Even though the United States plans to reduce the number of warheads deployed on its long range missiles and bombers, consistent with the terms of the New START Treaty, it also plans to develop new delivery systems for deployment over the next 20- 30 years. The 114th Congress will continue to review these programs, and the funding requested for them, during the annual authorization and appropriations process.
During the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear arsenal contained many types of delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons. The longer-range systems, which included long-range missiles based on U.S. territory, long-range missiles based on submarines, and heavy bombers that could threaten Soviet targets from their bases in the United States, are known as strategic nuclear delivery vehicles. At the end of the Cold War, in 1991, the United States deployed more than 10,000 warheads on these delivery vehicles. That number has declined to less than 1,600 warheads today, and is slated to decline to 1,550 warheads by 2018, after the New START Treaty completes implementation.
At the present time, the U.S. land-based ballistic missile force (ICBMs) consists of 450 Minuteman III ICBMs, each deployed with one warhead. The fleet will decline to 400 deployed missiles, while retaining all 450 launchers, to meet the terms of the New START Treaty. The Air Force is also modernizing the Minuteman missiles, replacing and upgrading their rocket motors, guidance systems, and other components, so that they can remain in the force through 2030. It plans to replace the missiles with a new Ground-based Strategic Deterrent around 2030.
The U.S. ballistic missile submarine fleet currently consists of 14 Trident submarines; each carries 24 Trident II (D-5) missiles. The Navy converted 4 of the original 18 Trident submarines to carry non-nuclear cruise missiles. The remaining carry around 1,000 warheads in total; that number will decline as the United States implements the New START Treaty. The Navy has shifted the basing of the submarines, so that nine are deployed in the Pacific Ocean and five are in the Atlantic, to better cover targets in and around Asia. It also has undertaken efforts to extend the life of the missiles and warheads so that they and the submarines can remain in the fleet past 2020. It is designing a new submarine and will replace the existing fleet beginning in 2031.
The U.S. fleet of heavy bombers includes 20 B-2 bombers and 76 B-52 bombers. The B-1 bomber is no longer equipped for nuclear missions. The fleet will decline to around 60 aircraft in coming years, as the United States implements New START. The Air Force has also begun to retire the nuclear-armed cruise missiles carried by B-52 bombers, leaving only about half the B52 fleet equipped to carry nuclear weapons. The Air Force plans to procure both a new long-range bomber and a new cruise missile during the 2020s. DOE is also modifying and extending the life of the B61 bomb carried on B-2 bombers and fighter aircraft.
The Obama Administration completed a review of the size and structure of the U.S. nuclear force, and a review of U.S. nuclear employment policy, in June 2013. This review has advised the force structure that the United States will deploy under the New START Treaty. It is currently implementing the New START Treaty, with the reductions due to be completed by 2018. Congress will review the Administration’s plans for U.S. strategic nuclear forces during the annual authorization and appropriations process, and as it assesses U.S. plans under New START and the costs of these plans in the current fiscal environment. This report will be updated as needed.
Background: The Strategic Triad Force Structure and Size During the Cold War
Since the early 1960s the United States has maintained a triad of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles. The United States first developed these three types of nuclear delivery vehicles, in large part, because each of the military services wanted to play a role in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. However, during the 1960s and 1970s, analysts developed a more reasoned rationale for the nuclear triad.
They argued that these different basing modes had complementary strengths and weaknesses. They would enhance deterrence and discourage a Soviet first strike because they complicated Soviet attack planning and ensured the survivability of a significant portion of the U.S. force in the event of a Soviet first strike. The different characteristics might also strengthen the credibility of U.S. targeting strategy. For example, ICBMs eventually had the accuracy and prompt responsiveness needed to attack hardened targets such as Soviet command posts and ICBM silos, SLBMs had the survivability needed to complicate Soviet efforts to launch a disarming first strike and to retaliate if such an attack were attempted, and heavy bombers could be dispersed quickly and launched to enhance their survivability, and they could be recalled to their bases if a crisis did not escalate into conflict.
