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Biden Admin Scraps Sea-Launched Nuclear Missile Over Military Objections

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A Trump-era project focused on the Russian threat

The Pentagon is seen from the air in Washington, United States, March 3, 2022, more than a week after Russia invaded Ukraine. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Reuters • October 27, 2022 1:25 p.m.

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will stop developing nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles, according to Pentagon documents released on Thursday, despite top military officials publicly recommending keeping them.

The decision to cancel the submarine-launched cruise missile could help President Joe Biden respond to calls from his fellow Democrats to reduce America’s nuclear arsenal without sacrificing major components of his nuclear ‘triad’ of intercontinental ballistic missiles ground-based nuclear-tipped, nuclear-capable missile-bomber planes and submarine-launched nuclear weapons.

However, it’s unclear whether Congress, which could come under Republican control after next month’s election, will resist efforts to remove it.

The Biden administration released three documents on Thursday: the national defense strategy, the nuclear posture review and the missile defense review. Together, they set the military’s priorities for the coming years and stressed that Washington would maintain “a very high bar for nuclear employment.”

Under President Donald Trump’s administration, the military made the decision in 2018 to develop a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile, with a focus on the Russian threat.

But the Biden administration said in its review that the Sea-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM-N) program was unnecessary and would be canceled because the United States already had the “means to deter limited use of the nuclear”.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters that the military did not need the SLCM-N because there was already enough capability in the nuclear inventory.

“I don’t think that sends a message to Putin. He understands what our capability is,” Austin said when asked if scrapping would send a dangerous message to Russia and China.

In April, top US general Mark Milley told lawmakers that his position on SLCM-N had not changed and that he believed several options were needed.

Asked if any military officials had recommended canceling SLCM-N, a senior US defense official told a briefing that “everyone has been heard”. The official added that the program had been abandoned because even if it had been fully funded, the missiles would not be ready until 2035.

“As things stand, there is no need to develop SLCM-N,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

One of the Trump administration programs that Biden is keeping is the W76-2 low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile, which the Pentagon deployed in 2020 to deal with potential Russian use of weapons. nuclear tactics on a similar scale, of the kind that Moscow has threatened to use in Ukraine to save its war there.

Despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments about using nuclear weapons to defend Russia, US officials say they have not seen any indications that Moscow is preparing to use them.

Putin observed Russian strategic nuclear forces drills on Wednesday, the Kremlin said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Chris Reese)

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