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– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

U.S. defense budget

CBO: Nuclear Arsenal to Cost $1.2 Trillion

Nuclear spending may threaten funding needed for non-nuclear defense programs.

December 2017
By Kingston Reif

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in a new report highlights the rising cost of current plans to sustain and upgrade U.S. nuclear forces, warns about the many challenges facing these plans, and outlines several options to manage the arsenal that could save scores of billions of dollars.

The report, the most authoritative cost assessment to date, comes as the Trump administration’s ongoing Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), due to be completed by the end of the year, appears poised to call for new types of nuclear weapons and for increasing their role in U.S. defense policy. The report is also likely to fuel an ongoing debate in Congress about how much the United States can afford to spend on nuclear weapons.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks with Air Force Captain Kevin O'Neill, 91st Missile Maintenance Squadron maintenance operations officer, beside a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile near Lansford, N.D., on October 27.  (Photo credit: J.T. Armstrong/ U.S. Air Force)The CBO estimates that the nuclear weapons spending plans President Donald Trump inherited from his predecessor will cost taxpayers $1.2 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars between fiscal years 2017 and 2046. This amounts to about 6 percent of all spending on national defense anticipated for that period, as of President Barack Obama’s final budget request to Congress in February 2016. When the effects of inflation are included, the 30-year cost would approach $1.7 trillion, according to a projection by the Arms Control Association.

These figures are significantly higher than previously reported estimates of roughly $1 trillion.

The CBO estimate captures spending on the triad of nuclear delivery systems and command and control systems at the Defense Department and on nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure at the Energy Department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Nearly every element of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is slated to be upgraded over the next 20 years. Most of these efforts are in the early stages, and a few others have yet to begin.

It remains to be seen whether the NPR will recommend changes to the current arsenal and upgrade plans. (See ACT, July/August 2017.) Trump has said that he favors unspecified actions to “strengthen and expand” U.S. nuclear capabilities, which could lead to a greater increase in spending than projected by the CBO.

The Guardian newspaper reported on Oct. 29 that the administration is considering several options to bolster the arsenal, including a plan for lower-yield warheads for U.S. ballistic missiles, a re-nuclearization of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile, and a reduction in the amount of time it would take to resume nuclear explosive testing.

If the NPR fails to alter the current spending trajectory or accelerates or expands on it, spending on nuclear weapons could threaten money needed for other national security programs, including non-nuclear military spending, which Trump has pledged to increase.

“At a time when modernization of other conventional systems is planned and defense spending is likely to be constrained by long-term fiscal pressures, nuclear modernization will compete for funding with other defense priorities,” the CBO report states.

In addition to budgetary challenges, the report notes that the modernization program will face policy, diplomatic, programmatic, and management challenges.

The October report, titled “Approaches for Managing the Cost of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017 to 2046,” is the latest in a series of CBO reports on the cost of U.S. nuclear forces. (See ACT, March 2017.) The CBO prepared the 30-year study in response to a request from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Hill Debates Spending Plans

Congress has largely backed the effort to rebuild the arsenal. In an op-ed published on Nov. 8 in Defense News, Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, described the planned increase in nuclear weapons spending as “modest” and “temporary.” They added that it “is needed following decades of underinvestment in the nuclear mission.”

But a vocal group of mostly Democratic lawmakers continue to question the need and affordability. “Congress still doesn’t seem to have any answers as to how we will pay for this effort, or what the trade-offs with other national security efforts will be if we maintain an arsenal of over 4,000 nuclear weapons and expand our capacity to produce more,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said in an Oct. 31 statement on the CBO report.

Similarly, a group of 14 Democratic senators on Nov. 29 sent a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry arguing that the CBO report “makes clear, at a minimum, that the existing plan is unaffordable and needs revision.”

Breaking Down the Cost

Of the $1.2 trillion that the CBO projects will be spent on nuclear forces, $399 billion would be allocated for acquiring new missiles, bombers, and submarines and conducting nuclear warhead life-extension programs. The remaining $843 billion would fund sustainment of the current generation of forces and new forces once they entered service.

The projection includes the full cost of the long-range bomber leg of the triad, which has nuclear and non-nuclear missions, and an estimate of additional costs based on historical cost growth.

Annual costs are slated to peak at about $50 billion during the late 2020s and early 2030s. During this period, nuclear weapons would consume about 8 percent of total national defense spending and 15 percent of the Defense Department’s acquisition costs.

Options to Reduce Costs

The CBO report evaluates nine alternatives to the current sustainment and upgrade program that, if pursued, would reduce nuclear weapons spending. The report also measures the capability of the alternatives relative to that of the current program across four metrics: the number of warheads, crisis management, limited nuclear strikes, and large-scale nuclear exchanges.

As part of an option that would delay modernization, the CBO evaluated the cost savings from delaying the existing plan to build a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and instead refurbishing the existing Minuteman III ICBM. The CBO projects this approach would save $37 billion over the next 20 years, when modernization costs are slated to be at their highest, and $17.5 billion over the next 30 years.

The Air Force argues that a new ICBM is necessary because the Minuteman III is aging into obsolescence and losing its capability to penetrate adversary missile defenses. (See ACT, March 2017.)

