The missile in question would launch from submarines such as the Virginia-class USS Texas (SSN 775).

The missile in question would launch from submarines such as the Virginia-class USS Texas (SSN 775). U.S. Navy / Kelley Stirling

Lawmakers Blast Acting Navy Secretary’s Defunding of Naval Nuclear Cruise Missile

Harker confirmed that he did not consult with Pentagon or military leaders on the planned nuclear missile.

Lawmakers on Tuesday blasted acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker’s decision to defund the planned nuclear sea-launched cruise missile in the 2023 budget, especially considering President Joe Biden’s meeting Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Do you realize the extent to which you have undermined President Biden and the United States in indicating that a weapons system that is nuclear is going to be unilaterally defunded without any negotiations or without receiving any concessions from Russia?” said Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Navy budget.

Harker ordered the missile program defunded with a single line in his June 4 memo to the Navy’s top civilian and military leaders about the 2023 program objective memorandum. No reason for the decision to defund the program was written into the memo. Last week, senators asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley about the memo; both said they had not been consulted on it.

The effort to develop a new missile that could launch a relatively small nuclear warhead from surface warships and attack submarines grew out of the  2018 Nuclear Posture Review, which said the new weapon would “provide a needed non-strategic regional presence” and “an arms control compliant response” to Russia’s violations of the  Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Ranking Member Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., asked Harker Tuesday why he wanted to cancel a program that has been determined necessary to deter China and Russia.

Harker replied that he had not cancelled the program, which is  funded in the 2022 budget request. Instead, he said, he was offering “initial guidance” for the 2023 budget. He said he removed the missile because the Biden administration is undertaking a new nuclear posture review, national defense strategy update, and a global posture review.

“I didn’t want anyone to assume that that would be in until we had further guidance from the nuclear posture review. Once that guidance comes, we’ll adjust accordingly,” he said.

Turner did not like Harker’s explanation. The lawyer and former mayor of Dayton, Ohio, suggested that the acting secretary’s accounting background had not prepared him to make such decisions. Harker confirmed that he had not consulted with anyone—such as Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday or Secretary Austin—about defunding the missile.

Harker agreed to provide the committee all documents, including reviews and analysis, that factored into the decisions made in his internal memo.