Turner asks Austin to rescind Navy memo suggesting SLCM-N defunding

By Aidan Quigley / June 24, 2021 at 10:59 AM

House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee Ranking Member Michael Turner (R-OH) is calling on Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to cancel a Navy memo that states the service should defund the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile development efforts.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker, in a June 4 fiscal guidance for the fiscal year 2023 budget process, called for the service to stop funding the SLCM-N effort. Republicans criticized Harker's suggestion during a House Armed Services Committee meeting last week, arguing that stopping the SLCM-N program would set back the country's nuclear deterrence efforts.

In a June 22 letter to Austin, Turner wrote that Harker's decision is counter to statements supportive of the SLCM-N by U.S. Strategic Command head Adm. Charles Richard and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday.

"Both you and the [chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] have reaffirmed that the Department's top priority is nuclear modernization," Turner wrote. "While Russia and China continue to build the capacity and capability of their nuclear arms, it has never been more important for us to maintain and modernize our nuclear deterrent."

Turner wrote the memo should be rescinded as the Navy is currently wrapping up a SLCM-N analysis of alternatives and plans to start a nuclear posture review soon. Also, Navy Secretary nominee Carlos del Toro is soon to go through the Senate confirmation process.

Harker said during the hearing last week that the memo was preliminary and reflects the fact the nuclear posture review and National Defense Strategy update have not been completed.

"I didn't want anyone to assume that that would be in, until we had further guidance from the nuclear posture review," Harker said. "Once that guidance comes, we will adjust accordingly."

Some Democratic lawmakers do not believe that a nuclear SLCM is necessary, as Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced a bill in March to stop research and development, production and deployment of such a missile.

Van Hollen said in a statement at the time the effort to revive the SLCM is "reckless, costly and unnecessary."

The Navy asked for $5.2 million in its FY-22 budget request to start design and development work on the program.