Another option would forgo the current plan to buy a new fleet of nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs). The CBO projects that this would produce a 30-year savings of roughly $30 billion. According to the report, eliminating ALCMs would not impact the number of deployed, on alert, or survivable warheads, but would “would diminish the capability of U.S. nuclear forces, particularly for limited nuclear strikes.”

The CBO also examined options that would reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal from a triad of delivery systems to a dyad. For example, eliminating the ICBM leg would save between $120 billion and $149 billion over 30 years. The CBO notes that such a step would reduce the capability of U.S. nuclear forces in the event of a large-scale nuclear exchange with Russia.

Posted: December 1, 2017

The Trillion (and a Half) Dollar Triad?

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Analysis of budget figures released by the Pentagon suggest that the total 30-year cost could approach and perhaps even exceed $1.5 trillion when including the effects of inflation. This is 50 percent more than the commonly cited estimate of roughly $1 trillion. 

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Volume 9, Issue 6, August 18, 2017

Amid an escalating exchange of threats between the United States and North Korea, President Donald Trump claimed in a tweet Aug. 9 that his “first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.” He reiterated this claim in a press briefing Aug. 11.

Like many of the president’s utterances, these assertions don’t come close to resembling the truth. The U.S. nuclear arsenal is no more, or less, powerful than when Trump took office Jan. 20. The president did order the Pentagon to conduct a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to examine and provide recommendations on U.S. nuclear weapons policy and posture, but that review, which officially began in April, is still ongoing and won’t be completed until the end of this year at the earliest.

In fact, it was President Barack Obama that set in motion plans to undertake a massive and costly rebuild of the arsenal. Much of this effort is still in its infancy, and will take decades to complete. Trump inherited this program, and his first budget request, which has yet to be acted on by Congress, proposes to move full steam ahead with the Obama approach. This is not surprising, given that the administration has yet to put its own stamp on U.S. nuclear policy.

What has been lost in much of the important fact checking of Trump’s erroneous (and dangerous) nuclear saber-rattling is that while the capability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal hasn’t changed over the past seven months, the projected annual costs of the current all-of-the-above upgrade plans are rising significantly—and not because of anything Trump has done.

A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report in February estimates that the United States will spend $400 billion on nuclear weapons from fiscal year 2017-2026. That is an increase of $52 billion, or 15 percent, from the CBO’s previous 10-year estimate of $348 billion, which was published in January 2015.

The 10-year estimate captures the beginning of the major planned ramp-up in spending to recapitalize all three legs of the existing nuclear “triad” of submarines, missiles, and bombers and their associated warheads and supporting infrastructure, but even larger bills are still to come.

How large? Analysis of budget figures recently released by the Pentagon suggest that, even though the Trump administration has yet to make any significant changes to the Obama administration’s spending plans, the total 30-year cost could approach and perhaps even exceed $1.5 trillion when including the effects of inflation. This is 50 percent more than the commonly cited estimate of roughly $1 trillion.           

If the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review by the administration does not reshape the current nuclear weapons spending plans—or worse, accelerates or expands upon them—the massive spending on nuclear weapons will pose a major threat to other high priority national security programs, to say nothing about Trump’s pledge to expand the non-nuclear military.

What makes the growing cost to sustain the nuclear mission so worrisome for military planners is that costs are scheduled to peak during the mid-2020s and overlap with large increases in projected spending on conventional weapon system modernization programs. Numerous Pentagon officials and outside experts have warned about the affordability problem posed by the current approach and that it cannot be sustained without significant and sustained increases to defense spending or cuts to other military priorities.

Trump has declared his ambition to “greatly strengthen and expand” U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities, and has criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, suggesting he may be looking to change nuclear policy in significant ways.

But there is no room in the budget to “expand” the scope and the cost of the upgrade plans.

Though defense spending might see a boost during the Trump administration, it's unlikely to be as high as many people think. In any event, the proposed nuclear recapitalization effort is not a one, two, or three-year effort. It will require at least 15 years of sustained increased spending. Pressure on the defense budget, and the trade-offs such pressure will require, is likely to persist.

The current approach also assumes that the United States will maintain a nuclear arsenal like the one it has now for decades to come. However, the Obama administration, with the support of the Joint Chiefs of staff, determined that the United States can reduce the size of its deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by up to one-third below the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) levels.

As the projected costs for programs designed to replace and upgrade the nuclear arsenal continue to rise, Congress must demand greater transparency about long-term costs, strengthen oversight over high-risk programs, and consider options to delay, curtail, or cancel programs to save taxpayer dollars while meeting deterrence requirements. Tens, if not hundreds, of billions could be saved in the coming decades by reshaping the plans and funding a smaller number of projects, while still leaving the United States with a highly credible nuclear deterrent.

Counting the Nuclear Dollars

My estimate of the 30-year cost of U.S. nuclear forces is based on tabulating Defense Department and Energy Department estimates in the following three categories: the cost of operating and sustain the current triad of U.S. nuclear delivery platforms and supporting command, control and communications systems; the cost to recapitalize the triad; and the cost of the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) nuclear weapons activities.

