By Greg Terryn
The Congressional Budget Office’s Report on the Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces has again undercut the tired myth that our current nuclear weapon plans are inexpensive. According to the report, the administration’s plan for modernizing the nuclear triad is expected to cost $348 billion over the next decade, an average of about $35 billion a year. But these costs reflect only the tip of the budgetary iceberg. Reports such as the National Defense Panel Review of the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review and the Trillion Dollar Triad estimate the entire modernization plan will likely cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years.
The nuclear forces budget reflects the growing development and procurement costs of modernizing the United States’ nuclear capabilities. Amongst the big ticket items for purchase: 12 SSBN(X) nuclear submarines, as many as 100 Long-Range Strike-Bombers, a new nuclear-tipped cruise missile, updates to the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile system, and the overhauling of nuclear warheads all at the same time. This has created a “modernization mountain ” in which several large-scale acquisition plans will reach peak costs in the mid-2020s. As a result, many government officials are concerned that the modernization plan may be too expensive and potentially unaffordable.
The CBO’s $348 billion estimate is slightly less than last year’s estimate of $355 billion between FY2014-FY2023, due to “budget-driven delays in several programs, including a three-year delay for the new cruise missile and its nuclear warhead.” But in addition to the $348 billion estimate, the CBO also indicates an additional $215 billion will be spent in nuclear-related activities throughout the ten year period, including $67 billion in environmental clean-up for nuclear weapons facilities, $34 billion in threat reduction and arms control, and $105 billion in ballistic missile defense. This analysis is mentioned in the new report, but has not been updated from the FY2014-FY2023 report released last year.
The CBO’s Projected Costs Report is useful as an independent evaluator of the nuclear modernization plan, projecting nearly $84 billion more than the $264 billion ten-year estimate the Departments of Defense and Energy provided to Congress last year. This gives Congress a more complete, realistic view of projected costs—potentially allowing for better budgetary assessments and decision-making.