WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is poised to get congressional authorization to start building a controversial new submarine-launched low-yield nuclear weapon.
The Senate and House came together Monday on a $716 billion defense authorization report that authorizes $65 million to develop the weapon, aimed at deterring Russia, according to the bicameral compromise conference report.
The requirement for the weapon — likely to be a submarine-launched Trident II D5 with a W76-2 warhead — is part of the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review.
The report for the sweeping 2019 National Defense Authorization Act is expected to come to a vote in the House this week and the Senate next week. The annual must-pass bill covers military hardware, personnel and a wide swath of hot-button national security issues.
In a minor win for opponents of the new weapon, the energy secretary would not be able to reprogram money to begin a nuclear weapons program or begin a new phase of a nuclear weapons program.
Low-yield nuclear weapons per 2004 law need special authorization from Congress, but the new legislation would make them equivalent to other nuclear weapons, with the same authorization requirements. That’s a win for W76-2 advocates.
Congressional Republicans and the Pentagon are advocating for the systems to deter Russia from using its own arsenal of low-yield nuclear weapons. Still, many Democrats and nonproliferation advocates see it as lowering the threshold for a nuclear war.
More broadly, the compromise conference report includes a sense of Congress that expresses support for the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review — and meets the president’s budget with $142.2 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear weapons activities and defense nuclear nonproliferation program, according to a House Republican summary.
The bill would also increase authorized funding to accelerate two key Air Force nuclear modernization programs: the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent and the Long Range Standoff cruise missile.
Note: An earlier version of this story partially misstated the legislation’s impact on congressional oversight of a low-yield nuclear weapon.