The modern costs of the yesteryear bomb

The B61 is a rock in the shoe of our national security establishment. General James Cartwright, former vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted of these bombs, “Their military utility is practically nil.”  He added, “They do not have assigned missions as a part of any war plan.”  The United Stated maintains about 180 B61 nuclear bombs in Europe, initially deployed to prevent a land invasion by the Soviet Union, a threat that has long since disappeared.  Two decades after the Berlin Wall fell, America has been left footing the bill for overhauling these weapons that fight the ghosts of Khrushchev but have no strategic value to our troops in harm’s way.

At the same time, many defense programs -- programs that are critical to national security -- are facing severe budget cuts and competing for dollars.  As former Secretary of State Colin Powell has said, “[Nuclear weapons] are expensive.  They take away from soldier pay…  They take away from lots of things.  There is no incentive to keep more than you believe you need for the security of the nation.” 

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For the cost of upgrading the B61 this year alone, we could avoid cutting back pay raises for our troops and still have money to spare.  We’d be wise to use some of that savings to support the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which has a track record of locking down loose nuclear materials worldwide so they do not fall into the wrong hands.  Down the road, we can use savings to alleviate the automatic budget cuts that affect the services provided to our troops and veterans. 

Sadly, while important programs that support our troops continue to be slashed, the B61’s budget has grown.  Two years ago, the program was estimated to cost about $4 billion. Since then, the estimate has increased to over $10 billion. 

As the defense budget bill moves through Congress in the coming days, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D- Ohio) can ensure that taxpayer dollars are well spent. Kaptur should continue her strong commitment to national security by asking tough questions about the B61 and ensuring that the spending bills her committee approves eliminate this unnecessary nuclear program.

The world has moved on since the end of the Cold War.  So has the American public – and so should Congress.  In tight budget times, there are modern costs to supporting the unnecessary weapons of yesteryear.  Eliminating Cold War relics like the B61 and investing instead in tools that support our troops and address 21st century security challenges are  vital steps to ensure America’s strength in a new age.  Not doing so would be a terrible and disappointing failure of leadership.   

Pillich (D) is an Ohio State Representative and a former Air Force officer.  She is the ranking member on the Ohio House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.