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U.S. House committee rejects low-yield nukes in defense bill

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U.S. House committee rejects low-yield nukes in defense bill
June 13, 2019
By Allen Cone

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The W76-1 was first introduced into the stockpile for the U.S. Navy in 1978. The W76-2 is an upgraded version of the warhead under development. Photo courtesy Los Alamos National Laboratory

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A Trident II D-5 ballistic missile is launched from the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS West Virginia during a missile test in 2014. Defense officials have proposed mounting a new low-yield nuclear warhead on the tip of Trident II missiles. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy


June 13 (UPI) -- The House Armed Services Committee rejected two Republican amendments to the defense appropriations bill for additional funding and deployment of low-yield nuclear warheads.

After a heated debate during markup of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday, the committee voted to reject the amendments in two 30-26 votes. Democrats hold a 31-26 majority on the panel.

The marathon hearing ended about 7 a.m. Thursday as the $733 billion defense policy bill was approved and is headed to the full House. The committee voted 33-24 to approve the NDAA, with Republicans Elise Stefanik of New York and Don Bacon of Nebraska siding with Democrats in support of the bill.

The two amendments introduced by Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., would have removed a ban on deploying the W76-2 low-yield nuclear warhead above Trident II-D5 missiles aboard Ohio-class submarines and restore about $19.6 million in funding.

"What I fail to understand and find extremely troubling is that the majority's response to the growing instability and threat complexity we face around the globe is to disarm America," Cheney said during the hearing on defunding the W76-2 submarine launched low-yield nuclear missile.

Cheney and her fellow Republicans argued the United States needs a way to prevent Russia or other nations from using their own low-yield weapons, including selling them to rogue nations who might use a smaller nuclear warhead because they don't believe the U.S. military would respond with a larger one.

"Why we would want to take away options for ourselves when our adversaries have options does not make sense to me," the committee's ranking Republican member, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said at the hearing.

Democrats, however, believe use of a low-yield nuclear weapon by an enemy would trigger a nuclear war, regardless of the weapons size used the United States. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., said rejecting the traditional nuclear deterrence strategy would lead to a tit for tat that "is a god awful situation -- we should never go there."

But millions of dollars spent on development would be wasted, the Republicans argued.

The Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review reported in February 2018 that manufacturing of a new variant, W76-2, would commence.

The W76-1 was first introduced into the stockpile for the U.S. Navy in 1978, according to Los Alamos National Laboratory.

"We are calling back our nuclear weapons that, on a bipartisan basis, we have funded and authorized to be configured and placed on our submarines," said Rep. Mike Turner, the top Republican on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., countered: "If you look at the W76-2, it's such a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction [of an] overall nuclear force, it's not even a rounding error. So to make this the be-all and end-all of our nuclear arsenal is misleading."

In 2018, $22.6 million was set aside to help develop the warheads in fiscal 2019 and $48.5 million spread over the life of the future years defense program. That included $19.6 million in fiscal year 2020, DefenseNews reported.

The W76-1 has a yield of around 100 kilotons, according to Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists, an arms control advocacy group. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of about 15 kilotons.

 

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