According to unclassified estimates, the number of delivery vehicles (ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuclear-capable bombers) in the U.S. force structure grew steadily through the mid-1960s, with the greatest number of delivery vehicles, 2,268, deployed in 1967. The number then held relatively steady through 1990, at between 1,875 and 2,200 ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers. The number of warheads carried on these delivery vehicles increased sharply through 1975, then, after a brief pause, again rose sharply in the early 1980s, peaking at around 13,600 warheads in 1987. Figure 1 displays the increases in delivery vehicles and warheads between 1960, when the United States first began to deploy ICBMs, and 1990, the year before the United States and Soviet Union signed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
The sharp increase in warheads in the early 1970s reflects the deployment of ICBMs and SLBMs with multiple warheads, known as MIRVs (multiple independent reentry vehicles). In particular, the United States began to deploy the Minuteman III ICBM, with 3 warheads on each missile, in 1970, and the Poseidon SLBM, which could carry 10 warheads on each missile, in 1971. The increase in warheads in the mid-1980s reflects the deployment of the Peacekeeper (MX) ICBM, which carried 10 warheads on each missile.
In 1990, before it concluded the START Treaty with the Soviet Union, the United States deployed a total of around 12,304 warheads on its ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers. The ICBM force consisted of single-warhead Minuteman II missiles, 3- warhead Minuteman III missiles, and 10-warhead Peacekeeper (MX) missiles, for a total force of 2,450 warheads on 1,000 missiles. The Submarine Force included Poseidon submarines with Poseidon C-3 and Trident I (C-4) missiles, and the Ohio-class Trident submarines with Trident I, and some Trident II (D-5) missiles. The total force consisted of 5,216 warheads on around 600 missiles. The bomber force centered on 94 B-52H bombers and 96 B-1 bombers, along with many of the older B-52G bombers and 2 of the new (at the time) B-2 bombers. This force of 260 bombers could carry over 4,648 weapons.
Force Structure and Size After the Cold War
During the 1990s, the United States reduced the numbers and types of weapons in its strategic nuclear arsenal, both as a part of its modernization process and in response to the limits in the 1991 START Treaty. The United States continued to maintain a triad of strategic nuclear forces, however, with warheads deployed on ICBMs, SLBMs, and bombers. According to the Department of Defense, this mix of forces not only offered the United States a range of capabilities and flexibility in nuclear planning and complicated an adversary’s attack planning, but also hedged against unexpected problems in any single delivery system.
This latter issue became more of a concern in this time period, as the United States retired many of the different types of warheads and missiles that it had deployed over the years, reducing the redundancy in its force. The 1991 START Treaty limited the United States to a maximum of 6,000 total warheads, and 4,900 warheads on ballisticmissiles, deployed on up to 1,600 strategic offensive delivery vehicles. However, the treaty did not count the actual number of warheads deployed on each type of ballistic missile or bomber. Instead, it used counting rules to determine how many warheads would count against the treaty’s limits. For ICBMs and SLBMs, this number usually equaled the actual number of warheads deployed on the missile. Bombers, however, used a different system. Bombers that were not equipped to carry air-launched cruise missiles (the B-1 and B-2 bombers) counted as one warhead; bombers equipped to carry air-launched cruise missiles (B-52 bombers) could carry 20 missiles, but would only count as 10 warheads against the treaty limits. These rules have led to differing estimates of the numbers of warheads on U.S. strategic nuclear forces during the 1990s; some estimates count only those warheads that count against the treaty while others count all the warheads that could be carried by the deployed delivery systems.
According to the data from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the United States reduced its nuclear weapons from 9,300 warheads on 1,239 delivery vehicles in 1991 to 6,196 warheads on 1,064 delivery vehicles when it completed the implementation of START in 2001. By 2009, the United States had reduced its forces to approximately 2,200 warheads on around 850 delivery vehicles. According to the State Department, as of December 2009, the United States had 1,968 operationally deployed warheads on its strategic offensive nuclear forces. NRDC estimated that these numbers held steady in 2010, prior to New START’s entry into force, then began to decline again, falling to around 1,900 warheads on around 850 delivery vehicles by early 2015, as the United States began to implement New START (this total includes weapons that the State Department does not count in the New START force).
During the 1990s, the United States continued to add to its Trident fleet, reaching a total of 18 submarines. It retired all of its remaining Poseidon submarines and all of the single-warhead Minuteman II missiles. It continued to deploy B-2 bombers, reaching a total of 21, and removed some of the older B-52G bombers from the nuclear fleet. Consequently, in 2001, its warheads were deployed on 18 Trident submarines with 24
missiles on each submarine and 6 or 8 warheads on each missile;
500 Minuteman III ICBMs, with up to 3 warheads on each missile;
50 Peacekeeper (MX) missiles, with 10 warheads on each missile;
94 B-52H bombers, with up to 20 cruise missiles on each bomber;
and 21 B-2 bombers with up to 16 bombs on each aircraft.