Based on the below analysis I estimate the total cost of nuclear forces from fiscal 2018 to 2047 at between $1.25 trillion and $1.46 trillion in then-year dollars, meaning it includes price increases due to inflation over the 30-year period of the estimate.

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Operating and Sustaining the Current Triad

In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee May 25, Robert Soofer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense, stated that the cost to sustain and operate the existing triad of delivery systems and command and control systems is $12-$14 billion in fiscal 2018 dollars. In its fiscal 2018 budget request the administration proposed to spend $14 billion on the current force.

These maintenance costs would be necessary even if the United States were to forgo its plans to recapitalize the arsenal.

Using $12-$14 billion as the baseline, I calculated a low and high estimate over 30-years that takes into account the impact of inflation over time. To do so I assumed an annual increase of 2.1 percent from fiscal 2018 through fiscal 2022, which is consistent with the anticipated growth rate of the overall defense budget due to inflation over the next five years as projected by the White House Office of Management and Budget. For the years beyond fiscal 2022, I assumed an annual inflation rate of 2.1 percent plus a real growth rate of 1.5 percent above inflation. The additional 1.5 percent is consistent with the real growth rate for Defense Department operation and support activities (which includes operation and maintenance and military personnel) assumed by CBO in its analysis of long-term defense costs.

Based on these assumptions I estimate a low range cost of $596 billion and a high range cost of $695 billion.

There are a number of assumption built into this projection that if altered could push the cost up or down.

First, force sustainment costs increased from $12 billion in fiscal 2017 to $14 billion in fiscal 2018. The cause of this growth is unclear, but the increase suggests that the $12 billion figure that is the basis of my low-range estimate might be unrealistically low.

Second, a real growth rate of 1.5 percent might be too conservative. Sustainment costs could increase above this rate, particularly starting in the late 2020s when the Pentagon will need to pay the cost of maintaining both legacy delivery systems and their replacements (which will begin entering service during this period). Older systems cost more to maintain as they age and newer systems typically cost more to operate when they enter service as operators adjust due to new technology.

Third, the price to maintain the current triad includes more than operation and support costs: it also includes acquisition (research and development and procurement) and infrastructure costs. The price of these activities is likely to grow at different rates.

Fourth, the Pentagon’s estimate of sustainment appears to include the full cost of operating the B-52H and B-2A bombers, which have both nuclear and conventional roles. Attributing a smaller percentage of the cost of these bombers (and later the B-21) to the nuclear mission would reduce the price of my 30-year estimate. It remains to be seen how many of the 100 B-21s the Air Force plans to buy will be certified for the nuclear mission. The retirement dates of the B-52H and B-24 bombers and how the cost to operate the B-21 will compare to the existing bombers are also unclear. 

Fifth, it is not clear how the Pentagon calculates the cost of command, control, and communications systems, most of which are used by both nuclear and conventional forces. The Pentagon says that it uses an “objective weighting” to determine the portion of each command and control element to the nuclear mission. However, according to the Government Accountability Office, the department’s methodology “is not fully transparent, because it lacks a discussion of the assumptions and potential limitations of the methodology.”

The department is planning to spend $40.5 billion on nuclear command and control between fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2026.

Recapitalizing the Triad

In his May 25 testimony, Soofer stated that the Defense Department is projecting to spend $230-$290 billion to recapitalize U.S. nuclear delivery and command, control, and communications systems between fiscal 2018 and 2040, in constant fiscal 2018 dollars. The estimate includes the total cost of strategic delivery systems that have a nuclear-only mission, and a portion of the cost of the B-21 bomber (which will have both conventional and nuclear roles) that according to the department is consistent with the historical cost of delivering nuclear capability to a strategic bomber. The total also includes the cost of modernizing nuclear command, control, and communications systems and an estimate to replace the Trident II (D5) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), though a program of record for this system does not yet exist.

The Pentagon told me in July that this estimate does not include the costs to operate and sustain the recapitalized systems nor does it include any funds in support of NNSA’s warhead life extension programs and other stockpile activities.

The Pentagon also said that when the effects of inflation are included, the $230-$290 billion estimate is equal to $280-$350 billion in then-year dollars. I was told that the range reflects “uncertainty in long-term cost projections” and that the projections will be refined in the future. Some of the department’s upgrade programs, notably the replacement for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system—also known as the ground based strategic deterrent, or GBSD—are still early in the research and development phase. Most of the programs have yet to enter production.

The cost range projected by the department for recapitalizing the arsenal could be understated for several reasons.

First, the projection covers a period of 23 years. The 30-year cost is likely to be higher given that some upgrade efforts will continue beyond fiscal 2040, most notably the replacement program for the Trident II (D5).

Second, the Pentagon has yet to establish replacement programs of record for the Trident II (D5) and elements of the command, control, and communications system. While the Pentagon recapitalization estimate includes a placeholder for the D5, the value of this placeholder and the assumptions behind it are unknown.

Third, the department’s recapitalization estimate does appear to account for the possibility of cost increases above its current projections. However, it is not clear what accounts for the large gap between the low and high range estimate and thus hard to determine whether the high estimate realistically captures the growth potential.

