July 29, 2013
President Barack Obama delivered a sweeping arms control speech in June that called for bold reductions in the number of tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. His vow to work to cut nukes drew applause from the crowd assembled outside Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate and approval from arms control advocates around the world, but the administration’s own plans — at least for the tactical bombs in Europe — seem to contradict the president’s stated goals.
Just days before Obama’s Berlin speech, the National Nuclear Security Administration sent Congress a 300-page assessment of the nation’s nuclear stockpile and modernization plans. Contained in the report was a 25-year spending plan to pay for substantial upgrades to the B61 gravity bombs, the oldest nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, placed in Europe during the Cold War to protect the continent from a Soviet invasion. About 180 B61s remain there today to support NATO.
The lengthy report was just the latest administration endorsement of the so-called life extension program for the B61, a bomb that has both tactical and strategic variants. Its projected costs have more than doubled in the past several years as The NNSA and Defense Department officials widened the scope of what was once envisioned to be a modest effort to breathe new life into these nearly 50-year-old bombs. Independent cost analysts within the Pentagon have put a $10.1 billion price tag on the effort — $2 billion higher than the NNSA’s in-house estimates. Either way, it’s the most expensive nuclear-bomb life extension program in history.
Many Democrats on Capitol Hill — as well as some fiscally conservative Republicans — are crying foul. The bomb refurbishment is simply too costly and too ambitious, they say, especially if the White House ultimately wants to cut tactical nukes in Europe. With an intense budget squeeze forcing a reprioritization of funds across government agencies, the administration can ill afford to spend $10 billion to do a soup-to-nuts overhaul of most of the roughly 400 B61s in the arsenal, they contend. But Obama pledged to spend billions on nuclear modernization — a promise he made to help secure ratification of the New START pact with Russia in 2010 — and updating the decades-old gravity bomb is central to that.
Click here to read the rest of the article on Rep. Quigley’s website.