Dems Aim to Slash Vital Nuclear Missile Program

Cuts would delay nuclear missile modernization

Rep. John Garamendi (D., Calif.) / Getty Images
June 30, 2021

Congressional Democrats are taking aim at a crucial nuclear missile program as they prepare adjustments to the Biden administration's defense budget request.

Rep. John Garamendi (D., Calif.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, said the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, a program pushed by both the Obama and Trump administrations to replace nuclear weapons technology in place since the Vietnam War, requires a funding pause to aid other budget priorities.

"It's a matter of how we're going to spend a very precious resource called money," Garamendi told Insider. "The issue of the [Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent] is under consideration—that is, a pause on the [Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent]—so we'll see."

Garamendi's comments challenge a consensus among top military officials that America's nuclear missile technology requires serious modernization. The missile system used by the military has been in service since 1970, prompting calls for the development of its replacement, Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent. U.S. Strategic Command chief Charles Richard said in January that the current missile system must be replaced with modern technology.

Democrats, however, have targeted the nuclear weapon modernization program for budget cuts. Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) have spoken repeatedly about their interest in pausing the project in favor of other funding priorities, such as coronavirus research.

Calls for cutting the program also come as China rapidly increases its own nuclear stockpile. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that China is constructing more than 100 missile silos, and a June report revealed Beijing increased its nuclear arsenal by 30 warheads in 2020. Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) warned in a March Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that China could soon outpace the United States in its nuclear weapons systems if the Pentagon does not move fast enough.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has not yet cemented its own stance on the issue as the White House conducts a nuclear posture review of the U.S. armed forces. The Biden defense budget's constraints, however, could force the Navy to cut funding for sea-launched nuclear cruise missiles.