23 May 2003
Congress Agrees to Let Pentagon Study Low-Yield Nuclear Weapons
(Congressional Report, May 23: Congress passes 2004 defense budget)
Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The U.S. Congress passed the $400.5 billion fiscal 2004
defense authorization bill that includes a provision authorizing
research on two new types of nuclear weapons -- small, low-yield
nuclear weapons of less than 5 kilotons, and earth-penetrating nuclear
bombs that could destroy underground enemy facilities.
However, the nuclear weapons research provision in the budget
authorization does not provide funding for development or production
of either type of nuclear weapon system. The measure also includes a
proviso that requires President Bush to seek congressional authority
before ordering full-scale development of the new generation of
battlefield nuclear weapons.
The annual defense spending package won Senate approval by a vote of
98 to 1 May 22, and approval the same day in the House of
Representatives by a vote of 361 to 68. The legislation gives Bush
nearly everything he sought as part of a steady and continuous build
up of the U.S. armed forces and defense programs. The spending bill is
part of the Bush administration's strategic vision for transforming
the U.S. armed forces into a lighter, more agile, but ultimately more
lethal fighting force.
The $400.5 billion defense authorization is slightly higher than
President Bush's original request of $399 billion, but the higher
figure reflects a new estimate of the request by the Congressional
Budget Office, and most of the changes are considered technical in
"This sends a strong signal throughout the world that we are unified
in the war against terrorists. There are many provisions in this bill
that go directly to our ability to fight terrorism whether it is
abroad or here at home," Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, a
Virginia Republican, said during debate.
House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter, a California Republican,
said that "with this legislation we continue our commitment to defend
our homeland and take care of our military personnel. The legislation
provides for today's defense needs while addressing tomorrow's threats
and this strong bipartisan vote validates our belief in this
He added that the bill strikes a balance between bolstering U.S.
national security and modernizing existing U.S. forces while also
investing in transformational capabilities. "The fact is, we are
always evolving and transforming; the key is balancing short term risk
with long term strategy," Hunter said.
The defense spending bills approved by the Senate and House May 22
authorize the approved amounts for defense spending, but separate
appropriations measures will have to be approved for the programs and
projects to be funded. While the bills are similar, several
differences between them will have to be resolved by a congressional
conference committee before a final bill wins passage in both houses
and goes to the president for his signature. The fiscal year begins
The House and Senate measures contain approximately $75 billion in new
spending to buy weapons and weapons systems, $114.6 billion for
operations and maintenance, $9.6 billion for military construction and
family base housing, $60 billion for defense research and development
programs, and $9.1 billion for continued development of the ballistic
missile defense program. The House measure also includes $1.2 billion
for chemical and biological defense equipment and materials, and large
increases for U.S. special operations forces, which are tied directly
to supporting homeland security and fighting global terrorism.
The bills also authorize a 2005 base closure schedule, but require the
Pentagon to eliminate half of the nation's military installations from
consideration for closure.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said earlier in the week that
Defense Department researchers want to study the use of two new types
of nuclear weapons, but that does not mean the Pentagon is pursuing,
developing, manufacturing or deploying such weapons.
"You make a study for a very simple reason: to learn whether you do
believe that that is ... something that's needed, something that would
be useful," he said at a Pentagon news media briefing. "And we're
going to look at a variety of different ways -- conceivably -- to
develop the ability to reach a deeply buried target."
At issue are two systems: low-yield nuclear weapons of 5 kilotons or
less that Congress had banned in 1993; and high-yield, burrowing
nuclear "bunker-busters" that target underground military facilities
or arsenals. A comparable defense spending bill approved by the House
would remove the ban on research but retain it for other steps in the
process, and continue to fund the bunker-buster project.
Other provisions authorized in the defense spending measure are:
-- Military pay increases averaging 4.15 percent;
-- $9.1 billion for ballistic missile defense;
-- $181 million for developing chemical and biological weapon
detection and protection technology;
-- $450 million to dismantle and eliminate weapons of mass destruction
in the former Soviet Union;
-- $1 billion for the Navy's next generation surface combat ship,
currently identified as DD(X);
-- $3.2 billion for three DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class guided missile
-- $1.5 billion for a sixth Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack
-- $1 billion for unmanned aerial vehicles like those used in
Afghanistan and Iraq;
-- $114 billion for key readiness accounts, including $29 billion for
aircraft operations and flying hours;
-- $1 billion for drug interdiction activities by the U.S. military;
-- $3 billion for 42 advanced F/A-18 E and F versions of the Navy's
-- $3.5 billion for 20 F/A-22 Raptor combat aircraft for the Air
-- $4.4 billion for the development of a joint strike fighter.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
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