By suggesting that the Navy cancel a nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile, the service’s acting secretary imperiled arms control negotiations and undercut President Joe Biden, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said during a hearing Tuesday.
“Everybody at the Pentagon needs to understand the severity of the actions you have taken and its implications for the United States for arms control negotiations and the impact on the president of the United States,” Turner told Thomas Harker, the acting secretary of the Navy, during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
In a widely reported memo published online earlier this month by at least one news outlet, Harker advised cancelling the low-yield, nuclear-tipped Sea Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) that the Trump administration recommended adding to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Harker cited the expanding cost of modernizing not only the nuclear parts of the Navy’s fleet, but the conventionally armed parts.
Some in Congress, Turner lately the loudest among them, have objected to framing the choice as a budget calculation.
“This is not an accounting decision, Mr. Harker.” Turner said at Tuesday’s hearing, during which he demanded that Turner turn over to Congress all communications that informed the acting secretary’s decision to write the now-famous, or infamous, memo. “Do you know to the extent to which you have undermined the president of the United States in his arms control negotiations by undertaking what can only be described as a unilateral…disarmament recommendation?”
“Yes, sir,” Harker replied.
Meanwhile, as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in congressional testimony last week, the Sea Launched Cruise Missile is still officially a part of the Navy’s budget request for fiscal year 2022. Likewise, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) 2022 budget request calls for beginning work on the missile’s warhead in 2022 as part of the W80-4 program.
W80-4, a refurbished W80-1, is the warhead planned for the Air Force’s next air-launched cruise missile, the Long Range Standoff weapon. Raytheon Technologies [RTX] will build the missile. The W80-4 first production unit is due in 2025 or so, the NNSA says, and to create a sea-launched variant, the civilian nuclear weapons agency needs funding in 2022 to figure out exactly how to leverage the W80-4 production line for SLCM-N — an arrangement conceptually similar to how the NNSA used a single production line for both the W76-1 sea-launched ballistic missile warhead and its low-yield W76-2 variant in 2018 and 2019.