The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday approved legislation that authorizes funding for various U.S. nuclear stockpile and nonproliferation operations.
The fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill covers Defense Department spending and the Energy Department's national-security activities. It allows for certain expenses, but actual funding amounts are included in separate appropriations bills.
The Senate legislation addresses "the threats from nuclear weapons and materials by strengthening and accelerating nonproliferation programs, maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent, reducing the size of the nuclear-weapons stockpile, and ensuring the safety, security, and reliability of the stockpile, the delivery systems, and the nuclear infrastructure," the panel said in a press release.
The full Senate must also vote on the bill. If approved, the measure would then be meshed with the House version and delivered to President Obama for his signature or veto.
The committee approved $2.5 billion for the Pentagon and the Energy Department's semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration to augment threat-reduction efforts, "including securing vulnerable fissile material in four years and increasing focus on preventing proliferation globally by expanding threat-reduction partnerships," the release states.
The bill would allow $508.2 million in spending for the Defense Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which aims to secure and eliminate WMD materials in the former Soviet Union and beyond.
It also "supports joint U.S. and Russian efforts to destroy 34 metric tons each of weapons-usable plutonium by fully funding the U.S. plutonium-disposition program," the committee said.
Senators proposed a $4.2 million boost, to $33.2 million, for the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board and called on congressional auditors to assess "external oversight options" for the Energy Department's defense nuclear sites.
Another $1.1 billion was authorized for ongoing work to develop next-generation vessels to replace today's nuclear-armed Ohio-class submarines.
The legislation would also "improve the ability of the armed forces to counter nontraditional threats, focusing on terrorism, cyberwarfare, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery," the release states.
The bill supports the full $1.5 billion spending request for the Pentagon's Chemical and Biological Defense Program. It also includes $633 million for acquisition of 100 Stryker vehicles with technology for identifying biological-, chemical-, and nuclear-warfare materials.
The panel backed the Pentagon's $1.2 billion request for its Ground-Based Midcourse Defense antimissile system, along with $1.1 billion and $1.6 billion for, respectively, preparing and acquiring the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense and Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense systems. The Aegis system would receive a $30 million boost "to permit improved production capabilities of the Standard Missile 3 Block 1B interceptor missile," the release says.
Also authorized was $444.5 million for continued work with Japan on the more advanced Standard Missile 3 Block 2A interceptor missile. That includes an extra $20 million for increased manufacturing capabilities.
Both SM-3 models are to be deployed as part of the Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach" for European missile defense.
The panel, however, slashed the entire $406.6 million budget request for the Medium Extended Air Defense System being developed with Germany and Italy "in order to obtain a less costly option for the program," according to the release. The Obama administration announced in February that Washington would not provide funding for the battlefield defense technology after fiscal 2013, but it requested funding to continue system development under a contract still in effect.
The committee also signed off on constructionof a new headquarters for U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., announced on Friday.
The defense legislation approved on Thursday authorizes $120 million for the project in the budget year that begins on October 1 and $564 million for full construction. The headquarters, which the House approved last month, is slated to be finished in 2016.
“It is good news for Nebraska that the Senate Armed Services Committee has approved a new headquarters for U.S. Strategic Command, and the first phase is moving forward,” Nelson said in a press release. “Not only is the existing facility outdated and showing signs of troubling decay, STRATCOM has new responsibilities that require a modern headquarters to carry out its nuclear, space, and cyberspace missions."