The House this week voted down an amendment to its version of the next defense policy bill that aimed to halt funding for the Air Force’s future intercontinental ballistic missile program and instead focus on extending the service life of the current Minuteman III ICBMs.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) offered the proposal to pause development of the LGM-35A Sentinel, formerly known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, which was defeated by a 118 to 309 vote during the House’s consideration of the fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during a developmental test on Feb. 5 last year at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

“We don’t need to do [the Sentinel program] now. The Minuteman III missiles are viable for the next decade, almost the next two decades, if they are maintained,” Garamendi, a member of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said while detailing his proposal.

Garamendi, who has offered similar proposals in the past, noted the Sentinel program is expected to cost more than $100 billion over the next years and said the move to extend the life of Minuteman IIIs into the 2040s could contribute to significant savings. 

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the ranking member on HASC, pushed back on the proposal and said it would go against the latest Nuclear Posture Review, which included continuing to pursue Sentinel as a replacement for the Minuteman III.

“In practical terms, this amendment is a backdoor attempt to kill the U.S. ICBM program. We’ve heard time and again from the U.S. Air Force, STRATCOM and GAO that the Minuteman [III] ICBM cannot be life-extended. The parts simply don’t exist and we need this new capability,” Rogers said. “This amendment guts a decade-and-a-half of consensus on nuclear modernization. It would appease foreign dictators and undermine our alliances. It’s opposed by the Pentagon.”

Northrop Grumman [NOC] is set to build Sentinel under a $13-billion contract awarded in 2019.

Garamendi previously introduced a bill last June that also looked to pause Sentinel development until 2031 and focus on sustaining Minuteman IIIs through 2040 (Defense Daily, June 30). 

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the HASC chair, told reporters in late May he believes the Air Force’s Sentinel effort is “a pretty good program,” while reiterating his view that the ground-based leg of the strategic deterrent is “an enormous sitting target that there’s no way we can protect, and it’s really expensive.”

“[Sentinel] is actually doing what it’s supposed to do and it’s moving forward. I just don’t think we need it. But I lost that argument quite a while ago,” Smith said at the time.

The House voted 329 to 101 on Thursday evening to pass its nearly $840 billion version of the FY ’23 NDAA (Defense Daily, July 15).