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Congress Agrees Low-Yield Nuclear Weapons Study

Congress Agrees to Let Pentagon Study Low-Yield Nuclear Weapons

(Congressional Report, May 23: Congress passes 2004 defense budget)

Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr. Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The U.S. Congress passed the $400.5 billion fiscal 2004 defense authorization bill that includes a provision authorizing research on two new types of nuclear weapons -- small, low-yield nuclear weapons of less than 5 kilotons, and earth-penetrating nuclear bombs that could destroy underground enemy facilities.

However, the nuclear weapons research provision in the budget authorization does not provide funding for development or production of either type of nuclear weapon system. The measure also includes a proviso that requires President Bush to seek congressional authority before ordering full-scale development of the new generation of battlefield nuclear weapons.

The annual defense spending package won Senate approval by a vote of 98 to 1 May 22, and approval the same day in the House of Representatives by a vote of 361 to 68. The legislation gives Bush nearly everything he sought as part of a steady and continuous build up of the U.S. armed forces and defense programs. The spending bill is part of the Bush administration's strategic vision for transforming the U.S. armed forces into a lighter, more agile, but ultimately more lethal fighting force.

The $400.5 billion defense authorization is slightly higher than President Bush's original request of $399 billion, but the higher figure reflects a new estimate of the request by the Congressional Budget Office, and most of the changes are considered technical in nature.

"This sends a strong signal throughout the world that we are unified in the war against terrorists. There are many provisions in this bill that go directly to our ability to fight terrorism whether it is abroad or here at home," Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, a Virginia Republican, said during debate.

House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, said that "with this legislation we continue our commitment to defend our homeland and take care of our military personnel. The legislation provides for today's defense needs while addressing tomorrow's threats and this strong bipartisan vote validates our belief in this approach."

He added that the bill strikes a balance between bolstering U.S. national security and modernizing existing U.S. forces while also investing in transformational capabilities. "The fact is, we are always evolving and transforming; the key is balancing short term risk with long term strategy," Hunter said.

The defense spending bills approved by the Senate and House May 22 authorize the approved amounts for defense spending, but separate appropriations measures will have to be approved for the programs and projects to be funded. While the bills are similar, several differences between them will have to be resolved by a congressional conference committee before a final bill wins passage in both houses and goes to the president for his signature. The fiscal year begins October 1.

The House and Senate measures contain approximately $75 billion in new spending to buy weapons and weapons systems, $114.6 billion for operations and maintenance, $9.6 billion for military construction and family base housing, $60 billion for defense research and development programs, and $9.1 billion for continued development of the ballistic missile defense program. The House measure also includes $1.2 billion for chemical and biological defense equipment and materials, and large increases for U.S. special operations forces, which are tied directly to supporting homeland security and fighting global terrorism.

The bills also authorize a 2005 base closure schedule, but require the Pentagon to eliminate half of the nation's military installations from consideration for closure.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said earlier in the week that Defense Department researchers want to study the use of two new types of nuclear weapons, but that does not mean the Pentagon is pursuing, developing, manufacturing or deploying such weapons.

"You make a study for a very simple reason: to learn whether you do believe that that is ... something that's needed, something that would be useful," he said at a Pentagon news media briefing. "And we're going to look at a variety of different ways -- conceivably -- to develop the ability to reach a deeply buried target."

At issue are two systems: low-yield nuclear weapons of 5 kilotons or less that Congress had banned in 1993; and high-yield, burrowing nuclear "bunker-busters" that target underground military facilities or arsenals. A comparable defense spending bill approved by the House would remove the ban on research but retain it for other steps in the process, and continue to fund the bunker-buster project.

Other provisions authorized in the defense spending measure are:

-- Military pay increases averaging 4.15 percent;

-- $9.1 billion for ballistic missile defense;

-- $181 million for developing chemical and biological weapon detection and protection technology;

-- $450 million to dismantle and eliminate weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union;

-- $1 billion for the Navy's next generation surface combat ship, currently identified as DD(X);

-- $3.2 billion for three DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers;

-- $1.5 billion for a sixth Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine;

-- $1 billion for unmanned aerial vehicles like those used in Afghanistan and Iraq;

-- $114 billion for key readiness accounts, including $29 billion for aircraft operations and flying hours;

-- $1 billion for drug interdiction activities by the U.S. military;

-- $3 billion for 42 advanced F/A-18 E and F versions of the Navy's combat aircraft;

-- $3.5 billion for 20 F/A-22 Raptor combat aircraft for the Air Force; and

-- $4.4 billion for the development of a joint strike fighter.

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