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GOP Defense Bill Pushes Back Against Proposed Nuclear-Modernization Delays

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

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. 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. (Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images)

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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