The United States and Russia signed a second START Treaty in early 1993. Under this treaty, the United States would have had to reduce its strategic offensive nuclear weapons to between 3,000 and 3,500 accountable warheads. In 1994, the Department of Defense decided that, to meet this limit, it would deploy a force of 500 Minuteman III ICBMs with 1 warhead on each missile, 14 Trident submarines with 24 missiles on each submarine and 5 warheads on each missile, 76 B-52 bombers, and 21 B-2 bombers. The Air Force was to eliminate 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs and reorient the B-1 bombers to non-nuclear missions; the Navy would retire 4 Trident submarines (it later decided to convert these submarines to carry conventional weapons).
The START II Treaty never entered into force, and Congress prevented the Clinton Administration from reducing U.S. forces unilaterally to START II limits. Nevertheless, the Navy and Air Force continued to plan for the forces described above, and eventually implemented those changes. Table 1 displays the forces the United States had deployed in 2001, after completing the START I reductions. It also includes those that it would have deployed under START II, in accordance with the 1994 decisions.
The George W. Bush Administration stated in late 2001 that the United States would reduce its strategic nuclear forces to 1,700-2,200 operationally deployed warheads over the next decade. This goal was codified in the 2002 Moscow Treaty. According to the Bush Administration, operationally deployed warheads were those deployed on missiles and stored near bombers on a day-to-day basis. They are the warheads that would be available immediately, or in a matter of days, to meet immediate and unexpected contingencies. The Administration also indicated that the United States would retain a triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers for the foreseeable future. It did not,
however, offer a rationale for this traditional “triad,” although the points raised in the past about the differing and complementary capabilities of the systems probably still pertain. Admiral James Ellis, the former Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), highlighted this when he noted in a 2005 interview that the ICBM force provides responsiveness, the SLBM force provides survivability, and bombers provide flexibility and recall capability.
The Bush Administration did not specify how it would reduce the U.S. arsenal from around 6,000 warheads to the lower level of 2,200 operationally deployed warheads, although it did identify some force structure changes that would account for part of the reductions. Specifically, after Congress removed its restrictions, the United States eliminated the 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs, reducing by 500 the total number of operationally deployed ICBM warheads. It also continued with plans to remove four Trident submarines from service, and converted those ships to carry nonnuclear guided missiles. These submarines would have counted as 476 warheads under the START Treaty’s rules. These changes reduced U.S. forces to around 5,000 warheads on 950 delivery vehicles in 2006; this reduction appears in Figure 2. The Bush Administration also noted that two of the Trident submarines remaining in the fleet would be in overhaul at any given time. The warheads that could be carried on those submarines would not count against the Moscow Treaty limits because they would not be operationally deployed. This would further reduce the U.S. deployed force by 200 to 400 warheads.
The Bush Administration, through the 2005 Strategic Capabilities Assessment and 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review,
announced additional changes in U.S. ICBMs, SLBMs, and bomber forces; these included the elimination of 50 Minuteman III missiles and several hundred air-launched cruise missiles. (These are discussed in more detail below.) These changes appeared to be sufficient to reduce the number of operationally deployed warheads enough to meet the treaty limit of 2,200 warheads, as the United States announced, in mid-2009, that it had met this limit.
Reaching this level, however, also depends on the number of warheads carried by each of the remaining Trident and Minuteman missiles.
Current and Future Force Structure and Size
The Obama Administration indicated in the 2010 NPR that the United States will retain a triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers as the United States reduces its forces to the limits in the 2010 New START Treaty. The NPR indicated that the unique characteristics of each leg of the triad were important to the goal of maintaining strategic stability at reduced numbers of warheads:
Each leg of the Triad has advantages that warrant retaining all three legs at this stage of reductions. Strategic
nuclear submarines (SSBNs) and the SLBMs they carry represent the most survivable leg of the U.S. nuclear Triad…. Single-warhead ICBMs contribute to stability, and like SLBMs are not vulnerable to air defenses. Unlike ICBMs and SLBMs, bombers can be visibly deployed forward, as a signal in crisis to strengthen deterrence of potential adversaries and assurance of allies and partners.
