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Spokesmen for the White House National Security Council and the Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.

New submarine

The only new weapon system authorized by this year’s fiscal 2010 Defense Authorization bill is a new class of strategic ballistic missile submarines, dubbed the SSBN-X.

According to a defense source familiar with internal deliberations on weapons systems, Obama administration budget officials were anxious about adding the nearly $700 million for the new strategic submarine because it runs counter to the president’s strategy of seeking the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, as outlined in a speech the president gave in Prague earlier this year.

The SSBN-X money is the first sign in pending law that the administration’s nuclear free world is not likely until after 2029, when the new missile submarine will be deployed.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called the new submarine “a little-noticed initiative” in his speech in Chicago on July 16 that focused mainly on the hotly debated issue of whether to produce more than 187 advanced F-22 jets. The SSBN-X is needed to “sustain and continually improve our specialized strategic deterrent to ensure that our allies’ security is always protected against nuclear-armed adversaries,” he said.

The real reason for the new submarine funds is more prosaic, according to the source who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information.

Development of the new submarine class, the first of which will not be built until 2029, is being slightly speeded up because it will be needed not just for the U.S. Navy, but it will also be adapted for use by Britain as a replacement for its four aging Vanguard-class missile submarines.

The British government announced in 2006 that it would spend $32.9 billion to modernize its nuclear arsenal with up to three new missile submarines that can launch Trident nuclear missiles.

The new class of the Navy’s boomer, as missile submarines are called, is expected to cost between $3.3 billion and $6.3 billion per submarine, and they will replaced the 14 Ohio-class nuclear missile submarines.

F-22 Debate

With the Senate’s rejection on Tuesday of an additional $1.75 billion in funding for more F-22 jets beyond the 187 already authorized, the debate now moves to the closed-door House Senate conference likely to be held in September.

The House version of the fiscal 2010 defense authorization contains $369 million for parts and a commitment to build 12 more F-22s. The two versions of the bill must be reconciled in conference, and President Obama has threatened to veto a bill that contains funding for F-22s.

During Senate debate on the F-22, several senators quoted Mr. Gates as the authoritative voice against the advanced warplane. Mr. Gates said in a speech in Chicago this week on the F-22 that “if we can’t get this right, what on Earth can we get right?”

A day earlier he said, “What I have not heard is a substantive reason for adding more aircraft in terms of our strategic needs.”

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