After a truncated hearing season filled with furrowed brows, skepticism and hawkish posturing about leftover appropriations unspent, the House Armed Services Committee is authorizing even more funding than the National Nuclear Security Administration requested for fiscal year 2021 — and they’re not even cutting a submarine from the Navy to do it.
Committee staff made the stunning disclosures in a briefing Thursday with members of the Capitol Hill press corps.
As part of its version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, the House Armed Services Committee has authorized the civilian nuclear weapons agency to spend roughly $20 billion in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, and even to spend $50 million more than requested on nuclear nonproliferation programs.
Although House Appropriators have threatened not to follow through and actually provide the requested funding in a spending bill slated for markup July 10, just getting the 2021 request through both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees goes down as a coup for Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, administrator of semi-autonomous DoE branch.
Gordon-Hagerty championed the roughly 20% annual raise for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) from late last year to just before the COVID-19 lockdown, first going up against Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, who reportedly favored a smaller number, then beating the drum for the money in open forums on Capitol Hill.
The NNSA’s 2021 request gave some nuke wonks sticker shock, coming as it did after the agency predicted last year that it would need a roughly $17 billion budget for 2021. As first reported in the conservative publication The Dispatch, Gordon-Hagerty went to battle for the budget just authorized after yearlong internal NNSA study claimed the nuclear modernization program that started in 2016 was underfunded by more than $15 billion from 2020 to 2025.
As part of nuclear modernization programs, the NNSA is refurbishing the B61 nuclear gravity bomb, the W88 submarine launched ballistic missile warhead, and preparing refurbs for the W87 warhead will tip the Air Force’s next fleet of silo-based, intercontinental ballistic missiles, known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.
The civilian agency is also seeking $53 million for early work on the W93 warhead, which will be the first new nuclear warhead designed since the end of the Cold War. The missile tip, to be fitted on the successor to the submarine-launched Trident II D-5 ballistic missile, will be tucked into a brand new Mark 7 aeroshell the Navy will develop.
The NNSA is also working on a pair of plants, one at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and one at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., to make new plutonium pits: fissile nuclear weapon cores that trigger the fission chain reaction that provides nukes with their city-destroying explosive power.