After a push from far-left senators, the Biden administration is delaying the modernization of America's nuclear weapons stockpile.
Multiple sources told the Washington Free Beacon that the White House is ordering the Department of Defense to explore extending the lifespan of America’s land-based nuclear arsenal. The decision marks an about-face for the Biden administration, which had previously committed to nuclear modernization efforts. Some Democrats have pushed the administration away from modernization, citing cost and concerns that it would escalate global tensions.
But military leaders are calling for nuclear modernization to counter efforts from Russia and China. Admiral Charles Richard, head of Strategic Command, said China's nuclear arms are expanding at a "breathtaking" rate. Commercial satellite images released in July show the construction of two massive nuclear silo fields in the Chinese desert. Russia is constructing the heaviest ballistic missile in the world, which could enter service as early as 2022.
The Biden administration’s order follows a request from Sens. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), who lead the contingent of Democrats opposed to nuclear modernization, to cut investment in modernization from the budget. In the coming months, an independent group of scientists will review the Minuteman III missiles, which were first deployed during the Vietnam War.
Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) confirmed the review order and demanded a "clear explanation" for the Biden administration’s reversal on the issue in a statement to the Free Beacon.
"[The Pentagon] told our office that they were satisfied with existing cost estimates and did not need to conduct a JASON review," Hoeven said. "We want a clear explanation from DOD on this issue and we believe it is very important that [nuclear modernization] goes forward on schedule."
A congressional staffer who requested anonymity said the study’s conclusions would ultimately prove "useless" due to the high cost and decreasing effectiveness of the missiles. According to one Air Force general, maintaining the existing fleet will cost $38 billion more than the planned upgrade of the weapons system.
"We’re testing these things and they’re failing," the staffer said, calling the study "an attempt to placate a very small group of far-left Democrats" and "delay Minuteman III for so long that you don’t have a replacement for it."
The missiles completed a successful test on Wednesday but failed a similar test in May. Lawmakers and national security experts say these mixed results prove the futility of reviewing the Minuteman missiles.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slammed the Biden administration for "playing politics" with America’s nuclear arsenal.
"It’s past time to develop a modern equivalent for a land-based nuclear weapon," Blackburn said. "President Biden’s budget even allocated funding to do so, which is why it’s alarming that his administration is slowing the process with another bureaucratic review."
The Department of Defense did not return several requests for comment.
Timing is also an issue, as the review will take months to complete. Lawmakers will not have its findings until after the White House makes its 2023 topline budget request.
Rebeccah Heinrichs, a senior fellow in missile defense at the Hudson Institute, told the Free Beacon that the Minuteman review is nothing more than a roadblock.
"Nobody should fall for the excuse that their primary concern is cost when they are perfectly willing to throw more money at studies if it means it could slow down the modernization process," Heinrichs said. "Frankly, we should probably be adapting the deterrent to give it more capabilities and more options in light of the rapidly changing threat environment."
The White House did not return a request for comment.