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Nuclear Arsenal Costs to Rise, CBO Says
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Tom Z. Collina

The U.S. nuclear arsenal will cost taxpayers $355 billion over the next decade, and expenses are expected to increase into the future as the Defense Department begins a major effort to modernize the weapons, said a December report by Congress’s nonpartisan budget arm. The report raises new questions about how much the Pentagon can afford to spend on nuclear weapons as its budget faces sizable reductions.

The report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that, of the $355 billion to be spent during fiscal years 2014-2023, $152 billion would go to maintaining the current arsenal of missiles, bombers, and submarines and the nuclear warheads they carry; $89 billion would be used to modernize or replace those weapons; $56 billion would be spent on command, control, and communications for U.S. weapons and early detection of enemy missile launches; and $59 billion would go for unbudgeted cost growth. These programs will cost $23 billion in fiscal year 2014.

In 2011, the Defense Department estimated it would spend $214 billion on the nuclear arsenal during fiscal years 2011-2020, an average of $21 billion a year.

Because U.S. efforts to modernize the nuclear arsenal are just starting, “annual costs for nuclear forces are expected to increase,” the CBO found. For example, the report said that nuclear costs, not including command and control, would average $29 billion by 2023. That amount is 60 percent higher than the 2014 budget of $18 billion.

Of the nuclear weapons programs, the strategic submarines will have the highest cost, $82 billion, accounting for 56 percent of the funds allocated to strategic systems; bombers would get 27 percent, and long-range missiles 17 percent. The highest single-year cost for modernization is expected in 2022, when the Navy would be paying for procurement of the first new SSBN(X) submarine and starting advanced procurement of the second.

The CBO says that it expects modernization costs to keep growing after 2023 as new systems begin production and that most of these costs will occur after the 10-year period examined in the report. The report estimated that, from 2024 to 2030, the cost of modernization would average $15 billion per year, more than four times the 2014 number.

Posted: January 9, 2014