Moreover, the NPR noted that “retaining sufficient force structure in each leg to allow the ability to hedge effectively by shifting weight from one Triad leg to another if necessary due to unexpected technological problems or operational vulnerabilities.”
The Administration continues to support the triad, even as reduces U.S. nuclear forces under New START and considers whether to reduce U.S. nuclear forces further in the coming years. In April 2013, Madelyn Creedon, then the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs, stated, “The 2010 nuclear posture review concluded that the United States will maintain a triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuclear capable heavy bombers. And the president‘s F.Y. ‘14 budget request supports modernization of these nuclear forces.” Further, in its report on the Nuclear Employment Strategy of the United States, released in June 2013, DOD states that the United States will maintain a nuclear triad, because this is the best way to “maintain strategic stability at reasonable cost, while hedging against potential technical problems or vulnerabilities.”
On April 8, 2014, the Obama Administration released a report detailing the force structure that the United States would deploy under New START. It indicated that, although the reductions would be complete by the treaty deadline of February 5, 2018, most of the reductions would come late in the treaty implementation period so that the plans could change, if necessary.
Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles
The U.S. fleet of ballistic missile submarines consists of 14 Trident (Ohio-class) submarines, each equipped to carry 24 Trident missiles. With 2 submarines in overhaul, the operational fleet of 12 submarines currently carries around 1,100 warheads. Under the New START Treaty, each of the submarines will be modified so that they can carry only 20 missiles. The four empty launch tubes will be modified so that they cannot launch missiles; this will remove them from accountability under New START. As a result, the 14 submarines will count as a total of 280 deployed and non-deployed launchers, with 240 deployed launchers counting on the 12 operational submarines. The Navy plans to begin the process of reducing the number of launchers on each submarine in FY2015. By the early 1990s, the United States had completed the deployment of 18 Trident ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).
Each of these submarines was equipped to carry 24 Trident missiles, and each missile could carry up to 8 warheads (either W76 warheads or the larger W-88 warheads on the Trident II missile). The Navy initially deployed eight of these submarines at Bangor, WA, and all eight were equipped with the older Trident I missile. It then deployed 10 submarines, all equipped with the Trident II missile, at Kings Bay, GA. During the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review, the Clinton Administration decided that the United States would reduce the size of its Trident fleet to 14 submarines, and that 4 of the older submarines would be backfit to carry the Trident II missile.
The Bush Administration’s 2001 Nuclear Posture Review endorsed the plan to backfit four of the Trident submarines so that all would carry Trident II missiles. It also indicated that, instead of retiring the remaining four submarines, the Navy would convert them to carry conventional weapons, and designated them “guided missile” submarines (SSGNs). The 2010 NPR also endorsed a force of 14 Trident submarines, although it noted that it might reduce that force to 12 submarines in the latter half of this decade. As was noted above, each submarine will deploy with only 20 missiles to meet the reductions in New START. As a result, the U.S. ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) force may continue to consist of 14 Trident submarines, with 2 in overhaul, through New START implementation.
The SSGN Program
The Navy converted four Trident submarines (the USS OHIO, USS MICHIGAN, USS FLORIDA, and USS GEORGIA) to carry conventional cruise missiles and other conventional weapons. Reports indicate that the conversion process took approximately $1 billion and two years for each of the four submarines. The SSGNs can each carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles, along with up to 100 special forces troops and their mini-submarines. The first two submarines scheduled for this conversion were removed from the nuclear fleet in early 2003. They were slated to receive their engineering overhaul, then to begin the conversion process in 2004. The first to complete the process, the USS OHIO returned to service as an SSGN in January 2006 and achieved operational status on November 1, 2007. According to the Navy, the GEORGIA was scheduled for deployment in March 2008, and the other submarines were scheduled to reach that status later in the year. According to Admiral Stephen Johnson, the Director of the Navy’s Strategic Submarine Program (SSP), all four of the submarines had returned to service by mid-2008, and two were forward-deployed on routine patrols. According to the Navy, these submarines are likely to remain in service through the mid-2020s.