There is a significant amount of cost uncertainty associated with some of the recapitalization programs of record. For example, the Pentagon’s independent cost assessment and program evaluation office last year estimated the cost of the GBSD program at between $85 billion to over $140 billion in then-year dollars.

Finally, the overall upgrade estimate only includes a small portion of the cost to acquire the B-21. I have been told by multiple sources that the amount the Pentagon attributes to the nuclear mission could be as low as 5 percent of the total cost. If the total acquisition cost of the program were to be counted, this could add as much as $100 billion to the inflation adjusted recapitalization projection.

Sustaining and Upgrading Nuclear Warheads

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is responsible for sustaining and upgrading U.S. nuclear warheads, science and engineering programs to maintain the arsenal without nuclear explosive testing, and maintaining and replacing aging infrastructure.

Since 2014 the agency has published an annual Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP), which includes a 25-year estimate (in then-year dollars) of the cost off NNSA’s nuclear weapons program.

The most recent version of the plan was published last year and covers fiscal 2017-2041 (the fiscal 2018 version of the SSMP has yet to be released). Given uncertainties about longer-term warhead life extension and infrastructure costs, the SSMP includes a low and high range estimate.

In order to calculate a 30-year estimate starting in fiscal 2018, I subtracted fiscal 2017 from last year’s plan and inflated the fiscal 2041 low and high range estimates at a rate of 2.25 percent through fiscal 2047. The inflation rate of 2.25 percent is the same rate used by NNSA in the fiscal 2017 SSMP to estimate costs beyond fiscal 2026.

Based on these assumptions I project a low range cost of $369 billion and a high range cost of $417 billion.

The projection for NNSA is likely too low, and perhaps significantly so. First, it does not include any funds from other NNSA accounts, such as naval reactors and the office of the administrator that directly contribute to sustaining and upgrading nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure.

Second, the cost projections beyond fiscal 2041 do not include any real growth beyond inflation, even though NNSA will still be in the throes of conducting several large-scale warhead life extension programs. The agency is projecting to spend between $73 and $95 billion to upgrade two air-delivered warheads and develop three new interoperable warheads for use on both ICBMs and SLBMs.

Third, NNSA has a troubled history of failing to control the costs of major programs, particularly construction projects. While there is some cost growth built into the high-range estimate, additional growth is probably more likely than not. Moreover, plans for several NNSA priorities, such as sustaining plutonium capabilities and reducing the number of aging facilities that require maintenance, have yet to be fully developed and thus do not have accurate cost estimates.

Finally, the long-term cost projections in the yet to be released fiscal 2018 version of the SSMP could be higher than the fiscal 2017 plan.

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What’s Different Here

There are a number of key differences between the above analysis and other independent projections of the long-term cost of nuclear forces.

In its biennial, 10-year estimate of nuclear weapons costs, CBO attributes 25 percent of the cost to operate the B-52H to the nuclear mission, 100 percent of the B-2A cost, and 25 percent of the B-21 acquisition cost. CBO also includes a higher estimate of the cost of command, control, and communications systems than the Pentagon. Furthermore, CBO includes an estimate of additional costs based on historical cost growth.

CBO is planning to release to 30-year estimate of the cost of nuclear forces, according to news reports.

In 2014 the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey published a report that projected the 30-year costs of nuclear forces between fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2043 at between $872 billion and $1.082 trillion in constant fiscal 2014 dollars (though the estimate for NNSA’s weapons program appears to be in then-year dollars). The report covers an earlier time-period than the above analysis and did not assume any real growth in the cost to sustain and operate the triad. The report also does not appear to have included any projected cost to upgrade command, control, and communications systems.

In 2015 the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) published a report that projected the 25-year costs of nuclear forces between fiscal 2015 and fiscal 2039 at $816 billion in then-year dollars. The CSBA estimate covers a shorter and earlier time-period than the above analysis. In addition, the estimate only included 25 percent of the cost to operate the B-2A bomber and 10 percent of the cost to acquire and 25 percent of the cost to operate the B-21 bomber. The estimate also attributed a much smaller percentage of the costs of command, control, and communications systems to the nuclear mission.—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament policy

Posted: August 18, 2017

Congress Puts Bipartisan Arms Control Policies at Risk

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The House and Senate Armed Services Committee are currently considering defense authorization legislation that if passed into law would deal a major, if not mortal, blow to longstanding, bipartisan arms control efforts.

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Volume 9, Issue 5, July 17, 2017

The future of U.S. nuclear weapons and missile defense policy is at a crossroads. The Trump administration is conducting comprehensive reviews—scheduled to be completed by the end of the year—that could result in significant changes to U.S. policy to reducing nuclear weapons risks.

As the possessors of over 90 percent of the world's roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia have a special responsibility to avoid direct conflict and reduce nuclear risks. Yet, the U.S.-Russia relationship is under significant strain, due to to Moscow’s election interference, annexation of Crimea, continued destabilization of Ukraine, and support for the brutal Assad regime in Syria. These tensions have also put put immense pressure on the arms control relationship.

It is against this backdrop that the House and Senate Armed Services Committee versions of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) include provisions that if passed into law would deal a major, if not mortal, blow to longstanding, bipartisan arms control efforts.

