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Bills in Congress would mean fewer submarines

The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740) returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings

JAMES KIMBER/U.S. NAVY PHOTO

By JULIA BERGMAN | The Day, New London, Conn. (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 26, 2015

Bills introduced in both the House and Senate this week would reduce the amount the U.S. spends on its nuclear weapons programs and would lower the number of nuclear submarines operated by the Navy.

On Monday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., reintroduced the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures (SANE) Act, which, they say, cuts $100 billion from the nuclear weapons budget over the next decade.

“The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Soviet Union no longer exists, and the Cold War is over,” text from the bill says. “The nature of threats to the national security and military interests of the United States has changed. However, the United States continues to maintain an enormous arsenal of nuclear weapons and delivery systems that were devised with the Cold War in mind.”

The legislation would reduce the number of Navy nuclear-armed submarines, prohibit the development of a new long-range penetrating bomber aircraft and prohibit the procurement of new intercontinental ballistic missiles, among other provisions.

Both versions have been referred to the House and Senate committees on armed services.

Connecticut Democrats Rep. Joe Courtney and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who sit on those committees in their respective chambers, oppose the measure.

Courtney said the proposal hasn’t garnered much support now or in the past.

The last time Blumenauer presented the proposal to the House floor, it received fewer than 100 votes. Courtney said, “I think that’s going to be the prognosis again.”

Courtney pointed to the New Start Treaty between Russia and the U.S., which reduces the number of nuclear weapons and launchers that each country deploys, as the better mechanism to achieve this end.

“The way to do this is to promote diplomacy and bilateral negotiations,” he said.

Under the treaty the U.S. and Russia “must meet the Treaty’s central limits on strategic arms by February 5, 2018, seven years from the date the Treaty entered into force. Each Party has the flexibility to determine for itself the structure of its strategic forces within the aggregate limits of the Treaty,”  according to the State Department's website.

In a statement, Blumenthal said, “I will strongly oppose this misguided measure, which would undercut a key component of our national security. Ballistic submarines remain the most survivable and formidable component of our strategic deterrence capabilities and this unique national security asset must be maintained and upgraded to meet both long-standing and emerging nuclear threats.”

His statement continued, “I will continue to reach out to my Senate colleagues with whom I share a common objective of reforming the defense budget to make the case that the Ohio Replacement Program is both vital to our national security interests and of enduring value to taxpayers.”

The legislation, if passed, would divide future construction into three time periods. It would allow for no more than eight Ohio replacement submarines available for deployment starting in fiscal year 2020; would prohibit any DOD funding from fiscal years 2014 through 2023 to be obligated or spent for the procurement of Ohio-class replacements; and would prohibit DOD funding for fiscal year 2024 and beyond to be obligated or spent for the procurement of more than eight of these boats.

The Ohio-class replacement program is meant to develop a new ballistic missile submarine. Current plans call for 12 submarines to be built. Other provisions in the bill dealing with submarines limit funding for and the number of ballistic missiles.

As Courtney pointed out, the new submarines would be a key component to the country’s strategic nuclear triad, which includes land-based heavy bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

This is “not a three-legged stool with the same size legs,” he said, adding the sea-based component is “roughly three-fourths of the triad.”

“It’s the most survivable,” he added, and within the context of the New Start treaty “that’s the plan.”

The legislation is being introduced at a time when there’s a particularly tense debate going on, mainly among Republicans, over Pentagon funding.

©2015 The Day (New London, Conn.)

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