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Senate Panel Approves FY13 Defense Budget Blueprint

A U.S. ground-based missile interceptor lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in a 2008 test. In announcing its Thursday endorsement of a fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, a Senate panel made no reference indicating support for a proposed East Coast facility for silo-based missile interceptors (U.S. Missile Defense Agency photo). A U.S. ground-based missile interceptor lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in a 2008 test. In announcing its Thursday endorsement of a fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, a Senate panel made no reference indicating support for a proposed East Coast facility for silo-based missile interceptors (U.S. Missile Defense Agency photo).

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday authorized more than $3 billion in WMD nonproliferation spending for the coming fiscal year as well as $7.6 billion to manage the U.S. nuclear arsenal (see GSN, May 18).

Under the Senate version of the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, $2.5 billion is approved for Energy Department nuclear nonproliferation activities and $519 million is authorized for Pentagon programs to counter the global spread of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

The atomic arms spending authorization matches the National Nuclear Security Administration's request for funding “to maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent" in the budget year that begins on Oct. 1 (see GSN, Feb. 14).

Notably, a committee press release with details on the bill makes no mention of language aimed at establishing an East Coast facility for silo-based missile interceptors. The actual legislation has yet to be made public. The approved House version of the defense bill backs such a project, calling for $100 million in allowed spending for studying potential interceptor sites (see GSN, May 18). The administration has opposed such a project, saying existing interceptor sites in Alaska and California are sufficient for protecting the nation against enemy ballistic missiles.

The Senate panel authorized $9.7 billion in missile defense spending at the Pentagon -- $8.2 billion for the Missile Defense Agency and $1.5 billion for the Army and associated operations.

The bill only sets allowed spending levels; actual funding is established through separate appropriations legislation.

Among other measures cited in the release:

-- The legislation "authorizes funding for U.S. scientists to work with scientists in countries of proliferation concern, to gain transparency and insight in these countries as well as to share best practices on nonproliferation," according to the committee release. The budget blueprint also mandates "a review of funding, threat assessments of countries of concern, and metrics to measure success and to ensure that programs close down in such countries when their work  is complete."

-- The bill mandates that the Nuclear Weapons Council inform lawmakers on "the definition of a common W-88/W-78 warhead."

The National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous branch of the Energy Department, is developing three separate projects to extend the service lives of the W-78 warhead, which is fielded on Minuteman 3 ICBMs; the W-88 warhead, which is loaded onto Navy Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles; and the Air Force's B-61 gravity bomb (see GSN, March 8).

-- The Nuclear Weapons Council is required under the authorization bill to "oversee the Nuclear Command, Control and Communications System,  certify the [NNSA budget] to meet stockpile and stewardship requirements and report to Congress whenever an authorization or appropriation bill reported out of committee falls below the president's budget request level on an significant impacts."

-- The panel is also directed to "determine the feasibility of further consolidations to the NNSA complex and, if feasible, requires in its report a proposed process," the Senate committee said. The assessment must be delivered to Congress before building starts on the planned Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement center at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Both projects have been criticized for their enormous and escalating costs and other matters of concern.

However, the committee did approve returning "to fiscal year 2013, the proposed deferral by 'at least five years' of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement building, requiring the nuclear agency to use $150 million from funds authorized and appropriated for fiscal year 2013" with the stipulation that the building be active before 2025. The panel recommended a maximum of $3.7 billion be spent on the Los Alamos plutonium facility and a limit of $4.2 billion be allocated for the initial phase of the Y-12 uranium site (see GSN, April 27).

-- Armed Services Committee members granted the unfinished mixed-oxide facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina an extra two years to "reach target levels of plutonium disposition." The $4.8 billion MOX facility is three-fifths finished; it was previously scheduled to go online in 2016 and to begin recycling warhead plutonium for nuclear power plant fuel by 2018 (see GSN, May 3).

-- The committee recommended fully funding the Obama administration's $1.4 billion request for the Chemical and Biological Defense Program and its $1.5 billion request for chemical disarmament activities. The bill "authorizes DOD to consider the use of supplemental technologies for chemical demilitarization at the Pueblo, Colo., and Blue Grass, Ky., facilities, to permit safe destruction of problematic munitions." A number of weapons at both sites have been deemed unsafe to eliminate through chemical neutralization plants now under construction; mobile detonation chambers are being studied for destruction of such armaments (see GSN, Jan. 3).

-- Senators included language that requires the Pentagon to update Congress on the operations to enhance mainland protections against a missile attack as well as efforts to establish sectoral missile shields in Europe and elsewhere. The bill also "expresses the sense of Congress" on Obama administration attempts to "pursue missile defense cooperation with Russia that would enhance the security of the United States, its NATO allies, and Russia, particularly against missile threats from Iran." Some GOP lawmakers have been critical of any such collaboration that might lead to sharing of sensitive U.S. data (see GSN, May 15).

-- The legislation specifically forbids any fiscal 2013 spending on the Medium Extended Air Defense System -- a developmental battlefield antimissile technology that the United States has been jointly financing with Italy and Germany. The Defense Department in 2011 announced it had no intention of buying any units, which had been scheduled for delivery in 2018. Still, the Obama administration requested $401 million to continue development of the system (see GSN, March 23).

-- Committee members ignored the assessment of the Pentagon that funding for the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system should be scaled back by $1.8 billion over the next four budget cycles. Instead, the committee recommended an additional $100 million for the purchase of mobile THAAD interceptors that are designed to destroy short-, medium, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The total amount of approved fiscal 2013 spending in the bill for THAAD acquisition is close to $561 million (see GSN, March 13). 

-- The authorization bill would also ratchet up by $100 million U.S. military aid to Israel's missile defense program, providing $20 million to enhance the performance of the Arrow interceptor program, $20 million for work on the long-range Arrow 3 interceptor and $60 million for the short- and medium-range David's Sling antimissile system.

In its original fiscal 2013 budget ask, the White House requested just short of $100 million for Israeli antimissile programs (see GSN, May 9; U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee release, May 24).

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) applauded the panel's work to meet the spending limits called for by the White House, Reuters reported.

"We're within the president's budget, $631.4 billion, unlike the House of Representatives, which is about $4 billion over the president's budget request," the senator said.

The defense bill is anticipated to come up for a Senate floor vote next month. After passage in the Democrat-led upper chamber, the legislation will have to be meshed with its counterpart from the GOP-headed House prior to signing from the president. The White House has already threatened to veto the bill if it contains restraints approved by the House on the administration's ability to implement the New START arms control pact with Russia, among other matters (see GSN, May 16; David Alexander, Reuters, May 24).

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