The House approved its version of the NDAA July 14 by a vote of 344-81 and the Senate could take up its bill later this month. 

The problematic arms control provisions in the bills would undermine U.S. security by eroding stability between the world's two largest nuclear powers, increasing the risks of nuclear competition, and further alienating allies already unsettled by President Donald Trump’s commitment to their security. In fact, some are so radical that they have even drawn opposition from the White House and Defense Department.

The bills also fail to provide effective oversight of the rising costs of the government’s more than $1 trillion-plan to sustain and upgrade U.S. nuclear forces and propose investments in expanding U.S. missile defenses that make neither strategic, technical, or fiscal sense.

Sowing the Seeds of the INF Treaty’s Destruction

The United States has accused Russia of testing and deploying ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The treaty, which remains in force, required the United States and the then-Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA authorize programs of record and provide funding for research and development on a new U.S. road-mobile GLCM with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The House bill requires development of a conventional missile whereas the Senate bill would authorize a dual-capable (i.e., nuclear) missile.

The House bill also includes a provision stating that if the president determines that Russia remains in violation of the treaty 15 months after enactment of the legislation, the prohibitions set forth in the treaty will no longer be binding on the United States. A similar provision could be offered as an amendment to the Senate bill.

These provisions are drawn from legislation introduced in February by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in the Senate and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) in the House to “provide for compliance enforcement regarding Russian violations” of the INF Treaty.

Development of a new treaty-prohibited GLCM is militarily unnecessary, would suck funding from other military programs for which there are already requirements, divide NATO, and give Russia an easy excuse to publicly repudiate the treaty and deploy large numbers of noncompliant missiles without any constraints.

The report accompanying the Senate bill notes that the Senate “does not intend for the United States to enter into violation of the INF Treaty.” (The treaty does not ban research and development of treaty-prohibited capabilities.) But this claim is belied by the report’s statement that development of a GLCM is needed to “close the capability gap opened” by Russia. Moreover, supporters of a new GLCM also argue it is needed to counter China, which is not a party to the treaty.

Before rushing to develop a new weapon that the Pentagon has yet to ask for and NATO is unlikely to support, the administration and Congress must at the very least address concerns about the suitability and cost-effectiveness of a new GLCM. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) offered an amendment to the bill on the House floor that would have done just that, but it was defeated by a vote of 173-249.

Meanwhile, mandating that the United States in effect withdraw from the treaty if Russia does not return to compliance by the end of next year raises constitutional concerns. If Congress can say the United States is not bound by its obligations under the INF Treaty, what is to stop it from doing the same regarding other treaties?

The administration's statement of policy on the House NDAA objected to the House INF provision on requiring a new GLCM, stating "[t]his provision unhelpfully ties the Administration to a specific missile system, which would limit potential military response options.” The statement also noted that bill would “raise concerns among NATO allies and could deprive the Administration of the flexibility to make judgments about the timing and nature of invoking our legal remedies under the treaty.”

Instead of responding to Russia’s violation by taking steps that could leave the United States holding the bag for the INF treaty’s demise, Congress should emphasize the importance of preserving the treaty and encourage both sides to more energetically pursue a diplomatic resolution to the compliance controversy. Lawmakers should also encourage the Trump administration to pursue firm but measured steps to ensure Russia does not gain a military advantage by violating the treaty and reaffirm its commitment to the defense of those allies that would be the potential targets of Russia’s noncompliant missile.

Cutting Off Our Nose to Spite Our Face on New START

One of the few remaining bright spots in the U.S.-Russia relationship is 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Signed in 2010, the treaty requires each side to reduce its deployed strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems by 2018. It also includes a comprehensive suite of monitoring and verification provisions that help ensure compliance with these limits.

The agreement, which is slated to expire Feb. 5, 2021, can be extended by up to five years if both Moscow and Washington agree.  The House bill includes a provision that would prohibit the use of funds to extend New START until Russia returns to compliance with the INF treaty. This is senseless and counterproductive. By “punishing” Russia’s INF violation in this way, the United States would simply free Russia to expand the number of strategic nuclear weapons pointed at the United States after New START expires in 2021.

If the treaty is allowed to lapse, there will be no limits on Russia’s strategic nuclear forces for the first time since the early-1970s. Moreover, the United States would have fewer tools with which to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile.

For these reasons and more, the U.S. military and U.S. allies continue to strongly support New START.

Undermining the Norm Against Nuclear Testing

A small but influential group of Republican lawmakers are seeking to cut U.S. funding for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and undermine international support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the global nuclear test moratorium.

Sen. Cotton and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) introduced legislation on Feb.7 to “restrict” funding for the CTBTO and undermine the U.S. obligation – as a signatory to the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty – not to conduct nuclear test explosions.

Rep. Wilson successfully offered the bill as an amendment to the House NDAA and Sen. Cotton could seek to do the same on the Senate bill.

With North Korea threatening to conduct a sixth nuclear test explosion, it is essential that the United States reinforce, not weaken, the global nuclear testing taboo

More information on the problematic provision in the House bill is detailed in a recent issue brief on CTBTO funding.

