Last week I debuted as a regular columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. I wrote my first column on the implications of the Supercommitee’s failure for U.S. nuclear weapons policy. Here’s a taste:
Fortunately, scaling back plans for new and excessively large strategic nuclear weapons systems and warhead production facilities makes both strategic and economic sense. While a fiscal crisis should not determine strategy, the threat of sequestration provides a long overdue opportunity to re-examine the outdated assumptions that require the United States to maintain approximately 5,000 nuclear weapons nearly 20 years after the end of the Cold War. The price tag is not only unaffordable given today’s budgetary constraints; it prevents the Pentagon from putting scarce resources toward higher priority programs that address 21st-century threats.
In the article I make the argument that by fundamentally revising U.S. nuclear deterrence requirements, the U.S. could save billions (even over the next decade) largely because there would no longer be a requirement to build as many new delivery systems as currently planned.
As an example, I described how the U.S. could still maintain a devastating deterrent in a more fiscally sustainable manner by building eight Ohio-class replacement submarines instead of 12 as currently planned.
According to a November 14 letter sent by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to Sens. McCain and Graham, delaying procurement of the new sub and reducing the buy from 12 to 10 subs would save $7 billion over the next decade. Some NGO experts suggest that reducing the buy from 12 to 8 subs could save $27 billion over the next decade.
We could get a clearer sense of the exact cost of the new sub program (and by extension a clearer sense of potential savings) thanks to the final version of the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. Section 242 of the bill requires the Navy and STRATCOM to prepare an unclassified report and cost assessment of options for the new sub. Among other things, the report is to examine the procurement cost and total life-cycle costs associated with four different options: 12 subs with 16 missile tubes, 10 subs with 20 and 16 missile tubes, 8 subs with 20 missile tubes, and any other options deemed appropriate.