There’s a new nuclear weapon that’s intended to lower the threshold for nuclear war: the “W76-2” warhead, a.k.a. the “easy-fire nuke.” This weapon has been branded rather euphemistically as a more “usable” nuclear weapon—meaning it has an even greater risk of being actually launched in a nuclear strike, with all the catastrophic damage to human life that that entails. That’s certainly what the Trump administration wants potential adversaries to believe: that we would actually use this warhead in conflict.
Thankfully, we have champions in Congress who are working hard to prevent deployment of such a dangerous, “usable,” warfighting nuclear weapon. Representative Adam Smith (WA), the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), has expressed determination to prevent the W76-2 from being deployed. (Smith is pictured with Washington PSR members)
Here’s what’s happening, and what you need to know:
In House Appropriations: The Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Pete Visclosky (D-IN) zeroed out $19.6 million Trump requested to support the W76-2 low-yield nuclear weapon. The Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), eliminated $10 million of Energy & Water funding Trump requested for the low-yield warhead.
On May 21, the full House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Nita Lowey (D-NY) passed both the FY 2020 Defense Appropriations and FY 2020 Energy and Water Appropriations on a party line vote.
As expected, on June 18, during House Floor debate over the Defense Appropriations bill, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) offered an amendment to reinstate $19.6 million for the low yield nuclear weapon into the budget. This was soundly defeated on a vote of 192 to 236. Therefore, the House Defense Appropriations budget contains no money for deploying the low yield weapon. House Appropriations also excludes research and development spending for any weapon that would violate the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
In House Authorizations: Rep. Cooper (D-TN,) Chair of the HASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee, zeroed out funding for the easy fire nuke from his draft budget, (also known as the “Chairman’s Mark.”) This drew a sharp rebuke from Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Ranking Member of the HASC and Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH,) Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.
Then, on June 4, Representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Turner offered an amendment to put funding for the low-yield warhead (and some other items) back into the budget, but they were defeated on a 10 to 8 party line vote. Funding for the low-yield warhead remained at zero.
On June 12, the full House Armed Services Committee debated amendments and at the urging of Chairman Smith, as well as PSR and our partner organizations, 100 percent of the HASC Democrats voted against Rep. Liz Cheney’s amendment to re-add funding Trump had requested for the Trident “low yield” nuclear warhead.
Now, the House package of appropriations bills and the House fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) ALL have zero funding for the low yield warhead included.
Chairman Smith expects that the House Defense Authorization bill will be considered by the full House in July. At that point, PSR will be on the lookout for amendments to put funding for the W76-2 back into the budget, which we will need to vigorously oppose.
Congress needs to hear from constituents like you: it is critical that the FY 2020 budget does not fund easy-fire nuclear weapons.
So what’s wrong with smaller nuclear weapons? Smaller MIGHT be better if the easy fire nuke was small. It’s not. Don’t let the term “low yield” fool you. The actual explosive yield of the W76-2 is secret, but experts estimate it at 5 to 7 ‘kilotons’—powerful enough to wipe out entire towns and cities in moments. At minimum the bomb is 1/3rd the yield of the bomb that flattened Hiroshima. That is 455 times more powerful than the largest conventional weapon in the US arsenal, the ten-ton GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), also known as the “Mother of All Bombs,” which was only used once in combat, in April 2017 in Afghanistan. Remember the Oklahoma City bomb detonated by Timothy McVeigh in 1995 that killed 168 people? The “easy-fire” nuke is 2,000 times more powerful than that bomb.