WASHINGTON: One of the most controversial new weapons in the US arsenal, the Long Range Standoff cruise missile (LRSO), meant to replace the Air Launched Cruise Missile, came under direct fire by a top Senate defense and intelligence lawmaker, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
The senior California senator holds seats both on the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee and the Senate Intelligence Committee and is respected on both sides of the aisle for her command of the facts. Why did she question Defense Secretary Jim Mattis so closely during a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing about a proposed nuclear weapon that, at first glance, seems to be a replacement of an existing system?
“I believe it is in fact a new nuclear weapon,” Feinstein told Mattis, saying much of what informed her opinion was classified. “It’s got features which concern me greatly. I don’t see it as an effective deterrent weapon. I see Russia taking action to counter it.” And, just to make sure Mattis understood she really did have a problem with its development, she added that LRSO’s “cost is going to be inordinate.”
LRSO is in the early stages of development, but it is already slated to get $451 million in 2018.
Of course, one lawmaker’s inordinate cost may be another’s irreplaceable deterrence tool. Mattis is not yet in either camp. Back in January, Mattis signaled he harbored doubts about the need for LRSO. “I need to look at that one.” he said then. “My going in position is that it makes sense, but I have to look at it in terms of its deterrence capability.”
Mattis’ position didn’t seem to have changed much five months later, but this administration has not completed its national security review so he appears to be still gathering information. One of our contributors, Rebeccah Heinrich, penned an op-ed on how Trump should handle the Russians on nuclear arms. Heinrich, an expert on missile defense and nuclear weapons affiliated with the Hudson Institute, said that when Mattis “receives his briefings on LRSO he’ll discover it will be critical for stealthily clearing the way for a bomber with great precision and low nuclear yields, and it can be launched from a safe distance.”
Mattis did seem to echo some of those arguments in his answer: “We’ve got to make sure the bombers can get through,” he told Feinstein. A central issue is “how can we keep the bomber survivable.”
Ironically, the Obama Administration, supposedly advocates of getting the US military down to zero nuclear weapons, voiced strong and consistent support for the LRSO.
There was one final and possibly revealing comment by Feinstein to Mattis about her concerns about the weapon, and I’m betting it comes very close to the classification red lines. “You will look at its range, as well as our ability to abort it?” she asked. The safe assumption is Mattis will.