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U.S. Bill Boosts Warhead Spending by Nearly $1 Billion

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

Then-U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu in 2011 receives an overview of the B-83 gravity bomb tooling system from National Nuclear Security Administration Production Office Manager Steve Erhart. A draft House-Senate congressional spending bill would increase by almost $1 billion NNSA weapons funding in fiscal 2014. Then-U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu in 2011 receives an overview of the B-83 gravity bomb tooling system from National Nuclear Security Administration Production Office Manager Steve Erhart. A draft House-Senate congressional spending bill would increase by almost $1 billion NNSA weapons funding in fiscal 2014. (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo)

A new U.S. Congress omnibus spending bill would increase funding to the Energy Department's nuclear-weapons efforts by close to $1 billion for fiscal 2014.

Legislation released on Monday jointly by the Senate and House appropriations committees would provide $7.8 billion for National Nuclear Security Administration work on the nuclear arsenal -- an $874 million increase over fiscal 2013 post-sequester enacted levels, according to a bill summary.

The "big increase" in fiscal 2014 spending showed that the decrease in program funding last year was only temporary and the "NNSA weapons budget is back on the rise," Kingston Reif, who analyzes national strategic defense spending for the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, said in an e-mail.

At the same time, "Congress once again proved unwilling to fund NNSA weapons activities at the funding level projected for 2014 as part of the 2010 modernization plan worked out in conjunction with the New START treaty," Reif said.

The Obama administration in that congressionally mandated plan projected $8.4 billion in total fiscal 2014 spending on weapons activities by the nuclear agency, a semiautonomous branch of the Energy Department.

Under the new spending bill, NNSA funding for the B-83 gravity bomb would be capped at $40 million until the Nuclear Weapons Council confirms to Congress that the warhead would be mothballed no later than fiscal 2025, or "as soon as confidence in the B-61-12 stockpile is gained," the joint draft legislative text reads.

The B-83 bomb is a powerful warhead capable of destroying whole cities. The less powerful B-61 gravity bomb, which is deployed in Europe, would require refurbishment if it is to remain safe and reliable, according to the Obama administration.

The omnibus spending bill would lower the amount of money given to NNSA nonproliferation efforts, appropriating $1.95 billion, a $289 million drop below fiscal 2013 post-sequester enacted levels.

Funding for some defense programs is higher than previously anticipated, due to the sequestration relief deal reached late last year by House Republicans and Senate Democrats. Under the budget agreement, the Pentagon is slated to get approximately $22.5 billion in sequestration relief in fiscal 2014. The deparment has been operating under a continuing resolution for military spending.

Congressional appropriators in hammering out the spending bill increased or restored back to pre-sequester levels funding for a number of nuclear weapon-related programs, including:

-- A $92 million increase for the U.S. Air Force's program to develop the Long Range Strike bomber, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee bill summary. The Pentagon in its fiscal 2014 budget request sought $379 million for research and development of the strategic aircraft, which the Air Force anticipates acquiring sometime after the end of the decade. It was not immediately clear if the increase in funding was compared to the department's budget request or to actual fiscal 2013 funding levels.

-- Full funding for the Navy's program to develop a replacement to the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, the bill synopsis says. The Pentagon in its budget request sought  $1.2 billion for the program.

-- Full funding for rocket motors for the Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile, constituting nearly $33 million over what the program would have received had the continuing resolution remained in effect, according to the bill summary.

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