CBO: Updating, sustaining nuclear arsenal would cost $1.2T over 30 years

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Modernizing and maintaining the United States’ nuclear arsenal would cost $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in a Tuesday report.

The CBO found that to update or buy new versions of the land, air and sea components of the nuclear triad and sustain them would cost 50 percent more than operating and sustaining alone. 

The report includes nine options that could be pursued to lower or delay the costs of planned modernization, including reducing the number of deployed warheads.

The CBO’s is the first official independent assessment of what it would cost to sustain and modernize America’s aging nuclear weapons.

The nuclear arsenal is in the midst of a multibillion-effort to upgrade — and in some cases, completely rebuild — many of its warheads and related components, but much of the costs have been kept secret.


Efforts include the Air Force’s new B-21 Raider bomber and its Long-Range Stand-Off missile (LRSO).

The Air Force says it plans to buy at least 100 new Northrop Grumman-built Raiders that would enter the fleet by the mid-2020s, but it has not released the value of the development contract awarded to Northrop. Officials said revealing exact costs would potentially tell adversaries information about the aircraft’s design.

The CBO estimates the bombers would cost $266 billion over 30 years.

The LRSO, meanwhile, is a nuclear-capable cruise missile that could be fired from the Air Force’s B-52, B-2 and the B-21 bombers. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon each won 54-month technology maturation and risk reduction contracts in August, but the Air Force would not release the exact value of the deals.

Also in August, the Air Force named Boeing and Northrop as winners of technology maturation deals — up to $359 million each — for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program. That program will replace the aging Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The CBO found that the new ICBMs would cost $149 billion over 30 years. Ballistic missile submarines, meanwhile, would cost $313 billion.

House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) – who along with Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Md.) in March requested the CBO estimate – applauded the report as “a thorough, credible analysis.”

“The American people need to be informed about the true cost of upgrading and increasing capacity for the nuclear weapons enterprise that the administration has planned,” Smith said in a statement.

“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. I hope the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review takes a hard look at what our requirements are to maintain a strong but affordable deterrent, without breaking the bank or exacerbating a new nuclear arms race.”

The Pentagon is in the midst of a review of the United States’ ballistic missile defense posture. Ordered by President Trump in January and started in April, the review will guide modernization plans for the nuclear triad over the next 10 years.

Tags Adam Smith Boeing CBO Congressional Budget Office Northrop Grumman Nuclear strategies Nuclear triad
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