by Kingston Reif [contact information]
A Review of the Senate Armed Services Committee Version of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Authorization Bill: Nuclear Weapons and Missile Defense
On May 24 the Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously approved its version of the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 3254). Click here for the text of the legislation and here for the Committee report.
The bill authorizes $525.3 billion for the DoD base budget, $88.5 for overseas contingency operations (OCO), which funds the war in Afghanistan, and $17.8 billion for the national security programs in the Department of Energy and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. The bill authorizes $498.0 million more than was requested for the base budget of DOD and $301.0 million less than was requested for OCO. The bill authorizes $431.0 million less than the requested level of funding for national security programs of the DOE.
The Committee authorized approximately $550.7 billion for national defense (function 050) – excluding war funding. This is a slight increase of approximately $70 million over the President’s budget request, but still $4.67 billion above the Budget Control Act’s FY 2013 cap of $546 billion on non-war 050 spending. In contrast, the House version of the defense bill (H.R. 4310) is approximately $3.6 billion over the President’s request and more than $8 billion above the Budget Control Act cap.
The House bill includes a number of policy and funding proposals that would 1) block the Pentagon’s ability to implement the New START treaty; 2) prevent the President and senior military leaders from making changes to U.S. nuclear posture beyond those outlined in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review and agreed to in the New START treaty; and 3) drastically increase spending on nuclear weapons programs and national missile defense. See our full analysis of the House bill here.
As was the case last year, the Senate bill does not impose policy or funding limitations on New START implementation or future changes to US nuclear policy, posture, and force size. Contrary to the House bill, it also does not include a provision calling for the completion of a missile defense interceptor site on the East Coast of the United States by 2015 and endorses US efforts to cooperate with Russia on missile defense.
S. 3254 funds strategic forces programs at the Department of Defense and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) at or near the administration’s requested level - save for one key exception. Like the House version of the bill, the Senate version requires construction of a new plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico (aka the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF)) by the end of 2024. It authorizes the expenditure of FY 2013 funds for the construction of the facility.
The Pentagon and NNSA proposed to delay construction of the facility by five years and requested no funding in FY 2013, a decision accepted by the Senate and House appropriations Committee’s. Despite the agreement of the authorizers on the need for the project, the facility cannot be built without the assent of the appropriators.
Summary of Major Funding Proposals and Policy Provisions in S. 3254
I. Nuclear Weapons Reductions
Section 1071 requires the President to certify whether plans to modernize strategic delivery systems at the Pentagon are funded at a level equal to or more than that outlined in the November 2010 update to the plan outlined in Section 1251 of the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act. This update called for $100 billion to sustain US nuclear delivery systems between FY 2011 and FY 2020. If the level of funding is less than that found in the November 2010 update, then the President must explain if a lack of full funding will result in a loss of military capability, and if so, provide a plan to preserve or retain that capability. In addition, the President must certify adherence to declaration 12 of the New START Treaty, which calls for modernization of the nuclear triad.
Comment: Unlike the House bill, which would delay, and perhaps even block, implementation of the reductions under New START, Section 1071 does not contain any limits on treaty implementation. In addition, the Senate bill does not contain any provisions that would condition future proposals to change US nuclear force levels on rigid preconditions.
II. National Missile Defense (i.e. ground based midcourse defense)
The bill funds the request for the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system at the requested level of $903 million. Section 232 states that the currently deployed GMD system, with 30 Ground-Based Interceptors deployed in Alaska and California, provides protection of the United States against the future threat of limited ballistic missile attack from nations such as North Korea and Iran. The provision would require the Pentagon to report on the steps it is taking to improve the reliability and performance of the GMD system and hedge against the possibility that the threat might grow faster or larger than anticipated.
Comment: The House version of the bill contains a $460 million increase for the ground based midcourse defense system element above the budget request, including $100 million to begin preparatory work on a missile defense site on the East Coast of the United States to be completed by the end of 2015. The Senate bill does not accept that additional funding is needed nor did it see a near-term requirement for the development of an East Coast missile defense site. Both the Senate and House bills include provisions calling on the Pentagon to develop a plan for the development of a next-generation kill vehicle for long-range missile defense.
III. Regional Missile Defense (i.e. the European Phased Adaptive Approach)
Section 232 expresses the sense of Congress in support of the administration’s regional ballistic missile defense efforts, and would require a report on the progress with the European Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense and other regional missile defense efforts of the United States. The Committee states that the Pentagon is striking the right programmatic and budgetary balance between regional and homeland defense, emphasizing that some of the regional missile defense capabilities, such as development of the Standard Missile-3 Block IIB interceptor missile, are intended to enhance homeland defense.
Comment: The House bill is very critical of the of the regional missile defense mission and argued that the administration is placing too much emphasis on the European Phased Adaptive Approach at the expense of homeland defense. The House bill also called for greater financial contributions to the system from other NATO members. Moreover, while both Sections 231 and 232 state that development of the Precision Tracking Space System, which is designed to provide space-based tracking of ballistic missiles, has the capability to dramatically improve the effectiveness of US missile defense and should remain a top priority, the House bill provides no funding for the system until an independent analysis of alternatives to the program is begun.