The Backfit Program
As was noted above, both the 1994 and 2001 Nuclear Posture Reviews confirmed that the Navy would backfit four Trident submarines so that they could carry the newer Trident II (D-5) missile. This process not only allowed the Navy to replace the aging C-4 missiles, it also equipped the fleet with a missile that has improved accuracy and a larger payload. With its greater range, it would allow the submarines to operate in a larger area and cover a greater range of targets. These characteristics were valued when the system was designed and the United States sought to enhance its ability to deter the Soviet Union. The Bush Administration believed that the range, payload, and flexibility of the Trident submarines and D-5 missiles remained relevant in an era when the United States may seek to deter or defeat a wider range of adversaries. The Obama Administration has emphasized that, by providing the United States with a secure second strike capability, these submarines enhance strategic stability.
Four of the eight Trident submarines based in Bangor, WA (USS ALASKA, USS NEVADA, USS HENRY M. JACKSON, and USS ALABAMA) were a part of the backfit program. The ALASKA and NEVADA both began the process in 2001; the ALASKA completed its backfit and rejoined the fleet in March 2002 and the NEVADA did the same in August 2002. During the process, the submarines underwent a pre-planned engineered refueling overhaul, which accomplishes a number of maintenance objectives, including refueling of the reactor, repairing and upgrading some equipment, replacing obsolete equipment, repairing or upgrading the ballistic missile systems, and other minor alterations. The submarines also are fit with the Trident II missiles and the operating systems that are unique to these missiles. According to the Navy, both of these efforts came in ahead of schedule and under budget. The HENRY M. JACKSON and ALABAMA were completed their engineering overhaul and backfit in FY2006 and reentered the fleet in 2007 and 2008. The last of the Trident I (C-4) missiles was removed from the fleet in October 2004, when the USS ALABAMA off-loaded its missiles and began the overhaul and backfit process. All the Trident submarines currently in the U.S. fleet now carry the Trident II missile.
When the Navy first decided, in the mid-1990s, to maintain a Trident fleet with 14 submarines, it planned to balance the fleet by deploying 7 Trident submarines at each of the 2 Trident bases. The Navy would have transferred three submarines from Kings Bay to Bangor, after four of the submarines from Bangor were removed from the ballistic missile fleet, for a balance of seven submarines at each base. However, these plans changed after the Bush Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review. The Navy has transferred five submarines to Bangor, balancing the fleet by basing nine submarines at Bangor and five submarines at Kings Bay. Because two submarines would be in overhaul at any given time, this basing plan means that seven submarines would be operational at Bangor and five would be operational at Kings Bay.
According to unclassified reports, the Navy began moving Trident submarines from Kings Bay to Bangor in 2002, and transferred the fifth submarine in September 2005. This change in basing pattern apparently reflected changes in the international security environment, with fewer targets within range of submarines operating in the Atlantic, and a greater number of targets within range of submarines operating in the Pacific. In particular, the shift allows the United States to improve its coverage of targets in China and North Korea. Further, as the United States modifies its nuclear targeting objectives it could alter the patrol routes for the submarines operating in both oceans, so that a greater number of emerging targets would be within range of the submarines in a short amount of time.
The Trident II (D-5) missiles can be equipped to carry up to eight warheads each. Under the terms of the original START Treaty, which was in force from 1994 to 2009, the United States could remove warheads from Trident missiles, and reduce the number listed in the database, a process known as downloading, to comply with the treaty’s limit of 6,000 warheads. The United States took advantage of this provision, reducing to six warheads per missile on the eight Trident submarines based at Bangor, WA. During the George W. Bush Administration, the Navy further reduced the number of warheads on the Trident submarines so that the United States could reduce its forces to the 2,200 deployed warheads permitted under the 2002 Moscow Treaty. The United States did not have to reach this limit until 2012, but it had done so by 2009. The United States may continue to reduce the total numbers of warheads carried on its Trident missiles under the New START Treaty. Unlike START, which attributed the same number of
warheads to each missile of a given type, regardless of whether some of the missiles carried fewer warheads, the United States can deploy different numbers of warheads on different missiles, and count only the actual warheads deployed on the force. This will allow each missile to be tailored to meet the mission assigned to that missile. The United States does not need to indicate how many warheads are deployed on each missile at all times; it must simply report the total number of operationally deployed warheads on all of its strategic nuclear delivery vehicles. The parties will, however, have opportunities to confirm that actual number on a specific missile, with random, short-notice inspections. Moreover, the United States will not have to alter the platforms in the missiles, so it could restore warheads to its Trident missiles if circumstances changed.
