NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Biden administration anti-nuclear policymakers suffered a bipartisan rebuke as Congress voted to reverse Pentagon plans to eliminate a nuclear-tipped, sea-launched cruise missile.
The Senate Armed Services Committee last week approved $25 million for the cruise missile, known as the SLCM-N, that is slated for cancellation under the Pentagon’s recent Nuclear Posture Review. The House Armed Services Committee, meeting Wednesday to mark up its version of the fiscal 2023 defense authorization bill, approved $45 million for the new cruise missile.
Rep. Jim Cooper, Tennessee Democrat and chairman of the subcommittee on strategic forces, said the funds are needed to “keep the program warm” and give the military the option to build the missile in the future. The funding differences will be resolved during a future House-Senate conference.
Navy officials had previously announced plans to scrap the SLCM-N because of costs and the time needed to build and deploy it. Killing the missile would save about $200 million this year and $2.1 billion over five years, administration officials said.
However, Mr. Cooper said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday now supports preserving the SLCM-N.
The new cruise missile, armed with a low-yield nuclear warhead, would replace the nuclear-armed Tomahawk cruise missiles that were nixed during the Obama administration.
A Pentagon study in 2019 concluded that the SLCM-N is needed in response to rapidly expanding Chinese and Russian forces that could use less-powerful nuclear arms to undermine regional deterrence.
The study said SLCM-N would be “capable of proportional, discriminate response based on survivable, regionally present platforms, and with the necessary range, penetration capability and effectiveness to hold critical adversary targets at risk.”
The missile will “give an adversary pause” in a crisis and provide a president with a wider range of options in deterring a nuclear conflict, supporters argued. The missile also would bolster extended deterrence for U.S. allies.
Congressional efforts to preserve the SLCM-N followed strong support from Adm. Charles Richard, commander of the Strategic Command, as well as Adm. Christopher Grady, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During a May 4 Senate hearing, the admirals testified that the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council validated the need for the SLCM-N.
Sen. Angus King, the Maine independent who chairs the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, suggested the cruise missile would help preserve deterrence “below the level of a massive response.”
“A non-ballistic, low-yield, nontreaty accountable system that is available without visible generation would be very valuable,” Adm. Richard said, referring to the SLCM-N deployed on attack submarines.
Adm. Richard said the missile is one of his unfunded priorities as part of the multibillion-dollar nuclear forces modernization now underway. He and Adm. Grady both said it was their best military advice to keep building the cruise missile.
“There are a wide range of [concept of operations] that are available to the Navy for the employment of SLCM-N on a nuclear-powered submarine,” Adm. Richard said. The missile also would give the president another tool to dissuade an adversary from using nuclear arms, he said.
“My recommendation on the SLCM-N, for example, is not an effort to relitigate the Nuclear Posture Review,” Adm. Richard said. “It is based on the conditions we find ourselves in today.”
John Plumb, undersecretary of defense for space policy, told the Senate panel that the Nuclear Posture Review called for canceling the SLCM-N, along with an air-delivered nuclear bomb called the B83-1. The cuts were based on the administration policy of “reducing the role of nuclear weapons and reestablishing our leadership in arms control.”
“We will continue to emphasize strategic stability, seek to avoid costly arms races, and facilitate risk-reduction in arms control arrangements where possible,” he said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, said she favors killing the SLCM-N. “A low-yield nuclear weapon launched from ships duplicates capabilities we already have and undermines the Navy‘s conventional mission,” she said.
Pentagon spokesperson Oscar P. Seara said it is not appropriate for the Defense Department to comment on pending legislation. But he said the current budget request for nuclear forces shows the administration backs modernizing nuclear forces “to ensure a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent.”
Chinese, Russian warships near Japan ahead of RIMPAC exercises
Chinese and Russian warships have stepped up activities in the western Pacific as U.S. and allied naval forces prepare for the world’s largest naval war games called Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC.
The latest biannual exercise will include naval forces from all four of the “Quad” nations — the United States, Japan, India and Australia — as well the many states that have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
A total of 26 navies will take part in the exercises near Hawaii and Southern California from June 29 to Aug. 4. According to the Navy, the exercise will include 38 surface ships, four submarines, ground forces from nine nations, more than 170 aircraft and 25,000 troops.
Japan’s Defense Ministry announced last week that Russian and Chinese warships were spotted and tracked passing close to Japan. Seven Russian navy ships sailed near the Izu Islands south of Tokyo last week, and Japanese forces are on alert for increasing activities by Russia and China near its territory, the ministry said in a statement.
Two Chinese guided-missile destroyers also were spotted in the Sea of Japan after passing the Tsushima Strait off Kyushu. The ships sailed through the Soya Strait into the Okhotsk Sea.
Russia’s navy identified two destroyers with the warships as the Marshal Shaposhnikov and the Admiral Panteleyev. The ships conducted operations involving air defense, anti-submarine warfare and cooperation with aircraft of the Russian Pacific fleet, state media said.
Japanese officials identified the Chinese warships as the Lhasa and Chengdu, along with the replenishment ship Dongpinghu. A Chinese navy surveillance ship, a Dongdiao-class vessel, also was spotted near the other warships, according to the Japanese defense ministry.
The stepped-up naval activities by China and Russia came as U.S. Navy and regional allied warships were transiting from Guam toward Hawaii for RIMPAC.
China in the past has dispatched spy ships near Hawaii to monitor the naval exercises and is expected to do so during the latest RIMPAC.
The theme for this year’s RIMPAC is “capable, adaptive partners,” the Navy said.
“Participating nations and forces will exercise a wide range of capabilities and demonstrate the inherent flexibility of maritime forces,” the statement said. “These capabilities range from disaster relief and maritime security operations to sea control and complex warfighting.”
Chinese mass surveillance detailed
Chinese police and security forces are expanding mass high-technology surveillance over the country’s 1.4 billion people, according to internal documents obtained by The New York Times.
Over 100,000 bidding documents obtained by the online group ChinaFile reveal Beijing’s plans to collect masses of data on people, including DNA samples from men that can be used to control the population, the newspaper reported.
The report also revealed how the Ministry of Public Security, the political police agency, has installed cell phone surveillance equipment throughout the country that can intercept and obtain personal information from millions of cell phone users.
“Chinese police analyze human behaviors to ensure facial recognition cameras capture as much activity as possible,” the report said, adding that “more than half of the world’s nearly one billion surveillance cameras are in China.”
In addition to DNA sample collection and phone spying, China also uses video cameras and software that can identify people as they walk on public streets using facial recognition. As many as 2.5 billion facial images are stored in databases.
The cameras are located along streets and inside buildings, including American-owned hotels, and are networked to supply personal information to the police.
“These cameras also feed data to powerful analytical software that can tell someone’s race, gender and whether they are wearing glasses or masks,” the report said. “All of this data is aggregated and stored on government servers.”
Other tools include the collection of DNA, iris scan samples and voice prints “collected indiscriminately from people with no connection to crime,” the report said.
Documents reveal that the Ministry of Public Security is working to better analyze the masses of data collected by the system.
— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.