The top officials at the Pentagon told lawmakers Thursday they were not consulted on a memo from the acting Navy secretary that advised stopping development of a nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM).

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, the joint chiefs chairman, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that no such decision has been finalized and that any potential adjustment would be informed by the administration’s upcoming nuclear posture review.

A Boeing AGM-86B (ALCM) on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo)

“I’m not familiar with the memo nor was I consulted, but as soon as we’re done here I’ll go find that memo and get consulted,” Milley said, with Austin adding that he has also not seen the memo.

Reports this week detailed a memo from Thomas Harker, the acting Navy secretary, 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 that called for defunding SLCM as part of the service’s next five-year planning guidance (Defense Daily, June 8). 

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) pressed Austin and Milley on the memo and cited concerns that such a policy decision would be made by an official serving in an acting capacity.

“This memo was signed June 4, that’s just one week after the Department of Defense submitted a budget request that asked for $5 million to continue to study that [SLCM] concept and NNSA requested $10 million to conduct its own assessment,” Fischer said. I find it very concerning that an acting service secretary, who hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate, is making a decision like this, outside of any review process without analysis or input from OSD policy, from nuclear matters, the joint chiefs or STRATCOM and without taking to other agencies or having, it seems, any discussions with our allies.”

Austin said that this was likely an “internal department memo,” reiterating that the Pentagon still supports the SLCM funding requested in the budget. 

“That memo has to be pre-decisional because of where we are in the process. And so I don’t feel comfortable commenting on his memo,” Austin said.