Modernization Plans and Programs
The Navy initially planned to keep Trident submarines in service for 30 years, but then extended that time period to 42 years. This extension reflects the judgment that ballistic missiles submarines would have operated with less demanding missions than attack submarines, and could, therefore, be expected to have a much longer operating life than the expected 30-year life of attack submarines. Therefore, since 1998, the Navy has assumed that each Trident submarine would have an expected operating lifetime of at least 42 years, with two 20-year operating cycles separated by a 2-year refueling overhaul. With this schedule, the submarines will begin to retire from the fleet in 2027. The Navy has also pursued a number of programs to ensure that it has enough missiles to support this extended life for the submarines.
Trident Missile Production and Life Extension
The Navy purchased 437 Trident II (D-5) missiles through FY2008, and planned to purchase an additional 24 missiles per year through FY2012, for a total force of 533 missiles. It continued to produce rocket motors, at a rate of around one per month, and to procure alternation kits (known as SPALTs) needed to meet the extended service life of the submarine. Although the Navy plans to deploy its submarines with only 240 ballistic missiles under New START, it needs the greater number of missiles to support the fleet throughout the their life-cycle. In addition, around 50 of the Trident missiles are available for use by Great Britain in its Trident submarines. The remainder would support the missile’s test program throughout the life of the Trident system. The Navy is also pursuing a life extension program for the Trident II missiles, so that they will remain capable and reliable throughout the 42-year life of the Trident submarines. As a result, the funding for the Trident II missile supported the purchase of additional solid rocket motors other critical components required to support the missile throughout its service life.
The Navy allocated $5.5 billion to the Trident II missile program in FY2008 and FY2009. This funding supported the purchase of an additional 36 Trident II missiles. The Navy spent $1.05 billion on Trident II modifications in FY2010 and requested $1.1 billion in FY2011. In FY2010, $294 million was allocated to the purchase of 24 new missiles, $154.4 million was allocated to missile support costs, and $597.7 million was allocated to the Trident II Life Extension program. In FY2011, the Navy requested $294.9 million for the purchase of 24 new missiles, $156.9 million to missile support costs, and $655.4 million to the Trident II Life Extension Program. The FY2012 budget included $1.3 billion for Trident II missile program. Within this total, $191 million was allocated to the purchase of 24 additional new missiles, $137.8 million was allocated to missile support costs, and $980 million was allocated to the Trident II Life Extension Program. This was the last year during which the Navy sought to purchase new Trident II missiles. The FY2013 budget requested $1.2 billion for the Trident II missile program. This total included $524 million for program production and support costs, and $700.5 million for the Trident II life extension program. The Navy requested $1.14 billion for this program area in FY2014. According to the Navy’s budget documents, this allowed it to continue to purchase components, such as the alteration kits for the guidance and missile electronics systems and solid rocket motors for these missiles. It requested $1.17 billion for FY2015 and an additional $1.1 billion for FY2016. According to DOD budget documents, the Navy plans to spend $5.8 billion on Trident II modifications through 2020.
W76 Warhead Life Extension
The overwhelming majority of Trident missiles are deployed with the MK4/W76 warhead, which, according to unclassified estimates, has a yield of 100 kilotons. It is currently undergoing a life extension program (LEP) that is designed to enhance its capabilities. According to some reports, the Navy had initially planned to apply this program to around 25% of the W76 warheads, but has increased that plan to cover more than 60% of the stockpile. According to recent estimates, the Department of energy has delivered more than half of the planned units of the new W76 warheads, and will complete production in 2019. The LEP is intended to add 30 years to the warhead life “by refurbishing the nuclear explosive package, the arming, firing, and fusing system, the gas transfer system, and associated cables, elastomers, valves, pads, cushions, foam supports, telemetries, and other miscellaneous parts.” The FY2016 budget request for the Department of Energy includes $244 million for the W76 LEP. Several questions came up during the life extension program.
For example, some weapons experts questioned whether the warhead’s design is reliable enough to ensure that the warheads will explode at its intended yield. In addition, in June 2006, an inspector general’s report from the Department of Energy questioned the management practices at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which is responsible for the LEP, arguing that management problems had led to delays and created cost overruns in the program. This raised questions about whether NNSA would be able to meet the September 2007 delivery date for the warhead, and, when combined with other technical issues, delayed the delivery of the first W76 warhead until August 2008. The Navy accepted the first refurbished warhead into the stockpile in August 2009.
