Biden administration to scrap nuclear cruise missile program
Officials determined new weapon not needed to maintain nuclear deterrence
The Biden administration is returning to the position of the last Democratic president, Barack Obama, who called for a “world without nuclear weapons.” © Reuters
RYO NAKAMURA, Nikkei staff writerApril 4, 2022 17:50 JST
WASHINGTON — The U.S. has decided to discontinue development of a new nuclear cruise missile, Nikkei has learned.
The administration of former President Donald Trump had laid out plans to develop the new weapon to enhance U.S. nuclear capabilities.
The Biden administration, however, determined that the U.S. not only maintained sufficient capability to deter Russia and China without the new missile, but also could add momentum to the flagging nuclear disarmament movement by scrapping the cruise missile project.
A senior defense official told Nikkei that plans for the new missile had been withdrawn. The U.S. Defense Department will release its full “Nuclear Posture Review,” a set of guidelines for nuclear weapons policy, perhaps as early as the end of this month.
The focus of the review has been how the U.S. would handle development of sea-launched nuclear cruise missiles and low-yield nuclear warheads with less explosive power. Both were pursued by the Trump administration to deter Russia and China and are intended to be installed primarily on submarines. The weapons are intended for use in limited attacks on enemy military bases or critical facilities, rather than major strikes on urban centers.
The senior official said the U.S. maintains a diverse nuclear force to deter the limited use of nuclear weapons by its adversaries. “The U.S. government considered a variety of regional deterrence contingencies as part of the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review. As part of the analysis, the review affirmed the need to deter limited nuclear use by adversaries. The United States applies tailored deterrence strategies, and maintains a variety of nuclear capabilities to address this need,” the official said.
However, the U.S. will continue to deploy low-yield nuclear warheads to deter China and Russia, according to another person with knowledge of the Nuclear Posture Review. The U.S. Navy has fielded low-yield nuclear weapons on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) by early 2020.
The senior Pentagon official said nuclear cruise missile development will be suspended, partly because a low-yield nuclear warhead equipped with SLBM provides sufficient deterrence. “Given the deterrence contribution of the W76-2 SLBM warhead [a low-yield warhead] and other capabilities, and its estimated cost in light of other nuclear modernization and defense priorities, the SLCM-N [a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile] program was canceled,” the official added.
The statement indicated the Biden administration believes that if it continues to deploy a low-yield nuclear warhead to SLBM, it can maintain adequate deterrence without developing new nuclear cruise missiles.
In freezing development of the weapon, the Biden administration is showing its aspiration to return to the ideals of the last Democratic president, Barack Obama, who called for a “world without nuclear weapons.” Obama announced in 2010 that he would scrap the nuclear cruise missile to provide leadership in global nuclear disarmament. Trump, a Republican, declared in 2018 that the government would resume development of the missile, aiming to deploy it by around 2030.
The path to a nuclear-free world has become increasingly fraught in recent years. China is enhancing its nuclear capabilities, and Russia has not ruled out the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The U.S. administration has also prioritized maintaining deterrence, foregoing the idea of a “sole purpose” policy regarding nuclear weapons, which would limit the use of nuclear weapon to retaliation against nuclear attacks.