U.S. Navy photo.
The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) added an amendment to the 2023 military budget that would continue to fund the development of sea-launched nuclear cruise missiles. This despite the Navy’s own budget zeroing out the item, saying it didn’t need the nukes, and the Biden White House saying the weapons were unnecessary.The HASC amendment is $45 million dollars and Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee sees it as a compromise option between people who want the program cut entirely and those who want it bolstered. “We all know there are lots of pros and cons about actually deploying these on attack submarines,” Cooper said, according to Breaking Defense. “No one can tell in an uncertain world what we will need, but it’s important to keep this option available.”
The program would create a nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM-N). At the moment, the only U.S. nukes at sea are in submarines. These new cruise missiles could be launched from the decks of ships. It’s not the first time the United States has sailed the seas armed with nuclear cruise missiles, it first deployed them in the mid 1980s. George H.W. Bush ordered the dissolution of the missiles after the end of the Cold War. Obama followed up in 2010 by recommending the missiles be retired entirely, a task the Navy completed in 2013.In its budget request for the fiscal year of 2023, the Navy zeroed out the line referring to the program, effectively asking to kill it. According to a Congressional Research Service report on the issue, the cancellation would save $2.1 billion over five years. “The Navy indicated that the program was ‘cost prohibitive and the acquisition schedule would have delivered capability late to need,’” the report said.The Biden Nuclear Posture Review—an official White House report that outlines how an administration plans to develop and deploy nuclear weapons—allegedly supported the decision. The review is complete but hasn’t been publicly released, but people who’ve read it have told journalists that it supported canceling the SLCM-N. “Really this decision came out of the Nuclear Posture Review,” an official told Breaking Defense. “There was direction from the president to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our defense strategy. That [decision to cancel SLCM-N] was a component.Now the HASC has injected $45 million into the flagging program. The Senate Armed Services Committee also authorized spending $25 million to continue to develop nuclear cruise missiles that the Navy and Biden don’t want. The two groups will come together soon to settle on a final number and there is a chance that they’ll decide to cut the program.There’s been a push in recent years for the U.S. to develop new and more “tactical” nuclear weapons. This typically means lower-yield weapons that could be, the argument goes, used in al limited nuclear war. The Trump administration actually deployed these lower-yield nukes on submarines in 2020. It’s hard to know if China or Russia would accept the logic that a “low-yield” nuke is less provocative than a typical nuclear weapon.