Nuclear Weapons Spending Run Amok

The Trump administration’s first Congressional budget request pushes full steam ahead with the Obama administration’s excessive, all-of-the-above approach to upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Both the House and Senate bills authorize the requested level of funding for these programs, and even increase funding for some programs beyond what the Trump administration requested.

As the projected costs for programs designed to replace and upgrade the nuclear arsenal continue to rise, Congress must demand greater transparency about long-term costs, strengthen oversight over high-risk programs, and consider options to delay, curtail, or cancel programs to save taxpayer dollars while meeting deterrence requirements.

A February 2017 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report estimates that the United States will spend $400 billion (in then-year dollars) on nuclear weapons between fiscal years 2017 and 2026. The new projection is an increase of $52 billion, or 15 percent, over the CBO’s most recent previous estimate of the 10-year cost of nuclear forces, which was published in January 2015 and put the total cost at $348 billion.

In fact, the CBO’s latest projection suggest that the cost of nuclear forces could greatly exceed $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

What makes the growing cost to sustain the nuclear mission so worrisome for military planners is that costs are scheduled to peak during the mid-2020s and overlap with large increases in projected spending on conventional weapon system modernization programs. Numerous Pentagon officials and outside experts have warned about the affordability problem posed by the current approach and that it cannot be sustained without significant and sustained increases to defense spending or cuts to other military priorities.

Unfortunately, the House rejected two Democratic floor amendments that would have shed greater light on the multidecade costs of U.S. nuclear forces. One amendment would have required CBO to extend the timeframe of its biennial report on the cost of nuclear weapons from 10 years to 30 years. Another would have required extending the timeframe of a Congressionally mandated report submitted annually by Defense Department and National Nuclear Security Administration from 10 years to 25 years.

In addition, the House defeated by a vote of 169-254 an amendment offered by Rep. Blumenauer that would have restricted funding for the program to develop a new fleet of nuclear air-launched cruise missiles at the FY 2017 enacted level until the administration completes its Nuclear Posture Review and a detailed assessment of the need for the program.

Though the administration requested a major increase for the new missile and associated warhead refurbishment program in FY 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattis has repeatedly stated that he is still evaluating the need for the weapon.

The House Rules Committee also prevented debate on a floor amendment that would have required the Pentagon to release the value of the contract awarded to Northrop Grumman Corp. in October 2015. The department has refused to release the contract value citing classification concerns.

Tripling-Down on Missile Defense Despite Technical Flaws

Both the House and Senate bills authorize significant increases in funding for U.S. ballistic missile defense programs. The House bill authorizes an increase of $2.5 billion above the administration’s FY 2018 budget request of $7.9 billion for the Missile Defense Agency. The Senate bill authorizes a $630 million increase.

The bills also include provisions that would authorize a significant expansion of the ground-based midcourse (GMD) defense system in Alaska and California, which is designed to protect against limited long-range ballistic missile attacks from North Korea or Iran, and accelerate advanced technology programs to increase the capability of U.S. missile defenses. The GMD system has suffered from numerous reliability problems and has a success rate of just over 50 percent in controlled and scripted flight intercept tests.

In addition, the House bill includes a provision that would require the Pentagon to submit a plan for the development of a space-based missile defense interceptors and authorize $30 million for a space test bed to conduct research and development on such interceptors. The House bill would also require the Pentagon, pursuant to improving the defense of Hawaii, to conduct an intercept test of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile against an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) target. The interceptor, which is still under development, is designed to defend against medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and the department has no public plans to test it versus an ICBM.

Rushing to deploy more unreliable GMD interceptors or building additional long-range interceptor sites is not a winning strategy to stay ahead of the North Korean ICBM threat. Quantity is not a substitute for quality.

Any consideration of building and deploying additional homeland interceptors or interceptor sites should wait until a new ground-based midcourse defense kill vehicle under development is successfully tested under operationally realistic conditions (including against ICBM targets and realistic countermeasures). The first test of the new kill vehicle under these conditions is not scheduled until 2020 and deployment is not scheduled until 2022.

In addition, future testing and deployment of new capabilities should not be schedule-driven, but based on the maturity of the technology and successful testing under operationally realistic conditions. Accelerating development programs risks saddling them with cost overruns, schedule delays, and test failures, as has been the case with previous missile-defense programs.

Despite numerous nonpartisan studies that have been conducted during both Republican and Democratic administrations which concluded that a spaced-based missile defense is unfeasible and unaffordable, a small faction of missile defense supporters continues to push the idea. Most recently, a 2012 report from the National Academy of Sciences declared that even a limited space system geared to longer-burning liquid fueled threats would cost about $200 billion to acquire and have a $300 billion 20-year life cycle cost (in FY 2010 dollars), which would be at least 10 times any other defense approach. 

While missile defense has a role to play as part of a comprehensive strategy to combat the North Korean missile threat, it’s neither as capable nor as significant as many seem to hope. More realism is needed about the limitations of defenses and the longstanding obstacles that have prevented them from working as intended.

