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The future of the sea-based nuclear cruise missile program

   In March 2022, the U.S. Department of Defense canceled funding for the development of sea-based nuclear cruise missiles in its fiscal 2023 budget request. This is an important change in the nuclear force development of the Biden administration relative to the Trump administration, which reflects the different policy concepts and strategic considerations of the Biden administration.

  Sea-based nuclear cruise missiles are launched from ships with rocket boosters, relying on jet engine thrust and wing aerodynamic lift to fly in a dense atmosphere in a cruise state and carry nuclear warheads. The earliest sea-based nuclear cruise missile in the United States was the Tiens nuclear cruise missile with a range of 925 kilometers, which was deployed from 1955 to 1964. The second is the Tomahawk nuclear cruise missile with a range of 2,500 kilometers, which entered service in 1984. In 1992, according to President Bush's "Presidential Nuclear Initiative", all Tomahawk nuclear cruise missiles were withdrawn from ships and returned to the continental United States, and were no longer deployed in actual combat. In 2010, the Obama administration decided to retire all Tomahawk nuclear cruise missiles, and the decommissioning was completed in 2013. In 2018, the Trump administration proposed the development of new sea-based nuclear cruise missiles, and applied for funding to carry out research on options in the 2019-2021 fiscal year defense budget.

  The reason why the Biden administration canceled the development of sea-based nuclear cruise missiles is mainly due to strategic, arms control, military, cost and other considerations.

  In terms of strategy, unlike the Republican government that relies more on military capacity building, the Democratic government will, to some extent, emphasize dialogue and cooperation while maintaining the absolute military superiority of the United States. The U.S. Department of Defense’s note on the latest Nuclear Posture Review report asserts that the U.S. takes an integrated and balanced approach to nuclear strategy, nuclear policy, nuclear posture, and nuclear forces, emphasizing strategic stability and, where possible, promoting nuclear reduction through cooperation Danger. In May 2022, Hrubi, director of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for nuclear weapons research and development and inventory management, said at a U.S. congressional hearing that he is willing to discuss non-proliferation and other issues with China to strengthen strategic stability. The development of sea-based nuclear cruise missiles is generally considered to lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, which is likely to lead to limited use of nuclear weapons, which is not conducive to strategic stability.

  In terms of arms control, as a Democratic administration, Biden is trying to restore the international leadership of the United States in arms control, with a view to reshaping the image of the United States as a responsible nuclear power. Although the Biden administration still invests tens of billions of dollars every year to continue the renewal of the Trinity nuclear force, it still strives to show that it inherits the basic ideas of the Democratic Party during the Clinton and Obama administrations, and emphasizes reducing the role of nuclear weapons in national security. One is to cancel the development of sea-based nuclear cruise missiles. The Biden administration has also arranged for some professionals who support arms control to enter important positions in the nuclear field of the US government. Such as the appointment of Ambassador Jenkins, who supports the "no first use" policy, as the State Department's undersecretary for arms control and international security, and the appointment of Sasha Baker, the national security adviser of progressive Senator Warren, who supports the "no first use" policy, as the Department of Defense. Deputy Under Secretary for Policy, appointed Leonor Tomello, head of nuclear nonproliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, and Richard Johnson, head of nuclear and missile defense policy at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, leads the Department of Defense's nuclear policy development and nuclear posture review. It is these professionals who tend to support arms control that enabled the Biden administration to make the decision to cancel the development of sea-based nuclear cruise missiles.

  In terms of military, the Navy believes that the development of sea-based nuclear cruise missiles will bring difficulties to the Navy in terms of funding allocation and logistics operations. Although U.S. defense spending has grown in recent years, the Navy has always faced the problem of allocating funds between nuclear and conventional weapons. At present, with full support for the development of Columbia-class nuclear submarines and the life extension of the Trident D5 missile, the Navy believes that it can no longer support the development of sea-based nuclear cruise missiles. In addition, if a ship carries nuclear weapons, it needs to take strict security measures. In the past, the Marine Corps would deploy special security units to protect warheads, and ships carrying nuclear weapons would face restrictions when visiting ports, because many countries prohibit ships carrying nuclear weapons from visiting their ports. .

  In terms of cost, as US Secretary of Defense Austin said, the marginal value brought by the development of sea-based nuclear cruise missiles is much lower than its cost. The United States has deployed low-power submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads, and the new air-launched nuclear cruise missile LRSO and the new precision-guided nuclear bomb B61-12 are also entering mass production. Under this circumstance, the Biden administration's cancellation of the sea-based nuclear cruise missiles, which are still in the initial concept research stage, has little effect on the nuclear deterrence capability of the United States. and other benefits.

  However, the cancellation of the Biden administration's plan to develop sea-based nuclear cruise missiles was also opposed by some senior US military leaders and several members of Congress. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Milley, Vice Chairman Grady, European Command Commander Walters and Strategic Command Commander Richard all support the continuation of the plan. The opinions of senior military leaders are also supported by Republican leaders and some Democrats on the Armed Services Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives. In this case, the possibility that Congress will continue to fund the program cannot be ruled out.



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