WASHINGTON — Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Wednesday she would seek to block funding for the Air Force's new nuclear-capable cruise missile program.
The ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on energy and water development, which has oversight over Department of Energy nuclear weapons funding, said she believes the long range standoff (LRSO) cruise missile "is unaffordable, and may well be unnecessary."
"Spending on this weapon, and the warhead, would crowd out other funding for higher national security priorities," she added.
If Democrats regain control of the Senate in November, Feinstein could find herself in charge of the subcommittee — where should would be in a strong position to strangle funding for the LRSO. A spokesman for the senator later confirmed that Feinstein will seek to block funding for the weapon, which could cost in the realm of $20-30 billion to develop and produce.
The LRSO program aims to replace the air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) program with 1,000 to 1,100 cruise missiles that represent the Air Force's standoff nuclear delivery capability. The ALCM is set to expire around 2030.
The Pentagon has defended the need for the weapon as part of its strategic nuclear posture. The Pentagon plans to spend in the realm of $350 billion over the next decade to modernize its nuclear arsenal.
While department officials have stated the LRSO is a vital part of that strategic deterrent, those in the nonproliferation community have taken aim at the LRSO as a potential cut, citing its similarity to the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) non-nuclear cruise missile.
Feinstein echoed that argument Wednesday, saying: "We have non-nuclear options, which can achieve the same objectives, and that's my deep belief. So we need that discussion in this country, about the role of nuclear weapons in the nation's defense."
She also thanked Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the energy and water development subcommittee, for being open to holding a hearing specifically to debate the merits of the LRSO.
"You have been good enough to say we will have a hearing, we will have a full hearing, where the public can hear the pros and the cons of a nuclear standoff cruise missile," Feinstein told her colleague.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.