Lamborn Signals Continuity in House, Tows Harder Nuclear Line With Focus on Space

Foreign Affairs

Washington: Doug Lamborn, the Colorado Republican who is expected to take over as chairman of the House strategic forces subcommittee next year, recently made clear that Space Force’s congressional overseers would continue their long-standing focus on space acquisition reform.

However, he also signalled a slightly harder line on the nuclear weapons issues for which the subcommittee also is responsible — for example, citing his “disagreement” with the Biden administration’s cancellation of the Navy’s nuclear Sea-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM-N) program.

During a conference sponsored by Politico, Lamborn said that with regard to space, he is “focusing on acquisition; we have to be faster and leaner.”

He further echoed the conventional wisdom within Congress, and more recently within the Space Force, that the military space architecture needs to move away from its current structure based on small numbers of large, highly capable satellites towards a more resilient one comprising large numbers of smaller satellites dispersed across various orbital regimes.

“Instead of the exquisite and expensive but vulnerable, huge satellites that do a lot of functions very exquisitely, we have to have, let’s say a constellation — a disaggregated array of smaller satellites that can do the same thing, but can be easily replaced if some of them are taken out in a conflict,” he said.

Lamborn noted that the shift in force design for military space should, in itself, help spur speedier acquisition and at the same time lower the enormous costs associated with current satellite systems.

“We need to continue the modernization that was begun under Barack Obama. I applaud him for this,” Lamborn said. “It’s taking some money, but these weapons are aging — some of the components aren’t even replaceable anymore because they’re old and obsolete.”

Stressing that the goal is not to build new weapons but upgrade the current arsenal, Lamborn said the key is keeping US nuclear forces reliable.

“We have a nuclear umbrella that about 30 countries depend on us for, and so reliability is a big issue for everyone, not to mention potential adversaries. We have to have that deterrence factor based on the reliability of our nuclear enterprise,” he said.

At the same time, Lamborn chided the Biden administration for its plan, codified in the recently released Nuclear Posture Review, to cancel SLCM, citing its usefulness as a middle rung on the nuclear escalation ladder and thus aid in deterring nuclear-armed adversaries.

“I think that that is a mid-range capability that we should at least have in our toolbox. If you have an all-or-nothing approach, that can lead to awkward situations,” he said. “Having a mid-approach, like a smaller yield nuclear cruise missile from a submarine, at least tells an adversary, ‘Okay, there’s more doubt about me getting what I want.’”

Lamborn said that he expects the ongoing House and Senate negotiations on the 2023 National Defence Authorization Act to end up with some research and development funds being authorized for the SLCM-N, but with a bar on spending towards making it operational.

The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the NDAA would give the Navy $45 million for the effort; their Senate counterparts slated $25 million. “That’s a good interim status,” he said.