Lawmaker: US Should Field New Nukes After Russia Violated Treaty

In this March 18, 2015, file photo, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington.  (AP Photo/Molly Riley, File)
In this March 18, 2015, file photo, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Molly Riley, File)

As U.S. leaders debate how to deal with Russia's latest arms treaty violation, a key lawmaker said he's open to exploring ways to hasten deployment of new nuclear weapons.

Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry, a Republican from Texas and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he "would be willing to support" speeding up the fielding of the nuclear-capable long range standoff weapon, known as LRSO, or the B61-12 nuclear bomb on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Both programs both in various stages of development.

"We see what the Russians are doing; they're not going to stand down out of the goodness of their heart, and so some sort of strong action is important," Thornberry told reporters late Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

His comments came just hours after Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Thornberry and other lawmakers on the panel that Russia had deployed a land-based cruise missile and stands in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Selva said Moscow violated the "spirit and intent" of the pact -- which bans all land-based cruise missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 and 3,410 miles) -- by equipping two battalions with the cruise missile. One was placed at Russia's missile test site at Kapustin Yar and another at an unspecified location, The New York Times has reported.

Echoing Selva at the briefing, Thornberry added, "You're not going to get rid of a Russian capability by not having a capability of your own."

Asked whether the U.S. should withdraw from the treaty as it did in 2002 from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the former USSR, Thornberry said, "I'll let lawyers consider a legal status of a treaty in which the Russians are in clear violation of."

The congressman's comments about the B61 and LRSO cruise missile also come the same day as nine Senate Democrats said they want to cap funding on the LRSO program in an effort to slow its development, according to Defense News.

The LRSO is intended to replace the air-launched cruise missile, ALCM, program, scheduled to end by 2030.

Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and eight senators introduced the bill, which would limit funding for a new nuclear-armed air-launched missile "at 2017 levels until the Trump administration submits a Nuclear Posture Review to Congress," according to a press release.

During the hearing, Selva said it was premature to comment on the ongoing review, which was ordered in January as part of President Donald Trump's executive action to rebuild the nation's military. But the general hinted that should diplomatic talks with Russia fail, the Pentagon was already preparing options to deal with Russia's violations.

"We've begun an investigation of a series of potential strategy changes, many of which will have to be incorporated in the nuclear posture review," Selva said.

In contrast, the last NPR under then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that even though Russia continued "to modernize its still-formidable nuclear forces," the U.S. and Russia were "no longer adversaries, and prospects for military confrontation have declined dramatically."

The U.S. has already signaled the possibility of moving faster to equip the F-35 with the latest B61 variant. The latter differs from the LRSO in that it falls like a bomb and isn't capable of cruise-missile flight.

In January, Air Force Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, who directs the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program's integration office, told Military.com the Mod gravity bomb set to be retrofitted on the Joint Strike Fighter sometime between 2020 and 2022 could happen sooner than planned.

"It would definitely be possible," he said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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