reduce the likelihood that U.S. adversaries misinterpret the launch of a missile with conventional warheads and conclude that the missiles carry nuclear weapons.
This category of weapons would allow the U.S. to strike targets anywhere on Earth in as little as an hour.
In April 2019, the Air Force awarded a $928 million contract to Lockheed Martin to design, develop and test the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon by 2022. According to the Air Force, the weapon would employ a hypersonic glider and launch from a B-52 bomber.
Smith Aims to Scrap Trump’s Nuclear Weapons policy
WASHINGTON (November 14, 2018) — Rep. Adam Smith — set to become the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee in the new Congress — and other Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday they hope to use their party’s takeover of the House to check the Trump administration’s expansive policies toward nuclear weapons.
Speaking at an event sponsored by the Ploughshares Fund, an anti-nuclear weapons group, Smith said he wants to see a redo of the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, to continue multilateral nuclear pacts and to advance a no-first-use policy toward nuclear weapons for the United States.
Smith also reiterated he wants a ban on a new low-yield submarine-launched nuclear weapon, a version of the W76-1 warhead for the Navy’s Trident II D5 ballistic missile, dubbed the W76-2. He introduced a bill to that effect in September.
It’s a tall order. In the House, where Democrats have picked up 34 to 40 seats, Smith’s ambitious proposals are likelier to become part of the next annual defense policy bill. However, those proposals would have a rougher road in negotiations with the GOP-led Senate Armed Services Committee; on the Senate floor, where GOP holds a majority; and in the Oval Office, where President Donald Trump wields the veto pen.
“Fundamentally what I’m hoping what we can do moving forward is reset our policy on nuclear weapons,” said Smith, D-Wash., adding that it would be one of his top goals as chairman in the coming Congress.
Two Democrats and senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, expressed similar sentiments at Wednesday’s event.
Ploughshares President Joe Cirincione was upbeat a week after Democrats won control of the House and hoped the organization could “test out new ideas” in the new Congress to introduce into the 2020 presidential elections.
Cirincione condemned the emergence of “new Dr. Strangeloves” under the Trump administration, which has flirted with withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the New START Treaty.
For his part, Smith has promised to rein in nuclear spending and favors a more modest and sensible approach to nuclear weapons, as a credible deterrent and not as an overwhelming force designed to win a nuclear war.
But he also hoped to temper expectations for the room full of nonproliferation advocates. For one, he does not categorically oppose nuclear weapons.
“We need a different president. We could pass whatever legislation we want to pass, but executive power is enormous.” Smith said. “We need to exercise oversight, we need to put him in check as much as we can. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves about the reality.”
Asked the best way to negotiate to reduce nuclear weapons with a GOP-controlled SASC, Smith said he could argue the trade-offs with conventional weapons like ships and planes. “From a dollar standpoint, you cannot have both,” he said.
The U.S. will need to spend $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize and maintain its nuclear weapons, according to a 2017 Congressional Budget Office estimate.
Since then, the administration released its new Nuclear Posture Review, which called for a continuation of sustainment and modernization efforts within the Defense and Energy departments, while also proposing a range of programmatic changes to the nuclear weapons enterprise.
Among them, the administration has sought the W76-2 program, a nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile, and to sustain the B83-1 bomb beyond its planned retirement date.
The Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees — Rep. Mac Thornberry and Sen. Jim Inhofe, respectively — have been supportive of the Trump administration’s direction on nuclear weapons since the NPR was released in February.
The NPR, Thornberry said then, “assures that our deterrent will be taken seriously by our adversaries and allies alike, while keeping the total cost below 7 percent of what the Department of Defense spends to protect the country.”
On Wednesday, Markey said any withdrawal from the New START Treaty should be put to a Senate vote, as should any move to provide Saudi Arabia with plutonium and uranium. He also pledged to “fight tooth and nail” to defund the development and deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons. “There is no such thing as a zero-calorie chocolate fudge sundae,” Markey said, “and there is no such thing as a low-yield nuclear weapon.”
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