W88 ALT 370 Program
While most Trident II missiles carry W76 warheads, a portion of the fleet carries the W88 warhead. This warhead, the last to be added to the U.S. nuclear stockpile, entered the force in the late 1980s. According to DOE, this warhead is also in need of work to address concerns with its safety and reliability. In particular, according to recent testimony, the W88 warhead is in the “development engineering phase for Alteration (ALT) 370 to replace the aging arming, fuzing, and firing components.” This program is scheduled to produce its first production unit (FPU) in 2019. This program received $169.5 million in FY2014 and $165.4 million in FY2015. In August 2014, the Nuclear Weapons Council also decided to address potential problems with the warhead’s conventional high explosive during the ALT 370 program. While NNSA has requested $220.2 million for the W88 ALT 370 program in FY2016, it has indicated that the additional funding for this program will come from offsets generated by reducing sustainment activities and the quantities of stored warheads for some other types of warheads. In essence, NNSA “identified areas where increased risk could be accepted to produce cost-savings within the current program—without additional funding—and without additional delays to future work.”
The Ohio Replacement Program (ORP) Program
The Navy is currently conducting development and design work on a new class of ballistic missile submarines, originally known as the SSBN(X) program, but now known as the Ohio Replacement Program (ORP). This new submarine will replace the Ohio-class Trident submarines as they reach the end of their service lives. The Trident submarines will begin to retire in 2027, and the Navy initially indicated that it would need the new submarines to begin to enter the fleet by 2029, before the number of Trident submarines falls below 12. To do this, the Navy would have had to begin construction of its new submarine by 2019 so that it could begin to enter the fleet in 2029. However, in the FY2013 budget request, the Navy delayed the procurement of the new class of submarines by two years. As a result, the first new submarine will enter the fleet in 2031 and the number of SSBNs in the fleet is expected to decline to 10 for most of the 2030s.
Costs and Funding
The SSBN(X) program received $497.4 million in research and development funding in the Navy’s FY2010 budget. The Navy requested an additional $672.3 million in research and development funding for the program in its FY2011 budget proposal. The FY2012 budget included $1.07 billion to develop the SSBN(X). It expected to request $927.8 million in FY2013, with the funding of $29.4 billion between 2011 and 2020. However, with the delay of two years in the procurement of the first SSBN(X), the Navy budgeted only $565 million for the program in FY2013. It then budgeted $1.1 billion for FY2014 and $1.2 billion in FY2015. It has requested an additional $1.39 billion in FY2016, with $971.4 million allocated to submarine development and $419.3 million allocated to power systems.
The Navy had planned to begin the detailed design for the submarine and to begin advanced procurement of critical components in FY2015, with the seven-year construction period for the first submarine beginning in FY2019. This timeline has now been changed, in part to reduce near term costs, but also to reduce risks in the program. The Navy will now begin advanced procurement in FY2017 and begin building the first hull in 2021, rather than 2019. At the same time, it will continue to support the joint U.S./United Kingdom development of a common missile compartment, which both nations will use in their new SSBNs.
The Navy initially estimated that each submarine in this program could cost $6 billion to $7 billion in FY2010 dollars. It has worked to redesign the submarine and reduce the costs, with the plan to hold each submarine to around $4.9 billion, in FY2010 dollars. Officials in the Navy and analysts outside government have expressed concerns about the cost of this program, and about the effect that these costs may have on the rest of the Navy’s shipbuilding plans. A study by the Congressional Budget Office indicated that the SSBN(X) program could cost a total of $97- $102 billion, in 2010 dollars, with $10-$15 billion for research and development and $87 billion for the procurement of 12 submarines. A March 2015 GAO report assessing estimated the total acquisition cost of the SSBN(X) program at about $95.8 billion, in constant FY2015 dollars, including about $11.8 billion in research and development costs and about $84.0 billion in procurement costs. The Navy has recently indicated that, using then-year dollars rather than 2010 dollars, the program is now estimated to cost $139 billion. It expects the first submarine to cost $14.5 billion, with $8.8 billion in construction costs and $5.7 billion in non-recurring engineering work. Subsequent submarines are expected to cost $9.8 billion in then-year dollars, which is equivalent to $5.2 billion in FY2010 dollars.
