Nuclear Option

A new report released by the Congressional Budget Office claims the U.S. will need to spend a total of $1.2 trillion over the next three decades in order to properly maintain and modernize its nuclear arsenal. Two thirds of the nation's nuclear weapons budget will be spent on the operation and maintenance of existing weaponry, while the remaining third will go toward modernizing the technology.

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The report breaks down the $1.2 trillion cost, noting that $352 billion will be dedicated to the Department of Energy and $890 billion to the Department of Defense. $445 billion will be spent on factories, labs, and other infrastructure, while $25 billion will go toward delivery systems that facilitate short-range strikes.

$772 billion will be dedicated to operating and updating weaponry and long-range nuclear delivery systems, and of that, the CBO notes that $313 billion will be spent on nuclear submarines, $266 billion on bombers, $149 billion on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and $44 billion on other systems.

The report states that the nuclear weapons budget could be cut in half simply by sticking with the arsenal that's currently in place. However, Defense News claims the Pentagon has rejected the idea repeatedly based on the belief that the U.S.'s existing weapons will only be effective deterrents for the next 20 years or so.

Big Spender

As for specific plans for this money, details on several contracts have been released in recent months that shed some light on the U.S.'s goals for its nuclear program.

The Minuteman III missile has long been a major component of the U.S. nuclear program, but it was introduced in the 1970s and is now beginning to show its age. In August 2017, the U.S. Air Force offered Boeing and Northrop Grumman contracts worth $349.2 million and $328.6 million, respectively, to continue their efforts to develop a successor to the Minuteman ground-based ICBM.

Ultimately, the program to replace the missiles could cost in excess of $100 billion.

Shortly after word of this research was made public, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin and Raytheon each a $900 million contract to fund the continued development of a nuclear-armed cruise missile known as the Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) weapon.

The appeal of the weapon is its ability to keep an older craft like a B-52H Stratofortress relevant despite a limited capacity for stealth. The B-2A Spirit and the upcoming B-21 Raider bomber will also be equipped with LRSOs once development is completed.

Some have questioned whether the $1.2 trillion nuclear weapons budget outlined in the CBO's report is realistic.

Despite it only making up 6 percent of anticipated spending on national defense from now until 2046, Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, told Defense News he is concerned that such expenditure could come at the detriment of other national security programs.

“If the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review by the administration does not scale-back current nuclear weapons spending plans ― or worse, accelerates or expands upon them ― expenditures on nuclear weapons will threaten other high priority national security programs,” said Reif.

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