The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has asked the Biden administration to use its upcoming nuclear posture review to assess the necessity of its full range of nuclear deterrence modernization efforts, including potential program cuts.

“The last decade has taught us, painfully, that we cannot afford to continue adding new requirements, capabilities, and platforms, and expect that they will be delivered on time and within budget while we also modernize the infrastructure necessary to produce and sustain such capabilities. It is simply acknowledging reality that we must make hard choices,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the HASC chair, wrote in a letter sent Monday to Biden.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee

In his letter, Smith specifically asks for the administration’s review to include options that could reduce requirements for growing the U.S.’ nuclear arsenal, reviewing the necessity for the land-based leg of the nuclear triad, validating cost estimates for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program and determining whether future long-range conventional weapons could reduce the need for certain nuclear weapons.

“We currently possess, and must continue to have, a strong nuclear deterrent. However, I urge you to take a hard look at whether every ongoing and planned effort is necessary. This includes considering whether its requirement is being driven to dominate our adversaries, or if it is instead focused to provide a credible and reliable deterrent – those statements are not synonymous and often are confused as such,” Smith writes.

Smith has said recently he believes nuclear weapons spending should be kept at a minimum until the White House finishes its nuclear posture review, while adding that major changes to programs such as GBSD should be avoided until the review provides a clearer picture of what’s required (Defense Daily, June 29). 

In his letter, Smith urges the administration to specifically take stock of the Navy and Air Force’s nuclear deterrence modernization initiatives, citing the “unprecedented number of new weapons under development, [while they’re] also maintaining costly systems.”

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), chair of the HASC Readiness Subcommittee, introduced a bill in late June to pause GBSD development and instead focus on extending the service life of the current Minuteman III ICBMS to 2040, as a means of potentially saving tens of billions of dollars (Defense Daily, July 12). 

Smith’s letter also calls on the administration to assess the growing number of modernization requirements under the National Nuclear Security Administration’s purview, calling on the review to assess how the agency can avoid “further delays and cost overruns.” 

“In nearly every instance, NNSA programs have seen massive cost increases, schedule delays, and cancellations of billion-dollar programs. This must end. Your review should ensure both the Secretaries of Defense and Energy personally recommit to rigorous—and additional—oversight of the entire enterprise, and not just with that which they respectively are charged,” Smith writes.