The potential blowback of an expansion of U.S. missile defense capabilities from Russia and China must also be considered. Missile defense does not provide an escape route from the vulnerability of our allies, deployed forces, and citizens in the region to North Korea’s nuclear and conventional missiles.—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament policy

Posted: July 17, 2017

First Trump Budget Continues Unnecessary and Unsustainable Nuclear Weapons Plans

The Trump administration’s first Congressional budget request pushes full steam ahead with the Obama administration’s excessive, all-of-the-above approach to upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This continuity is not surprising given the Trump administration has begun a Nuclear Posture Review that is examining U.S. nuclear policy and strategy, including force structure and spending requirements. While it remains to be seen whether the administration will take the current upgrade plans in a new direction, its Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget proposal illustrates the risings costs of the nuclear...

Senators Fight Cruise Missile Funding

Nine Democratic senators are seeking to limit development funding for a nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missile known as the long-range standoff (LRSO) weapon.

April 2017

Nine Democratic senators, led by Edward Markey (Mass.), are seeking to limit development funding for a nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missile known as the long-range standoff (LRSO) weapon that the Air Force is planning to field by 2030. The missile and its refurbished warhead reportedly will cost $20-30 billion over 20 years to produce, Markey said in a March 8 news release. “Congress shouldn’t fund dangerous new nuclear weapons designed to fight unwinnable nuclear wars,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the legislation that would cap funding for the missile and its warhead at 2017 levels until the Trump administration submits a Nuclear Posture Review report to Congress. Air Force plans call for the procurement of about 1,000 of these missiles to replace the AGM-86B cruise missiles, which have been in use since 1986. Critics say the new weapon is not needed and its ability to carry nuclear or conventional warheads could lead to a cataclysmic error if an adversary mistakes the launch of conventional missiles for nuclear ones. “The new nuclear cruise missile is expensive, redundant, and above all, dangerous,’” warned Tom Collina, director of policy at the Ploughshares Fund on March 8.

Posted: March 31, 2017

Nuclear Arsenal Costs Rising

CBO’s 10-year cost estimate is $52 billion more than two years ago. 

March 2017

By Maggie Tennis

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that current plans to sustain and upgrade U.S. nuclear forces will cost $400 billion over the next decade, which amounts to about 6 percent of the defense spending anticipated for that period in President Barack Obama’s final budget request to Congress in February 2016.

The spending estimate, released in February 2017, is $52 billion more than the CBO’s previous projection published in 2015 and comes as the Trump administration prepares to undertake a comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy (See ACT, March 2017.). President Donald Trump has said that he favors unspecified actions to “strengthen and expand” U.S. nuclear capabilities, which could lead to a greater increase in spending than projected by the CBO.

The February report, titled “Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017 to 2026,” is the second update of a study first published by the CBO in 2013. (See ACT, January/February 2014.) Lawmakers included a provision in the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act that mandated that the CBO prepare a 10-year nuclear cost estimate to assist Congress in making decisions about the future of the arsenal. Congress later amended the provision to require that the CBO update the cost analysis every two years.

The $400 billion estimate captures spending on nuclear delivery systems and command and control systems at the Defense Department and on nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure at the Energy Department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The projection, in then-year dollars, includes inflationary increases expected over the life of the program.

Nearly every element of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is slated to be modernized over the next 20 years. Most of these efforts are in the early stages, and a few others have yet to begin. During the Obama administration, Pentagon and NNSA officials warned about the growing cost, but argued that the modernization is necessary to maintain safe, reliable systems and a credible nuclear deterrent. 

In a report last December, the CBO estimated that the U.S. government could save more than $60 billion in required funding over the next decade by reducing the number of nuclear delivery systems and adjusting current nuclear modernization plans while still retaining all three legs of the nuclear triad.

The CBO attributes the $52 billion increase over its 2015 estimate to “the fact that the current estimate spans a 10-year period that begins and ends two years later than the 2015 estimate and thus includes two later years of development in nuclear modernization programs.” The CBO notes that “development costs of weapon systems typically increase as a program proceeds, which means that the current estimate replaces two lower-cost years with two higher-cost years.” 

The largest single cost disparity between the 2017 and 2015 reports concerns the spending estimate for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The 2017 report estimates spending for maintaining and modernizing ICBMs to reach $43 billion over 10 years, a $16 billion increase over the 2015 estimate.

For its 2015 report, the CBO “assumed that the existing Minuteman III missiles would be refurbished rather than replaced.” But the current modernization plan for the ICBM leg of the triad is “much larger in scope—and thus is expected to cost more—than the plans that CBO assumed for its 2015 estimate,” according to the CBO. (See ACT, October 2016.

The CBO estimate also includes $56 billion in “additional costs that would be incurred over the 2017-2026 period if the costs for those nuclear programs exceeded planned amounts at roughly the same rates that costs for similar programs have grown in the past.”

Posted: March 1, 2017

Trump Inherits Nuclear Budget Time Bomb

The daunting fiscal challenge posed by current plans to upgrade America’s nuclear arsenal is now President Donald Trump’s problem. If the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review by the administration does not reshape these plans—or worse, accelerates or expands upon them—spending on nuclear weapons will pose a major threat to higher priority national security programs, to say nothing about Trump’s pledge to expand the non-nuclear military. That’s the key takeaway from a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report released Wednesday on the projected cost of U.S. nuclear forces over the next decade...

