Senators push to update nuclear military might in defense bill

Senators push to update nuclear military might in defense bill

A key group of senators is pushing to include their bill on nuclear modernization when the Armed Services Committee drafts its annual defense policy legislation in June.

The Restoring American Deterrence Act, introduced by Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., would create a new Pentagon position to oversee deterrence policy, deploy up to 50 extra intercontinental ballistic missiles, require an assessment of U.S. sites suited to host highly enriched uranium facilities, and increase Defense Production Act grants for the industrial base.

“It’s clear that the flawed, outdated assumptions from 2010 that underpin our current strategy will not be enough to address the long-term threats we face,” Fischer told Defense News in a statement. “The Restoring American Deterrence Act is the landmark legislation our country needs to effectively deter our peer nuclear adversaries like China and Russia in the future.”

Fischer, the top Republican on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, promised to work with the bill’s co-sponsors to include it in the fiscal 2025 National Defense Authorization Act.

Subcommittee Chair Angus King, I-Maine, and Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the full committee, have co-sponsored the legislation.

The bill is a response to bipartisan recommendations from the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, which released a report last year calling for increased nuclear assets beyond the military’s current modernization plans.

The legislation would establish an assistant secretary of defense for nuclear deterrence policy and programs as well as require the Pentagon to develop a national integrated air and missile defense architecture compatible with NATO and Indo-Pacific defenses.

It would also require the Pentagon to develop a plan for the acquisition and deployment of up to 50 Sentinel ICBMs on top of the 400 Minuteman III ICBMs already deployed.

The bill also requires the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to send Congress force-size requirements needed for both nuclear and conventional deterrence of major adversaries like China and Russia. Furthermore, it requires them to submit a plan to modernize the integrated tactical warning and attack assessment system, including a strategy for incorporating nontraditional sensors.

Additionally, it would require the Energy Department to assess two to four locations in the country suitable for uranium enrichment, including highly enriched uranium.

On top of that, it raises the caps on Defense Production Act subsidies for the industrial base to $1.5 billion from the current cap of $750 million. A summary accompanying the bill noted the increase is to address “the impact of inflation on overall costs and the expected need for increased use of this tool to bolster our defense industrial base and nuclear security enterprise.”

Lastly, it requires an interagency plan “to promote the development of a skilled manufacturing and high-demand vocational workforce” to support the expansion of the “industrial base and nuclear security enterprise.”

The strategic posture commission had sounded the alarm on the industrial base’s failure to keep pace with nuclear modernization requirements, citing the delayed Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program, among other examples.

The Congressional Budget Office released a report last year stating the military’s current nuclear modernization plans will cost $756 billion from 2023 to 2032. But the strategic posture commission said the “current modernization program should be supplemented to ensure U.S. nuclear strategy remains effective in a two-nuclear-peer environment.”

The commission’s report stated that current modernization programs were developed under the 2010 security environment, mainly with Russia on the mind and China as a “lesser-included case.”

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

Read the full article here