Updating and maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal is projected to cost nearly $500 billion over the next 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in a report published Thursday.
The $494 billion price tag for U.S. nuclear forces from fiscal years 2019 to 2028 is a $94 billion increase from the last CBO 10-year cost estimate two years ago.
A little more than half of the increase comes from the fact that the new report covers the years 2027 and 2028, when modernization programs will be further along and thus more expensive, according to CBO.
But the new estimate also reflects the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which was released in February 2018 and calls for several new capabilities.
“The 2018 NPR called for three increases in nuclear capability that could, if implemented, make the costs of nuclear forces about $17 billion higher over the next 10 years than they would have been otherwise (although that estimate is very uncertain),” CBO said in the report.
Specifically, the nuclear policy outline called for so-called low yield warheads and a new sea-launched cruise missile.
The warhead is projected to cost $65 million for the Department of Energy to produce and $50 million for the Pentagon to make changes necessary to use the bomb on its submarines, according to CBO.
Plans for the sea-launched cruise missile are still being formulated, but CBO estimated it would cost about $9 billion from 2019 to 2028. The budget office based its estimate on the idea that the Pentagon will “draw heavily” from the design of the Long-Range Standoff Weapon, which is already in development.
Another cost increase associated with the NPR is Energy Department plans to be able to produce at least 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030. CBO’s overall projection included about $9 for the expanding pit production capacity, the report said.
Several other policy statements made in the nuclear review could further increase the cost of nuclear modernization plans, CBO said, without attaching numbers to them.
Those include possible costs to increase the life of the B83 nuclear bomb or build a replacement, develop a new nuclear-capable ground-launched ballistic missile if the administration withdraws from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty and build more than the currently planned 12 nuclear ballistic missile submarines.
Overall, CBO’s $494 billion estimate breaks down in $432 billion for Pentagon and Energy Department plans and $62 billion for what the budget office estimates will be additional costs based on past cost overruns for nuclear programs.
The cost estimate is likely to pique the interest of the Democratic-controlled House. Newly minted House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithStumbling plutonium pit project reveals DOE's uphill climb of nuclear modernization Congress should control its appetite for legacy programs when increasing defense budget House panel advances 8B defense bill MORE (D-Wash.) has long argued the United States’ nuclear modernization plans are unsustainably costly and has said trimming the costs will be a top priority of his chairmanship.