GOP Defense Bill Pushes Back Against Proposed Nuclear-Modernization Delays

Multicolored vapor trails light up the night sky over Los Angeles following the launch of an unarmed Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missiles from Vandenberg Air Force Base 150 miles to the north. House Armed Services Committee Republicans are pushing back against the Obama administration's plan to delay certain efforts to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
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Douglas P. Guarino
April 29, 2014, 10:58 a.m.

House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans are push­ing back against the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plans to delay se­lec­ted ef­forts to mod­ern­ize the U.S. nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al.

In their ver­sion of an­nu­al de­fense-au­thor­iz­a­tion le­gis­la­tion, which the pan­el re­leased Tues­day, com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans also con­tin­ued their so-far un­suc­cess­ful ef­forts to lim­it the De­fense Nuc­le­ar Fa­cil­it­ies Safety Board’s in­flu­ence on the U.S. weapons com­plex.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fisc­al 2015 de­fense budget looks to delay the con­tro­ver­sial de­vel­op­ment of an in­ter­op­er­able war­head that could be used to re­place two sep­ar­ate war­heads fielded today by the Navy and Air Force.

Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans have con­cerns with this post­pone­ment — as well as oth­er delays to mod­ern­iz­a­tion ef­forts — ac­cord­ing to the pan­el’s le­gis­la­tion.

“With the pro­posed de­fer­ral of the first in­ter­op­er­able war­head, the De­part­ment has con­cur­rently pro­posed to de­fer plans “¦ for a plutoni­um pit pro­duc­tion ca­pa­city of 50 to 80 pits per year,” the bill says. “The com­mit­tee be­lieves that wait­ing over 15 years to achieve a re­spons­ive nuc­le­ar in­fra­struc­ture is too great a risk to na­tion­al se­cur­ity.”

The bill, which is up for a vote in the House pan­el’s Stra­tegic Forces Sub­com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day, would re­quire the En­ergy sec­ret­ary “to en­sure that the nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity en­ter­prise pro­duces at least 30 war re­serve pits dur­ing 2023, at least 50 war re­serve pits dur­ing 2026 and, dur­ing a pi­lot peri­od of at least 90 days dur­ing 2027, demon­strate the cap­ab­il­ity to pro­duce war re­serve pits at a rate suf­fi­cient to pro­duce 80 pits per year.”

Pits are the core of an atom­ic weapon.

The bill also pushes back against the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed delay to a planned cruise-mis­sile war­head mod­ern­iz­a­tion. The le­gis­la­tion would re­quire the En­ergy Sec­ret­ary “to de­liv­er a first pro­duc­tion unit for a nuc­le­ar war­head for the long-range stan­doff weapon not later than” 2025.

“The com­mit­tee be­lieves the pro­posed 3-year de­fer­ral of this cruise mis­sile is con­trary to the in­terests of na­tion­al se­cur­ity,” the bill says. “There­fore, the com­mit­tee re­com­mends this pro­vi­sion to en­sure war­head pro­duc­tion for this cruise mis­sile is de­ferred only one year.”

Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans are also con­tinu­ing their le­gis­lat­ive ef­forts to lim­it the in­flu­ence of the De­fense Nuc­le­ar Fa­cil­it­ies Safety Board. The bill would man­date that the in­spect­or gen­er­al of the Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion also serve as in­spect­or gen­er­al of the safety board. It would ad­di­tion­ally lim­it the num­ber of board em­ploy­ees to 120.

Last year, the com­mit­tee’s ver­sion of the bill in­cluded a pro­vi­sion that would have en­abled the En­ergy sec­ret­ary to re­quest cost-be­ne­fit ana­lyses of any re­com­mend­a­tions the in­de­pend­ent safety board made. The lan­guage, along with a sim­il­ar pro­vi­sion in the pri­or year’s bill, was even­tu­ally dropped in con­fer­ence ne­go­ti­ations with the Sen­ate.

Demo­crats feared last year’s pro­vi­sion would have drained the safety board’s re­sources and in­hib­ited its abil­ity to con­duct im­port­ant re­views. Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans, have ar­gued the safety board re­views sig­ni­fic­antly in­crease the cost of work across the nuc­le­ar-weapons com­plex.

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