Within just a few years, the estimated cost of GBSD skyrocketed from $62 billion to $85 billion to $150 billion, and is now likely to be even higher.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused daily life to grind to a halt, it has had little effect on the military-industrial complex––which, incredibly, appears to be speeding up.
Late last week, the Air Force revealed that it was considering awarding one of its most important contracts––the massive Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract for the next generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles––even earlier than expected, in an attempt to lock the program in as soon as possible.
This news comes only two months after the release of the President’s FY21 budget request, which also raised eyebrows given the dramatic increase to the nuclear weapons budget––and particularly, the tripling of the ICBM budget.
This budget bump for the ICBM program––formally known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent––was always scheduled to begin this summer. However, those concerned about the ballooning nuclear budget had hoped that this phase of the GBSD program would be postponed––not sped up––for several critical reasons.
The primary factor is the ballooning cost of the program. Within just a few years, the estimated cost of GBSD skyrocketed from $62 billion to $85 billion to $150 billion, and is now likely to be even higher. After Boeing BA abruptly walked away from the competition last year amid allegations that the Air Force was playing favorites, Northrop Grumman NOC now remains the only bidder for the EMD contract. For a program of this size, a sole-source competition is unprecedented, and will almost certainly increase the cost of the eventual contract.
This dramatic cost increase will necessarily mean that more pressing priorities will need to be cut from present and future budgets. This year’s budget request appears to have diverted approximately $1.6 billion from the Navy to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)––forcing the Navy to scrap one of their Virginia-class submarines. The boost in NNSA funding is directly tied to the GBSD program, as the agency claims that it needs the money in order to produce the plutonium pits required to arm the new ICBM. During a fiery budget hearing in late February, Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) asked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff whether cutting a submarine to fulfill the NNSA’s request is “good prioritization,” and he responded, “No, it is not.”