Hillary Clinton 'Inclined To' Cancel Nuclear Cruise Missile

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As the Pentagon moves ahead with a trillion-dollar modernization of its nuclear arsenal, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton seems to be breaking with the Obama administration’s posture, signaling she might cancel a planned replacement of the legacy nuclear-tipped cruise missile.

Reports emerged this week that Clinton broke her silence on the administration’s planned modernization of strategic submarines, bombers and siloed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM ), expressing doubts during a February fundraiser about whether the U.S. should go forward with the overhaul.

“The last thing we need are sophisticated cruise missiles that are nuclear armed,” Clinton said, according to reports of an audio recording of the fundraiser that appeared on the website of The Washington Free Beacon.

During the event, Clinton was asked about the modernization effort and whether she, as president, would cancel the replacement for the legacy Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM),   dubbed the Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) weapon.

“I certainly would be inclined to do that,” she answered. “The last thing we need are sophisticated cruise missiles that are nuclear-armed.”

LRSO may be the most vulnerable piece of the Pentagon’s nuclear arsenal. In her opposition to the new cruise missile, which will arm Northrop Grumman’s B-2s and next-generation B-21 bombers, Clinton joins a chorus of dissenters from Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont to former defense secretary William Perry. Warren and Sanders, along with several other senators, called on Obama in July to cancel LRSO, saying it “would provide an unnecessary capability that could increase the risk of nuclear war.”

But with Russia and China’s own nuclear upgrades already in full swing, the Pentagon argues modernizing its geriatric arsenal is essential to deterring potential adversaries and maintaining peace.

In recent a visit to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, the home of Global Strike Command’s 5th Bomber Wing and 91st Missile Wing, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter called the U.S.’s nuclear deterrence force the "bedrock" of its security, and the Pentagon's No. 1 priority.

"The fact is, most of our nuclear weapon delivery systems have already been extended decades beyond their original expected service lives. So it's not a choice between replacing these platforms or keeping them — it's really a choice between replacing them or losing them," Carter said.

Meanwhile, Air Force nuclear weapons chief Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein recently argued that America’s nuclear triad has successfully prevented large-scale wars since World War II. 

“Between World War I and II, 75 million people were killed,” Weinstein said. “We have had skirmishes and we’ve had wars, but world powers are [no longer] fighting world powers, and I believe it’s because of a nuclear umbrella that exists and this balance of power we have among major states with nuclear weapons.”

In that vein, the Air Force recently launched competitions to replace the ALCM and the Minuteman III ICBMs, the land-based leg of the triad that could cost as much as $85 billion. Altogether, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the total cost of nuclear forces through 2024 at $348 billion; meanwhile, independent estimates have pegged the cost of maintaining and modernizing the nuclear arsenal at about $1 trillion over 30 years.

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