WASHINGTON ― The Democratic-led House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee on Monday released its part of the draft defense policy bill that moves to stop the deployment of a new low-yield nuclear warhead, teeing up a partisan fight over America’s nuclear arsenal.
The Trump administration proposed the low-yield warhead, a modified Trident II D5 ballistic missile, or W76-2. The weapon was expected to be shipped to the Navy this fall. Before the GOP lost control of the House last year, it won a party-line vote that would have restricted funding for the W76-2’s development; $65 million in 2019.
The move comes as Trump administration officials suggest Russia has restarted very low-yield nuclear tests.
A skeptic of the arsenal’s size and cost, committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., is expected to offer still more restrictive language in the days ahead. Meanwhile, the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, and Strategic Forces Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Mike Turner ripped into the draft language.
“This is a partisan and irresponsible subcommittee mark that makes us less safe, hinders our ability to defend ourselves, weakens our ability to deter our adversaries, and therefore enables them to challenge us,” the lawmakers wrote. They called it “a significant departure” from the committee’s “tradition of bipartisanship.”
The bill would also bar any withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, which allows signatory nations to fly over each other’s territory to verify military movements and conduct arms control measures, unless Russia is in materiel breach. For its role, the U.S. operates the OC-135B, an aging airframe that has struggled with maintenance.
In recent years, Republicans have accused Russia of violating the treaty and used control of both chambers to limit funding for the treaty flights. The Trump administration has defended the treaty and the use of funds to upgrade U.S. sensors and aircraft.
The bill would eliminate the requirement for a conventional variant of the Long-Range Standoff Weapon
The bill also proposes a ban on any development of the Conventional Prompt Global Strike Weapon, or CPGS, that is unique to one platform to encourage development of a ship-based weapon. The idea is to reduce the likelihood that U.S. adversaries misinterpret the launch of a missile with conventional warheads and conclude that the missiles carry nuclear weapons.
This category of weapons would allow the U.S. to strike targets anywhere on Earth in as little as an hour.
In April 2019, the Air Force awarded a $928 million contract to Lockheed Martin to design, develop and test the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon by 2022. According to the Air Force, the weapon would employ a hypersonic glider and launch from a B-52 bomber.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.