January 7, 2014
The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) convened an event to release its latest report “The Trillion Dollar Nuclear Triad: US Strategic Nuclear Modernization Over the Next Thirty Years.” The report concludes that the United States will likely spend over $1 trillion during the next three decades to maintain its current nuclear arsenal and purchase their replacement systems. The necessary level of procurement spending, as a percentage of the defense budget, will peak at levels comparable to the Reagan-era build-up of nuclear forces.
To date, few senior officials from the White House or Department of Defense or in the Congress have publicly acknowledged or laid out the full scale of these costs to the American public. This lack of public debate will likely lead to sticker shock as the full cost of these programs come due, leading to budget cuts and program delays.
“The strategic and financial challenges facing our country are enormous,” said Jon Wolfsthal, CNS Deputy Director and former nuclear advisor to Vice President Joseph Biden. “Policy makers lack the basic information needed to make smart choices about our nuclear arsenal, putting both our deterrent and future reductions at risk.” The report cites particular concern over the pace of planned construction of strategic systems to replace systems that are set to retire starting in 2030. The United States plans, from 2024-29, to build five strategic submarines, 72 strategic bombers, and 240 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). This represents more delivery vehicles than the combined nuclear forces of China, the United Kingdom, and France. It is unclear that the industrial and management capabilities in the United States are capable of this production rate in times of budget constraint.
The report relies on the government’s own budget projections, including planned investments:
- $100 billion for 100 long-range strategic manned nuclear bombers. An additional $30-40 billion will be needed to provide the nuclear weapons and cruise missiles to be deployed on these airplanes. This includes some $45 billion in previously unacknowledged funds required to build the new airplane.
- $20-120 billion for a new generation of land based ICBMs. The highest end projection includes a few tens of billions of dollars to make new ICBMs mobile or implement other exotic basing schemes—a plan considered and rejected in the 1980s because of its extreme cost, but under consideration again according to Air Force solicitations.
- Some $350 billion in funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration for maintaining current and building more modern nuclear weapons. This averages over $11 billion per year, despite Congress’s refusal to provide more than $8 billion in any of the most recent budgets.