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Kyl Presses Obama on Nuclear Arms Funding Pledge
U.S. Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) is publicly pressing President Obama on his pledge to provide $85 billion over a decade for modernization of the nation's nuclear arsenal and related infrastructure, the Washington Post reported on Monday (see GSN, Feb. 14).
Obama offered the plan in 2010 as he sought support from Republican senators for the U.S.-Russian New START nuclear arms control treaty. Kyl was a lead player in negotiations on securing that backing, but ultimately opposed the accord. However, 13 of his GOP colleagues voted in favor of the treaty, which entered into force in 2011.
Speaking at a Feb. 16 event in Washington, Kyl said Obama has failed to stick to his nuclear funding commitments. "Congress is going to have to address that," the lawmaker said, echoing comments made by other members of Congress.
Kyl noted that plans to replace today's nuclear-armed Ohio-class submarine fleet have "been delayed by two years" (see GSN, Jan. 27). The Navy, though, has to date provided $2 billion for research and development of the next-generation vessel and is seeking $565 million in additional funding in the fiscal 2013 budget, the Post reported. The proposed spending plan would provide $1 billion for work on the nuclear reactor intended to power the vessel.
The senator also noted his worries regarding "funding for a new strategic bomber, (which is) basically just on the drawing boards and there is no commitment that it will be nuclear certified."
The replacement nuclear-ready bomber, currently termed the Long-Range Strike-B system, would receive $292 million in Air Force funding for the budget year that begins on Oct. 1. "This follow-on bomber represents a key component of the joint portfolio of conventional and nuclear deep strike capabilities," the Air Force said. While initially intended to be loaded with conventional armaments, subsequent iterations of the aircraft would be capable of carrying nuclear payloads.
The Air Force expects to increasing funding for the long-range bomber program in upcoming budgets, providing $560 million in fiscal 2014, $1 billion in 2015, $1.7 billion in 2016 and $2.7 billion in 2017. The average procurement cost of each bomber is expected to be $550 million.
Today's fleet of B-52 bombers is expected to be kept in service through 2035 or later.
The service is also planning a two-year delay in development of a nuclear-capable cruise missile that would be carried by bombers (see GSN, Feb. 24).
Meanwhile, "there's no clear plan for a new" ICBM that would replace today's Minuteman 3 missile, Kyl said (see GSN, Feb. 27) The Obama administration in its budget proposal requested $11.7 million for an "Analysis of Alternatives" that would weigh technological options for the weapon. A two-year program of preparation of technology would start in 2015.
The Air Force has prepared a plan for maintaining the service life of the Minuteman 3 to 2030 while ensuring the nation maintains the industrial capacity to build its replacement, according to the newspaper.
The existing force of U.S. ICBMs, ballistic missile submarines and long-range bomber aircraft carries roughly 1,800 warheads. New START requires the two signatory nations by 2018 to each reduce deployments of strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems.
Kyl also addressed reports that the Defense Department has prepared proposals for cutting the U.S. nuclear arsenal to as low as 300 warheads (see GSN, Feb. 21). The study options, which have not yet been submitted to Obama, are said to include stockpile ranges of 1,000 to 1,100, 700 to 800, or 300 to 400 warheads.
Leaving just 300 weapons would make it impossible for the Pentagon to keep a foe's "military assets at risk," Kyl said.
"If you just have a few, your deterrent is essentially to hold civilians at risk, innocent civilians in cities, because that's all the weapons you have to put against targets," he said (Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Feb. 27).
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