Before cost overruns, the US has plans for $1 trillion in nuclear force modernization over the next thirty years

According to a January 2015 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, the direct costs of the US administration’s plans for nuclear force modernization will total about $350 billion between fiscal 2015 and fiscal 2024. This is just the tip of the spending iceberg, as most of these modernization programs are still in the research and development phase. Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion, according to three separate independent estimates.

In addition to the Long Range Strike Bomber, the Pentagon’s plans to rebuild the “triad” of nuclear delivery systems over the next 20 years include nearly $140 billion to design and build a new fleet of ballistic missile submarines (Ohio Replacement Program), at least $62 billion on a replacement for the Minuteman III ICBM system, $20 billion to $30 billion on a new fleet of nuclear-capable Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCM), and additional tens of billions on improved nuclear command and control systems and refurbished nuclear warheads and their infrastructure.

After the nuclear force modernization, the United States would have a larger arsenal than President Obama says is needed for U.S. security.

Though the president and his military advisers have determined that the deployed strategic nuclear arsenal can be reduced by up to one-third below the 2010 U.S.-Russia New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) levels of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed strategic delivery systems, the proposed spending is based on maintaining the New START levels in perpetuity.

US keeps spending without prioritizing

Nuclear modernization costs are scheduled to peak during the 2020s and overlap with a large wave in projected spending on conventional weapon system modernization programs.

Prioritizing the nuclear mission could thus do serious damage to conventional capabilities and other national security programs. For example, the Navy is fretting that without supplemental funding from outside its budget, the cost to develop and build the next generation ballistic missile submarine (ORP) fleet will crater the rest of its shipbuilding budget. Advocates of the new bomber are also worried about funding the program.

The Pentagon can scale back or delay expensive new delivery systems and take a more disciplined approach to rebuilding nuclear warheads, as follows:

• Scale-back plans to replace the existing fleet of Ohio-class nuclear-armed submarines by buying eight boats instead of twelve (saves $16 billion over ten years);

• Delay plans for building new nuclear-capable bombers ($32 billion in savings);

• Cancel the air-launched cruise missile ($3 billion in savings);

• Scale-back the B61 bomb life extension program ($4 billion in savings);

• Refurbish existing land-based ballistic missiles rather than build an entirely new system ($16 billion in savings).

SOURCES – Breaking Defense,