The battle lines are being drawn for what is expected to be the biggest clash over the Pentagon budget this year: whether to keep pursuing a new $100 billion replacement for the nuclear missiles now on standby across five western states.
The Air Force and its allies in Congress, think tanks and defense contractors are sharpening their arguments for why any delay or reversal in replacing the 400 Minuteman III missiles that were first deployed in 1970 would weaken the U.S. nuclear deterrent while Russia and China are updating or expanding their arsenals.
But progressive lawmakers and disarmament advocates are lobbying allies in the Biden administration for a pause in the program, arguing that holding off could save billions, considering that future arms control agreements might require fewer intercontinental ballistic missiles, if any at all.
The fate of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent contract, which was awarded to Northrop Grumman last year — along with new and refurbished warheads that will go with it — will prove to be an early test of whether the newly empowered progressive wing of the Democratic party can make significant inroads toward shrinking the nuclear weapons budget.
“It is the most contentious part of the modernization program and one most likely to take the most heat in the first phase of the attack,” said Franklin Miller, who oversaw the arms control portfolio on the National Security Council