While congressional attention is focused on strategic nuclear programs such as the MX intercontinental missile, the three military services are seeking authority for a handful of smaller nuclear weapons.
Among the new nuclear devices in next year's Pentagon spending bill, now before the House, are 155-mm artillery shells, antisubmarine torpedoes, ship-to-air antiaircraft missiles, small demolition mines that could be carried by troops and tactical aircraft-to-surface missiles.
In addition, the Navy told Congress earlier this year that it will expand its nuclear warfare capabilities by "hardening our ships and aircraft against the effect of nuclear weapons." The new Navy view -- that a nuclear war could be contained at sea -- reverses past policy, according to congressional aides.
These programs come on top of the largest U.S. nuclear weapons building program in almost 30 years.
Already included in next year's $4.6 billion Department of Energy weapons program are production funds for D61 tactical bombs; Trident I submarine-launched missile warheads; MX ICBM warheads; B83 strategic bombs; ground-launched, sea-launched and air-launched cruise missiles; Pershing II missile warheads, and final production of 8-inch artillery shells. The budget also contains money to improve already-deployed Poseidon ICBM warheads and development money for the new Trident II and Midgetman ICBM warheads.
Several of the proposed nonstrategic weapons are modern versions of nuclear systems developed in the 1950s.
Two of the proposed systems were voted down in the past year by Congress: the Army's nuclear 155-mm shell and the Navy's Standard (SM2) missile, a nuclear-tipped version of its ship-to-air missile designed to shoot down incoming bombers or cruise missiles.
Funds for the SM2 had been rejected primarily because the Navy has been unable to explain how it would get presidential authority to release the nuclear weapons for use in the event of an air attack.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) is expected to offer an amendment in the House to cut funds for both the SM2 and the 155-mm nuclear shell.
As part of an eight-year fight over the need for modernizing U.S. nuclear artillery, Congress limited the Army last year to 925 nuclear artillery shells at a cost of $1.1 billion. These will eventually replace 3,000 8-inch and 155-mm nuclear shells stockpiled since the mid-1950s in West Germany and the United States.
More than 300 new 8-inch neutron artillery shells have been produced and are stored in this country since West Germany and other NATO countries have refused to permit them on their territory.
The Navy's proposed sub-launched nuclear torpedo is designed to kill enemy submarines and is to replace an older system, the Subroc, which is launched under water, flies in the air and drops back into the water as a depth charge. The new warhead has been ready for production for years, but the Navy has not pushed for it until this year.