CBO Details Nuclear Savings Options

The budget office assesses options to cut billions of dollars in projected spending on the nuclear arsenal.

January/February 2017

By Kingston Reif

The U.S. government could save more than $60 billion in required funding over a decade by reducing the number of nuclear delivery systems and adjusting current nuclear modernization plans while still retaining all three legs of the nuclear triad, according to a December report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). 

The report comes as official cost estimates to maintain and modernize U.S. nuclear forces continue to rise and President Barack Obama hands over stewardship of the arsenal to President-elect Donald Trump. In a tweet, Trump declared that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” although it was unclear whether he was referring to maintaining the current modernization program or to further steps that run counter to U.S. efforts to reduce nuclear weapons in numbers and destructive power.

An unarmed Trident II (D-5) missile launches August 31, 2016 from the USS Maryland, an Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine, in a test off the coast of Florida. The Congressional Budget Office estimated savings from reducing the number of ballistic-missile submarines and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. (Photo credit: John Kowalski/U.S. Navy)Currently, nearly every element of the U.S. arsenal is slated to be modernized over the next 20 years, an effort that will require roughly doubling annual spending on nuclear weapons. Most of these efforts are in the early stages, but a few others have yet to begin. Multiple independent studies suggest that the total cost of the current plans could reach and possibly exceed $1 trillion over 30 years.

Senior officials from the Defense and Energy departments have warned for years about the affordability challenges, but argue that the expenditures are needed to sustain a credible nuclear deterrent and can be successfully carried out if appropriately prioritized. Critics in Congress and the nongovernmental arms-control community contend that the current approach exceeds the Obama administration’s stated requirements for nuclear deterrence and that the cost will force damaging cuts to higher-priority military programs given that overall defense budgets are likely to remain constrained even after the Budget Control Act, which imposes caps on military spending, expires in 2021. 

The CBO evaluated three different options to reduce spending on nuclear forces over the next decade as part of larger report titled “Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2016 to 2027.” 

One option would reduce the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarines that launch ballistic missiles by retiring some of the existing systems early, purchasing fewer of the new ones, and delaying purchase of new submarines. A second option would retain only one type of nuclear weapon for bombers by forgoing either the purchase of a new fleet of air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) or the life extension program for the B61 nuclear gravity bomb. A third option would delay the development of a new bomber, known as the B-21, by 10 years (see chart).

Based on CBO calculations, reducing the number of submarines from 14 to eight; delaying purchase of new submarines; reducing the number of deployed ICBMs from 450 to 150; canceling the program to build a new ALCM; deferring the B-21, which is being built primarily for conventional missions but will also have a nuclear capability; and reducing the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,000 would save $64.6 billion over the next decade. 

In addition to assessing the savings from each option, the CBO evaluated arguments for and against each alternative. For example, the CBO noted that reducing the triad to 1,000 deployed warheads would be consistent with Obama’s determination in 2013 “that the United States could maintain a ‘strong and credible’ strategic nuclear deterrent with about one-third fewer weapons deployed than allowed under” the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Conversely, the CBO said that a problem with “this alternative is that unless a new arms control agreement was reached—which may not be possible in the current international atmosphere—the United States’ decision to reduce its stockpile to 1,000 warheads would be unilateral and could be politically untenable domestically.” 

In addition to the December options report, the CBO published reports in 2013 and 2015 that assessed the total cost to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear forces over the ensuing decade. (See ACT, March 2015.) The agency is required by law to update this study every two years, but by year-end had yet to publish an update covering the period from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2026.

In remarks at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, on Dec. 3, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon is projecting to spend $234 billion on nuclear forces between fiscal years 2017 and 2026. This is an increase of nearly $17 billion over the decade-long estimate the Defense Department released in 2015. 

The $234 billion estimate does not include the Energy Department’s cost to maintain and modernize U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure, which carries a 10-year price tag of more than $100 billion. (See ACT, May 2016.)

In remarks last summer at the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting in Washington, Benjamin Rhodes, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said Obama was continuing to evaluate the nuclear modernization plans. (See ACT, July/August 2016.) As of early January, the administration had not announced any decisions on adjusting the plans or to signal it had made recommendations to the incoming Trump administration on how to proceed with them. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)

Posted: January 11, 2017

Rushing to Failure, Again

Hit or Miss, Sunday's Missile Defense Test Will Not Justify Expansion If the interceptor in Sunday's test hits, its test record would be one-for-three. Good for baseball, bad for stopping nukes. The United States has better alternatives. By Tom Z. Collina In 2004, President George W. Bush began fielding the Ground-Based Missile Defense (GMD) system that is in place today, composed of 30 interceptor missiles in Alaska and California, intended to counter a possible long-range missile attack from North Korea or Iran. Ten years later, it is all-too clear that the prototype system was rushed into...

Congress Wants the Facts on Nuclear Weapons Costs

The House Made the Right Call to Support Annual Cost Estimates. By Tom Z. Collina The House just passed an amendment offered by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) to the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to require annual updates to a December Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study on the cost of U.S. nuclear weapons. The CBO report estimated that maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal would cost $355 billion over ten years. "There should be no objection from anyone about knowing how much the projects will cost," Blumenauer said on the House floor. "It will be...

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