Bombs Away: Weapon Systems That Biden Administration Could Curtail or Retire

Here are some of weapons that might be reviewed by the president-elect

By: Michael R. Gordon | Wall Street Journal

President-elect Joe Biden has said that he will reduce “excessive” expenditures on nuclear modernization. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2017 that the Pentagon’s plans for updating and sustaining the nuclear triad of air, sea and land-borne weapons would cost $1.2 trillion, and some lawmakers say the eventual cost might exceed $1.5 trillion. Here are some of the weapons that might be reviewed.

Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent

This next-generation land-based missile system is intended to replace the aging Minuteman-III intercontinental ballistic missiles and their supporting infrastructure. The cost to develop and procure the missile is close to $100 billion, not including the warhead. And when the expense of maintaining and operating the weapons into the 2070s is factored in, the estimated cost could reach $264 billion, the Pentagon says. Critics have urged that the program be deferred and efforts made to extend the life of the Minuteman-III missiles. Supporters say the U.S. needs a more modern ICBM force for the next 50 years.

Long-Range Standoff Weapon

This new air-launched cruise missile has drawn fire from critics who say it might raise the risk of accidental war because adversaries won’t immediately be able to tell if they are being attacked by a nuclear-tipped missile or a conventional variant. Supporters say that it would make the Air Force B-21 and B-52 bombers more effective and that the U.S. currently has an older nuclear-cruise missile on its bombers and wouldn’t be breaking new ground.

W76-2 Warhead

This warhead, which has an estimated yield of five to seven kilotons, has been mounted on Trident II missiles. It is intended to provide the Pentagon with more options in deterring an enemy attack. Critics say it might lower the threshold against the use of nuclear weapons, and Mr. Biden has said it isn’t needed. Supporters note that canceling it won’t save money as it is already deployed and it would make little sense to replace it with older, more destructive warheads with a yield of 100 kilotons or more.

Sea-Launched Cruise Missile

The U.S. decided to retire the last of its nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles in 2010. The Trump administration called for restoring this capability, but the missile hasn’t yet been developed. The Pentagon suggested it could be a bargaining chip in future arms talks, and Mr. Biden has said it isn’t needed.


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