The Department of Defense would get close to its requested funding for most strategic nuclear weapons programs, under a 2021 spending bill approved on a party-line vote Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee.
Nobody offered amendments that would affect nuclear weapons funding during the four-hour markup, which this year was dominated by partisan debate about hot-button issues that provided lawmakers in an election year with opportunities to update their voting records.
As with the Energy and Water appropriations bill the committee approved Monday, the 2021 DoD spending bill would block the Pentagon from spending funds on a yield-producing nuclear-weapons test. No lawmaker attempted to strike that language from the bill, which now awaits a vote — not scheduled, at deadline — on the House floor. The Senate Appropriations Committee had not released a 2021 DoD budget, at deadline.
The DoD spending bill approved Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee includes:
- Nearly $2.9 billion, just $30 million shy of the request, to begin building the first Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine: the eventual replacement for the Ohio-class boats in service now, and which are supposed to go on patrol in the early 2030s. The committee said DoD wanted to rush some electronic warfare, photonics and other systems. With the program entering development and shipbuilding about to start, the budget is set to rise by more than $1 billion, compared with the 2020 appropriation. General Dynamics [GD] Electric Boat is the prime on Columbia.
- About $2.9 billion for the B-21 Raider stealth bomber Northrop Grumman [NOC] is developing: even with the request, and some $135 million below the 2020 appropriation for the aircraft that eventually will be able to carry both nuclear gravity bombs and cruise missiles. The B-52H, for now, carries cruise missiles only. F-35 will be certified for gravity bombs only, in the near-term.
- Some $1.45 billion for the initial batch of Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) silo-based, nuclear-tipped, intercontinental ballistic missiles slated to replace the Minuteman III fleet starting in 2030 or so. That clips the request by some $60 million, which House appropriators tagged as excess to need, but is better than half again as much as in 2020, when Boeing [BA] and Northrop Grumman were still developing competing concepts for the next-generation missile. In 2021, the Air Force is expected to award Northrop Grumman, the sole remaining competitor to build the missiles, a 12-year, $25 billion engineering and manufacturing development contract to build the first GBSD missiles. GBSD will use a mixture of W87-0 and W87-1 warheads provided by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The W87-0 currently tips the Minuteman III fleet that GBSD will replace on a one-for-one basis. W87-1 is a planned refurb of that model, to be fitted with a new fissile core called a plutonium pit. NNSA plans to start casting new war-ready pits, the first made in the U.S. in decades, in 2024. The Air Force plans to acquire more than 650 GBSD missiles, of which 400 will go into existing silos.
- Almost $305 million for the Long Range Standoff Cruise missile, the planned replacement for the nuclear-tipped AGM-86B air launched cruise missile now carried by B52-H bombers. The House committee provided $170 million less than the request, writing in their bill report that the Air Force does not need all the funding it requested in fiscal 2021 for technology maturation. This year, the service picked Raytheon [RTN] to develop the missile over Lockheed Martin [LMT], ending a three-year competitive design phase for the next-generation cruise missile. The program has a roughly $710 billion budget for 2020, which Congress approved when the Pentagon was still carrying two contractors. The Air Force plans to buy about 1,000 Long Range Standoff weapon missiles, which will use W80-4 provided the NNSA. In a separate spending bill approved Monday, House Appropriators asked the NNSA to brief the committee about the possibility of delaying W80-4 by a year, until fiscal 2026.
- $132 million, as requested, for F-35 squadrons. Within this account are the Block IV software upgrades, and accompanying hardware upgrades, that by the middle of this decade are supposed to allow the fifth-generation fighter to externally carry a pair of B61-12 nuclear gravity bombs. The squadrons budget would be about $32 million above than the 2020 appropriation. B61-12, slated to go into production at NNSA after fiscal year 2022, will homogenize four previous versions of the longest-deployed U.S. nuclear weapon, including one version with a modest earth-penetrating capability.