WASHINGTON – Republicans in Congress oppose the president’s plan to withdraw obsolete nuclear weapons, condemning efforts during a series of hearings this week on the administration’s 2023 budget request for nuclear forces and nuclear energy.
The hearings provided a preliminary review of what is likely to be a renewed debate on the withdrawal of the B83 megaton gravity bomb as Congress prepares its annual defense bill, beginning in June. The Air Force also plans to retire the only aircraft that can carry a B83, a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, by 2032 at the latest.
“The rationale for this administration to withdraw the B83 gravity bomb without a replacement is unclear to me,” said Doug Lamborn, R-Colo, a senior member of the House of Representatives’ subcommittee on strategic forces, at a hearing on Tuesday. “In fact, in my opinion, not only is there no ability to replace, but the process of identifying candidates for replacement has not even begun.”
Lamborn argues that the B83 – which is 80 times more powerful than the bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima during World War II – is needed to target “hard and deep-seated targets.”
But Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plum, who serves on the Nuclear Weapons Council, said B83 was not adequately addressing the challenge of deep-seated targets. “It is of increasingly limited usefulness, and its withdrawal does not change the firm and deeply buried goal,” Plum said.
The Biden administration chose to continue funding B83 last year in its budget request for fiscal year 22, but later decided not to keep the bomb in its review of its 2022 nuclear position. the megaton bomb of almost 4 decades. Then, former President Donald Trump thwarted the Obama administration’s plans when he decided to keep the B83, the last remaining megaton bomb in the US nuclear arsenal.
Senator John F. Kennedy, R-La., Also withdrew against B83’s retirement during a hearing on the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday with representatives of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
“My understanding is that the number of targets for which the B83 is reliable is shrinking,” NNSA administrator Jill Hruby told Kennedy.
Senator Diane Feinstein, D-California, encouraged the Biden administration to withdraw the B83 as soon as possible during the same hearing, highlighting guerrilla battle lines around the gravity bomb.
Sen. Ed Markie, D-Mass., Who tried to kill B83 in legislation he introduced last year that would cut $ 73 billion from the nuclear weapons budget in a decade, said he was “disappointed” by Biden’s plans. to withdraw a megaton bomb.
“No sane leader could think of deploying a nuclear bomb that is 100 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima,” Markie told Defense News. “We have to resist”Dr. Strangelove“As an effort by Republicans to keep our last and most indiscriminate megaton bomb in reserve.
Eventually, Congress approved $ 52 million to fund B83 in its annual defense bill last year, despite efforts by House of Representatives Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., To make it unpaid. Smith eventually gave way to his Senate counterparts last year, who agreed to fund him at the request of the Biden administration.
But now that the administration is trying to de-finance B83, the Republican minority may not be able to count on much help from Senate Democrats in trying to keep the megaton bomb.
Bryant Harris is a congressional reporter for Defense News. It covers the intersection of US foreign policy and national security in Washington since 2014. He has previously written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera and IPS News.