Magazine article National Defense

Analysts Outline Options to Cut Nuclear Forces

Magazine article National Defense

Analysts Outline Options to Cut Nuclear Forces

Article excerpt

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that current plans to modernize, operate and sustain U.S. nuclear forces would cost a whopping $1.2 trillion over the next three decades. Analysts have laid out a number of ways to reduce the price tag.

The Pentagon has ambitious plans to revamp its aging strategic arsenal including buying new classes of ballistic missile submarines, intercontinental ballistic missile systems and stealth bombers.

"Over the next 30 years just about every piece of the nuclear forces will be going through either refurbishment, life extension, or being replaced with a new system," Michael Bennett, an analyst in the national security division of the Congressional Budget Office, said at a conference hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Modernization plans would cost $399 billion over that timeframe, CBO estimated in a recent report, "Approaches for Managing the Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017 to 2046."

It projected that the total annual cost of nuclear forces including operation and sustainment would increase from $29 billion in 2017 to about $50 billion through the early 2030s. By then it would eat up about 8 percent of the defense budget, compared to about 5.5 percent today.

The office was tasked with analyzing approaches to manage those costs by adjusting modernization plans. The strategies fell into three broad categories: delay some modernization programs; reduce force structure; or slash the size of the force and the number of warheads.

Among the options considered was delaying efforts to develop new ICBMs, stealth bombers and interoperable warheads. That would save a total of $17 billion over the 30-year period, the report said.

It estimated that bigger savings could be obtained by: forgoing nuclear cruise missiles, $28 billion; fielding only 10 ballistic missile submarines and 300 ICBMs, $30 billion; eliminating the bomber leg of the nuclear triad, $71 billion; eliminating the ICBM leg of the triad, $120 billion; fielding a triad with only 1,000 warheads, $66 billion; fielding a 1,000-warhead force without bombers, $107 billion; or fielding a 1,000-warhead force without ICBMs, $139 billion.

Each of these paths would at least somewhat reduce the United States' ability to wage limited or large-scale nuclear war, the report noted. …

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