The Obama Administration’s plan to increase funding for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex has little chance to succeed under the newly negotiated debt ceiling deal.
The bill mandates a cut of $44 billion for discretionary budget authority in “security” spending from the President’s FY 2012 requested level. Automatic spending cuts, if triggered, would impose up to an additional $750 billion in spending reductions on defense from FY 2013 through FY 2021. What does it mean for the nuclear weapons complex?
There is a little prospect that the Administration will proceed and fight for its nuclear modernization plan proposed in the context of the 2010 debate about the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START). “My administration will pursue these programs and capabilities for as long as I am president,” President Obama wrote. Heritage Foundation predictions that the vote on New START would not result in actual increases in long-term funding for nuclear modernization at the agreed-upon level turned out to be correct.
With New START, the Obama Administration traded 25 percent of the U.S. operationally deployed strategic nuclear missiles for a Russian nuclear buildup. Currently, the average age of U.S. delivery platforms is 41 years for the Minuteman III, 21 years for the Trident II D-5 SLBM, 50 years for the B-52H bomber, 14 years for the B-2 bomber, and 28 years for the Ohio-class submarine.
Russia, unlike the United States, is planning on buying 36 strategic ballistic missiles, two strategic missile submarines, and 20 strategic cruise missiles in 2011 alone. This also means that Russia will be able to maintain its production capabilities, unlike the United States. Implications of the lack of funding are grave for the United States—vulnerability of its forces to the first strike. For a country that has maintained second-to-none position as a matter of policy, this should be unacceptable.
Some Representatives, for example Michael Turner (R–OH), foresaw the danger of nuclear weapons funding not being appropriated in the years ahead. Turner introduced the New START Implementation Act, which would create a link between nuclear modernization and the implementation of New START’s required reductions. This is only prudent given that all the reductions required from the U.S. are costly and will further increase the pressure on the already overstretched defense budget.
Obama Administration officials were silent on the issue of costs related to New START implementation and did not specify if the Air Force or the Navy will be required to build new storage facilities to accommodate missiles taken out of operational deployment as a result of New START. It remains to be seen whether and in what form the New START Implementation Act will be adopted and if Congress provides necessary nuclear modernization funding.