IV. Missile Defense Cooperation with Russia
Section 233 expresses support of efforts of the United States to pursue missile defense cooperation with Russia that would enhance the security of the United States, its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, and Russia, particularly against missile threats from Iran. The provision states that the United States should pursue such cooperation in a manner that does not in any way limit United States missile defenses and that ensures the protection of United States classified information. The provision also states the view that the United States should not provide Russia with sensitive missile defense information that would in any way compromise United States national security, including `hit-to-kill' technology and interceptor telemetry.
Comment: Unlike the House bill, which would establish limitations on funds to provide Russia with access to US missile defense technology such as early warning data and in general expressed strong skepticism toward the benefits of missile defense cooperation with Russia, the Senate bill notes that for more than a decade, the United States has been pursuing and discussing cooperation with Russia on shared early warning and ballistic missile defense issues. The Committee also stated that missile defense cooperation with Russia could enhance the security of the United States, and could send a strong signal to Iran that the United States and Russia are joined in their opposition to Iran's nuclear and missile programs. This marks the third year in a row that the Committee has voiced its support for cooperative missile defense efforts with Russia.
V. Nuclear Material Security
The Senate bill fully funds the National Nuclear Security Administration’s request of $2.5 billion for the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account. It also fully funds the Pentagon’s request for the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. However, unlike the House version of the defense bill and both the Senate and House version of the FY 2013 Energy and Water Appropriations bills, S. 3254 does not increase funding above the budget request for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, the key program in the effort to secure and eliminate vulnerable nuclear materials around the world and keep America safe from the threat of nuclear terrorism. Furthermore, while the House adopted provisions to limit nuclear material security spending in Russia until Moscow stops helping Syria, Iran, and North Korea, the Senate includes no such provisions.
VI. Nuclear Weapons Spending
The bill provides $7.6 billion for NNSA’s nuclear weapons activities account, a small increase of approximately $25 million above the requested level of 7.58 billion. Section 1002 authorizes the transfer of $150 million from the Department of Defense to the National Nuclear Security Administration if the final FY 2013 authorized and appropriated level is less than the $7.9 billion called for in the Section 1251 report for FY 2013.
Section 3111 reverses the administration’s decision to delay construction of the CMRR-NF by five years and requires that the facility be operational by the end of 2024. The bill expresses concern with the decision to delay the project and the budget’s proposed alternative strategy to sustain essential plutonium capabilities and missions using the existing complex. The Committee attempted to address concerns about the cost of CMRR-NF by mandating that no more than $3.7 billion may be spent on construction of the facility (though it must still meet previously planned requirements). As of November 2010 the estimated cost to complete the facility was between $3.7 and $5.8 billion. At the time the design of the facility was only 45% complete. Section 3111 authorizes the expenditure of $150 million on CMRR-NF from what is appropriated in FY 2013 for NNSA (though it places limits on which accounts the money can come from). It would also make available in FY 2013 an unspecified amount of unspent FY 2012 funds authorized for the facility.
In addition, the Committee expresses concern about NNSA’s plans for the construction a new Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 plant in Oakridge, TN. The bill states that no more than $190 million of the $340 million requested for the facility can be spent until NNSA completes 90% of the design of the facility. It places a legislative cost cap of $4.2 billion on construction of the facility.
S. 3254 funds research and development on the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine replacement program at Pentagon at the requested level of $565 million. The bill increases funding for the Ohio-class replacement program within NNSA's Naval Reactors account by $38 million above the request. In its report the Committee expressed concern about the administration’s decision to delay the program by two years. The bill also includes $292 million for a new long-range, nuclear-capable bomber, and $2 million for a new air launched nuclear cruise missile, as requested.
VII. Returning tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea
The House adopted a provision to study and consider returning US tactical nuclear weapons to the Western Pacific. The Senate bill includes no such provision.
VII. Other reports
Section 1072 would require the Nuclear Weapons Council to define to Congress the meaning of a combined warhead. The Committee states that the proposed joint W88/W78 warhead concept for the W78 life extension program is ill defined.
Section 1073 would require the Congressional Budget Office to submit a report that provides: (1) An estimate of the costs over the 10-year period of fielding and maintaining the current nuclear weapons and nuclear weapon delivery systems of the United States; and (2) An estimate of the costs over the 10-year period of any life extension, modernization, or replacement of any current nuclear weapons or nuclear weapon delivery systems of the United States. The House bill also mandated a report on nuclear weapons costs.
Senate Floor Action
It is not clear when the Senate will take up the defense bill. It is also not clear whether there will be amendments similar to the provisions adopted by the House. The bill could come up in July, but election year politics could prevent consideration of the bill until after November.
Kingston Reif is the Director of Nuclear Non-Proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, where his work focuses on arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear weapons, and preventing nuclear terrorism. He has published letters and articles on nuclear weapons policy in such venues as the Washington Post, Washington Times, Wall Street Journal, Survival, Defense News, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.