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Air Force Doesn't Need New Nuclear Cruise Missile, Lawmaker Says

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee made his case Wednesday for cutting the new nuclear cruise missile for the Air Force and reining in the entire effort to modernize the nation's nuclear deterrent.

"I think we should buy fewer nuclear weapons" in a defense spending climate dominated by the 2011 Budget Control Act and the sequester process, said Rep. Adam Smith, a Washington state Democrat and the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Smith said the nation's triad of deterrents consisting of nuclear submarines, long-range bombers and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles "still makes sense."

But, he added, "I don"t think we need the ability to destroy the world five times over."

In addition to the nuclear cruise missile known as the Long Range Stand-Off weapon, there are proposals in Congress for a new fleet of Ohio-class nuclear submarines loaded with new missiles -- a class of ships that's be so expensive it must be funded outside of the Navy's own budget --  a new strategic nuclear bomber, a new land-based ICBM, new designs for nuclear warheads and new fuses for existing ones, and a new fleet of satellites to manage the entire deterrent.

The Congressional Office last year scored the proposals for nuclear deterrent modernization at $324 billion through 2024, but Smith said the costs would easily top $1 trillion.

At a Defense Writers Group breakfast, Smith conceded that his own proposal to rein in spending on the nuclear deterrent would likely be lost in the blizzard of proposals, counter-proposals and veto threats before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, as Congress struggles to come up with defense budget for fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1.

The process becomes even more complicated and frenzied in an election year, Smith said.

The congressman predicted little would happen in the weeks before the August congressional recess except an agreement to send the various Senate and House versions of bills on defense spending to a conference committee of both houses of Congress in an effort to reach a compromise.

Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate panel, has said that he would like to have an actual bill to send to President Obama by Oct. 1, but Smith said that was unlikely. The latter cited election year politics again as the reason.

Smith also said there was a possibility that Congress would give up on compromise and approve a continuing resolution that would leave a defense budget up to the next president.

"Congress is as parochial as ever when it comes to defense policy," he said. There was little likelihood that members would come to the realization that "we don't have the money that some would like to have," he said.

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