What are we building?
The United States is planning to spend up to $1 trillion to maintain and overhaul its nuclear arsenal by rebuilding each leg of the nuclear triad and aspects of its accompanying infrastructure. The plans include, but are not limited to, a new nuclear cruise missile, a modified gravity bomb, a new long range strike bomber, a new set of ballistic missile submarines, a revitalized set of ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and accompanying warheads for each delivery system.
Plans to maintain and update the United States nuclear arsenal are expected to cost the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) $9.2 billion in 2017 alone. This money is specifically geared for weapons activities, including modifications and life extension programs for nuclear warheads. The Pentagon also requested more than $3 billion to strengthen the triad’s delivery systems, including warplanes and submarines.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work has asserted that it will cost about $18 billion a year between 2021 and 2035 to maintain and modernize the nuclear arsenal. Based on standard Pentagon estimates, these numbers do not account for cost overruns and are likely too low. Many analysts expect the full price of nuclear modernization and maintenance to near $700 billion by 2039 and total up to $1 trillion over 30 years.
|Leg of the Triad||Weapon||Plan||Estimated Request||FY17 Request||Overall Cost Estimate|
|Long Range Standoff Weapon (Cruise Missile)||
|1,000-1,100||$95.6 million||$20-30 billion|
|B-21 (Long Range Strike Bomber)||New||80-100||$1.35 billion||$60-80 billion|
|B61-12 (Gravity Bomb)||Modification||400-500||$137.9 million||$7-10 billion|
|W80-4 (Warhead)||Life Extension||N/A||$220.3 million||$7-10 billion|
|SSBN-X (Nuclear Submarine)||New||12||$1.86 billion||$139 billion|
|Trident II (Missile)||Modification||N/A||$1.22 billion||$6 billion|
|W88 (Warhead)||Life Extension||N/A||$281.3 million||$3-4 billion|
|W76-1 (Warhead)||Life Extension||N/A||$222.9 million||$3-4 billion|
|Land+ Sea||Interoperable Warheads (IW 1-3)||Modification||N/A||N/A||
|Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD)||
|$113.9 million||$62-85 billion|
*Selected major portions of nuclear weapons modernization
Pentagon acquisitions chief Frank Kendall has cited a “huge affordability problem” across all three legs of the nuclear triad. According to the National Defense Panel’s Quadrennial Defense Review, concurrent improvements may come at the cost of conventional forces.
Meanwhile, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Brian McKeon, has stated, “We’re looking at that big bow wave and wondering how the heck we’re going to pay for it, and probably thanking our stars we won’t be here to have to answer the question.”
Sources: National Defense Panel, National Nuclear Security Administration, Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, Defense News, United States Navy, United States Air Force