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​An unarmed AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missile is released from a B-52H Stratofortress Sept. 22, 2014, over the Utah Test and Training Range during a Nuclear Weapons System Evaluation Program sortie. Air Force photo by SSgt. Roidan Carlson.

—Brian Everstine

Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday would not commit to recapitalizing the Air Force’s Air-Launched Cruise Missile inventory, and said he is reviewing all legs of the triad to determine the most effective, and cost-conscious, nuclear deterrent.

The Pentagon is in the middle of a “nuclear posture review” to determine the future of the nuclear mission, and find the most “compelling” deterrent to “make certain these weapons are never used,” Mattis said Wednesday during a Senate Appropriations Committee defense panel hearing.

Mattis this week spoke with former Defense Secretary William Perry, an advocate for scrapping the Air Force’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile fleet, and NATO deputy secretary general Rose Gottemoeller, who previously served as the under secretary of state for arms control, to “start from a position of knowledge” on the military’s nuclear forces.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) questioned Mattis on the need for the Air Force’s proposed long-range standoff weapon, which would replace the service’s AGM-86B air-launched cruise missile. She said the Pentagon is looking at a price tag of $1.2 trillion to recapitalize and update the entire nuclear community, but has not yet prioritized which weapons systems should get funding first, or the impact a new nuclear cruise missile could have on tenuous agreements with Russia.

Mattis said he “registers loud and clear” that the weapon could be destabilizing and cause an arms race with Russia. However, the Pentagon also needs to look at how it can keep the nuclear bomber fleet “survivable” and whether standoff weapons are needed.

Mattis told lawmakers the posture review is looking at possible Russian violations of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty and the impact if that country decides to leave the Open Skies Treaty.

The Pentagon on April kicked off the nuclear posture review, with a report due to the President by the end of the year.