Kendall: Current Strategic Forces Modernization Plans Unaffordable Without Topline Relief
Posted: April 14, 2015
The Pentagon's top weapons buyer has declared current Air Force and Navy strategic forces modernization plans unaffordable, unless the Defense Department can secure an additional $10 billion to $12 billion annually beginning in 2021, a monumental bill confounding DOD leaders who aim to begin budgeting for a new bomber and submarine in the fiscal year 2017 budget that is now being drafted.
Near-simultaneous plans to develop and buy the Ohio-class replacement submarine, a new long-range strike bomber, a new intercontinental ballistic missile, a new nuclear-armed cruise missile as well as modernize nuclear weapons for these platforms are estimated to significant ly exceed currently forecasted defense budgets.
"We have a problem with recapitalizing the strategic deterrent," Kendall told an audience at the Sea-Air-Space Expo in National Harbor, MD, on April 14, adding that the funding challenge becomes acute in FY-21 when the Navy is due to pay for the first boat in the new strategic deterrence submarine program.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently directed a team to review Air Force and Navy strategic forces modernization plans with an eye toward scrutinizing whether the estimated program costs might be pared back.
"The secretary has commissioned a group -- a strategic portfolio review -- to look at ways we can address that problem," Kendall said. "I frankly think the only way we can address it and keep the force structure and the Department of Defense t hat we would like to have is with higher budgets."
Total DOD spending on strategic forces in FY-16 is nearly $12 billion, set to increase to $14.5 billion annually in FY-17 and FY-18; increase again to $16.6 billion in FY-19 and then dip to $14.9 billion in FY-20, according to the National Defense Budget Estimates For FY-16, published last month.
In a January report on the projected costs of DOD's nuclear forces from 2015 to 2024, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that spending on bombers, ICMBs and submarines would jump to $18.2 billion in FY-21, $20.2 billion in FY-22, $17.7 billion in FY-23 and $18.6 billion in FY-24.
Kendall said he does not see "any magic solution that is going to help us" find a way to buy the Air Force and Navy programs through new internal efficiencies or improved management.
"It is quite clear you can't pay for all those things just out of the strategic deterrence account," Kendall said. "And it's quite clear that in the case of the Ohio Replacement, you can't pay just out of the shipbuilding account. So we do have a huge affordability problem with that basket of systems. It is starting to poke itself into the [future years defense plan] -- the five-year plan now. And we're trying to address it."
The only plausible options for proceeding without a substantial budget increase involve "radical policy changes" such as eliminating one leg of the nuclear triad -- a move that "would help significantly" with the projected bills, "but not eliminate it," Kendall added.
"So it is a problem that we are going to have to face up to,” he said. "My view is that the country can afford that; it has to make a choice to afford it. And that's the debate that we're going to have to have over the next few years as we get closer to 2021," Kendall said. -- Jason Sherman