Chief of Naval Operations Reaffirms Support for SLCM-N

At a hearing today, U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the top Republican on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, questioned senior U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps leaders about the Sea-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) program and the Navy’s industrial base strategy.

During the hearing, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Lisa Franchetti once again publicly endorsed the SLCM program, which the Biden administration has attempted to cancel multiple times. Senator Fischer secured a provision in the Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act(NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 that establishes a program of record for SLCM.

Amid Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, Senator Fischer also pressed Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro on concerns about higher-than-expected levels of weapon attrition and the need to more heavily invest in directed energy weapons to lower the cost per shot.

Click the image above to watch a video of Sen. Fischer’s questioning

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On the Need for the Sea-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) Program:

Senator Fischer: 
I do share the concerns of many of my colleagues about the Navy's performance across the board and whether it's adhering to the FY24 NDAA. Last year, after months of hearings and briefings on known capability gaps in our nuclear deterrent, this committee determined that SLCM-N was the best option to fill this capability gap. In the FY24 NDAA, Congress, on a bipartisan and bicameral basis, formally established a program of record for SLCM-N and appropriated significant funding to NNSA to develop the warhead and to the Navy to develop the missile itself. Admiral, during your nomination hearing last September, you testified before this committee that the Nuclear Armed Sea Launch Cruise Missile is "a tailored option that the President should have." Do you still agree with this statement?

Admiral Franchetti: 
Yes, I do. 

On the Navy’s Failure to Request Funding for SLCM:

Senator Fischer: 
Mr. Secretary and Admiral, I am deeply concerned that the Navy did not request any funding for SLCM-N in their base budget or in the Navy's unfunded priorities list letter. This is a stark contrast to NNSA, which did include a robust funding request for development of the SLCM-N, the warhead in their unfunded priorities list. Although the production decision remains years away, let me be clear: we expect the Navy to take all actions necessary to develop this missile so that if, if a decision is made to move to production, we can do so without delay. And I expect to see this program included in your base budgets moving forward.

On the Importance of Bolstering Domestic Production:

Senator Fischer: 
For the first time since World War II, to shift gears here, we have Navy ships continuously operating inside the weapon engagement zone of enemy forces. On a near daily basis, we're expending significant, highly capable, and expensive munitions to defend against low-cost missiles and drones. Mr. Secretary, we just heard concerns from Senator King. And, you know, those concerns come from others as well — that we need to be investing more in directed energy so that we can get on the better side when it comes to the cost-per-shot curve. But I am also concerned about our ability to reconstitute the missiles that we're expending right now. So, Mr. Secretary, how's the Navy reconsidering its industrial base strategy to account for higher-than-expected levels of munition or weapon attrition? 

Secretary Carlos Del Toro: Well, first and foremost, Senator, thank you for your support of our Navy and Marine Corps. And I know how deeply passionate you are around these issues. We, just in the Red Sea over the course last six and a half months, have expended close to $1 billion in missiles: SM-2s, SM-6s, SM-3s. And thank you for the authorities that you provided us in FY24, for example, for multi-year procurements for missile systems. We actually are starting to make progress now working with the industrial base. Both the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment and myself have been working with industry. And those production rates are actually starting to come up now, so that we actually will see some increases in SM-2 and SM-6 productions. Obviously, the more sophisticated the missile, the harder it is to produce them. But nevertheless, we are starting to see some progress being made in the production base.

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