The Navy should scrap plans to develop a nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM), the service’s acting secretary wrote in a memo dated June 4.
Media this week widely reported on the memo that Thomas Harker, the acting secretary of the Navy, sent to the undersecretary of the navy, the commandant of the Marine Corps, the chief of naval operations, the service’s general counsel, and its chief information office. The U.S. Naval Institute posted a copy of the Program Objective Memorandum online.
That guidance follows the Navy’s 2022 budget request, in which it requested some $5 million to develop the nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missile that the Trump administration recommended building as part of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. President Joe Biden’s administration is not expected to finish its own Nuclear Posture Review until the fall, at the earliest.
Some people in government, and outside of it, view the Biden posture review, not the budget request, as the spark plug for whatever changes the new administration will attempt to make to U.S. nuclear forces.
Similar to the Navy, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has also asked for funding for the proposed SLCM for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The missile’s nuclear tip would notionally be a variant of the W80-4: an upgraded version of the warhead intended to ride on the Air Force’s planned Long Range Standoff weapon, an air-launched delivery system set to deploy in 2030 or so.
The NNSA seeks a little more than $1 billion for the W80-4 program for fiscal year 2022, about an 8 percent increase from the 2021 appropriation of roughly $1 billion. That would include work to support the sea-launched variant of the warhead. The first production unit for the air-launched version of the weapon is scheduled for 2025, NNSA has said.
The House Armed Services Committee was scheduled to hear testimony Thursday about the 2022 budget requests for the NNSA and the Navy, among others.