Estimated Cost of US Nuclear Modernization Jumps 28 Percent

The Congressional Budget Office’s latest estimate puts the price tag at $634 billion as some lawmakers try to bring it back down.

BY PATRICK TUCKER | May 24, 2021

The estimated cost of replacing America’s nuclear bombers, missile submarines, and ICBMs just jumped again—from $315 billion in 2015 to $494 billion in 2019 and now to $634 billion, a 28 percent increase, according to a Congressional Budget Office report released Monday.

The report identifies a $140 billion increase in the cost of nuclear delivery systems and weapons, such as ICBMs, as the largest contributor to the jump. “Projected costs for command, control, communications, and early-warning systems have also increased substantially,” it says, adding that if full costs of B-52 and B-21 bombers were included, “the total costs of nuclear forces, with cost growth, would be $711 billion.”

It’s the second time CBO has raised their projections for the costs of modernizing U.S. nuclear forces.

Some lawmakers have balked at what they perceive as the steep price tag for modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has called for a debate specifically on the high cost of replacing the intercontinental leg of the triad. On Monday, he unveiled a new bill, dubbed the SANE act, to cut $73 billion from the U.S. nuclear weapons budget.

“The United States can deter our adversaries and reassure our allies without making an insane investment in nuclear weapons overkill, including capabilities that may invite, rather than prevent, a nuclear exchange,” he said in a statement. “We must bring the same energy in arresting the climate crisis to reducing another existential threat—that posed by nuclear weapons—and that begins with smart cuts to our nuclear arsenal.”

Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has expressed hope that new digital engineering processes would help suppress costs of building new weapons by reducing the need for some physical prototypes.

“We have got to make it more affordable,” Hyten told Defense One in April. He said he was working with weapons maker Northrop Grumman, the prime contractor on the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD, program, to bring down the cost. GBSD is the program to replace the aging Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.

CBO cautioned that the plans come with “substantial uncertainty,” as “future plans are not yet fully determined for some programs; and estimates of the costs of developing, producing, and operating weapon systems are uncertain even when the plans are fully determined.”

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