Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) introduced a bill Thursday to cancel development of a new sea-launched cruise missile (N-SLCM) along with its low-yield nuclear warhead.

The pair of Democratic lawmakers called the program, initiated during the Trump administration, “redundant and expensive” and said it would unnecessarily divert funds that could be used for higher priority naval modernization efforts.

The Virginia-class submarine future USS Delaware (SSN-791) at sea for sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean on Aug, 31, 2019. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
The Virginia-class submarine future USS Delaware (SSN-791) at sea for sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean on Aug, 31, 2019. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

“The Trump-era program to arm our naval vessels with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles is not only reckless, it’s costly and unnecessary. This move would unduly burden our Navy – taking away from its core conventional missions – and would prevent vital resources from going where they’re truly needed. This common-sense legislation will ensure taxpayer dollars are put to better use,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

Van Hollen and Courtney note the Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2019 the N-SLCM effort would cost $9 billion by 2028, which didn’t account for production costs beyond that point of funds required to integrate the missiles on ships.

Courtney, who chairs the House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee, said the massive amount of resources to load these new nuclear weapons on attack submarines would divert resources away from critical plans to grow the overall size of the Navy’s fleet.

“Putting new, expensive nuclear warheads on attack submarines and surface ships that haven’t carried those weapons in almost thirty years is a distraction that will suck precious resources away from the most pressing need of the US Navy—namely, to increase the size of its overworked fleet,” Courtney said. “Congress and the Navy are already committed to funding recapitalization of our nation’s sea-based nuclear deterrent: the Columbia-class submarine program. Installing so-called ‘tactical’ nuclear warheads on Virginia-class attack subs is a money drain that will hinder construction of three Virginia-class attack submarines per-year—which both the Obama and Trump shipbuilding plans endorsed.”

Details of the bill arrive a day after progressive lawmakers Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Biden urging the president to scale back nuclear modernization efforts, including canceling the sea-launched cruise missile and low-yield nuclear warhead effort and pausing development of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program (Defense Daily, March 3). 

Co-sponsors of Van Hollen and Courtney’s bill include Markey as well as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.)