There is widespread agreement, in the Navy, at the Pentagon, and among defense analysts, that the costs associated with the Ohio Replacement Program could undermine the rest of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. At one point, Navy officials estimated that, if the Navy funded this program through its current, planned shipbuilding budget, it would have to forgo the acquisition of up to 32 other naval vessels. According to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, unless Congress provides extra funding, “the production of 12 new ships to replace the Ohio-class submarines could ‘gut’ the Navy’s shipbuilding budget for more than a decade.” In testimony before Congress in February 2015, Navy officials noted that “the Navy continues to need significant increases in our topline beyond the FYDP [Future Years Defense Plan] … in order to afford the OR [Ohio replacement] SSBN procurement costs. Absent a significant increase … OR SSBN construction will seriously impair construction of virtually all other ships in the battle force: attack submarines, destroyers, and amphibious warfare ships.”
In response to this growing fiscal pressure, Rear Admiral Richard Breckenridge suggested, in testimony offered in 2013, that Congress set up an annual $4 billion supplemental fund outside the Navy’s budget to help support this program. Several Members of Congress have supported this proposal. Congress included language in the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act establishing a National Sea-based Deterrence Fund (P.L. 113-291, §1022). According to the legislation, money placed in the fund will be available for the design, construction, purchase, alteration, and conversion of “national sea-based deterrence vessels,” which is a reference to ballistic missile submarines. The legislation also states that the Secretary of Defense has the authority to transfer up to $3.5 billion into the fund from unobligated funds in the DOD budget. Congress did not, however, appropriate increased funding for this effort, and the Secretary of Defense has not yet identified or transferred any money into this fund. In the FY2016 NDAA, (H.R. 1735, §1051), Congress expanded the authority to transfer funding. Most experts agree that, without increased appropriations, this fund may protect the Navy’s shipbuilding budget from the costs of the Ohio Replacement Program, but that it would require reductions in other programs within DOD.
As a part of its effort to reduce costs, the Navy is designing the new submarines with only 16 ballistic missile launch tubes.
The existing Trident submarines have 24 launch tubes, and each currently carries 24 missiles, although the Navy plans to reduce this number to 20 missiles on each submarine as the United States reduces its forces to comply with the New START Treaty. Congress questioned the Navy on this plan during hearings in April 2011, with some Members questioning whether the United States would be able to deploy enough warheads if it reduced the numbers of missiles on each submarine. Admiral Terry Benedict, the Director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Program Office, testified that the current international security environment, along with the Navy’s ability to upload warheads onto Trident missiles, convinced him, along with other Navy and STRATCOM officials, that they could be comfortable with this configuration. However, Congress remained unconvinced. In the FY2012 Defense Authorization Act, it called for a new study of the plans for the SSBN(X). Congress indicated that the report should consider the possibility of deploying 10 or 12 submarines with 16 launch tubes on each and 8 or 10 submarines with 20 launch tubes on each.
Moreover, the study was to review not only the cost of each option, but also the ability of each option to meet the Navy’s atsea requirements for the SSBN force and the ability of each option to meet the nation’s nuclear employment and planning guidance.
A report published in late 2011 indicated that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) suggested that the Navy reduce the number of SSBNs in the fleet to 10, but increase the number of launch tubes on each submarine to 20. According to the OMB analysis, this could save the Navy $7 billion over the life of the fleet, by reducing acquisition costs and operating costs. It would not, however, undermine the submarines’ mission because, with 20 missiles per submarine, the Navy would still be able to cover the full range of targets assigned to the Trident fleet. Analysts outside government have offered similar suggestions, noting that the Navy could save $27 billion over 10 years and $120 billion over the life of the fleet if the Navy built 8, rather than 12 submarines. Moreover, according to this analysis, the Navy would be able to deploy the necessary number of warheads on these submarines, even if it did not increase the number of launch tubes, by deploying more warheads on each of the Trident missiles on the submarine.
Generally, the number of launch tubes on the submarines should not affect the number of warheads carried by each submarine or the ability of the fleet to hold a range of potential targets at risk. Trident missiles can be equipped with 8 warheads each, but, in their current configuration, with 24 missiles on each submarine, the missiles carry only 4 or 5 warheads each, on average. This number would drop to 3-4 warheads per missile, on average, as the United States reduced to the levels in New START. If the new submarines carry only 16 missiles, rather than the 20 planned under New START, then they could deploy with 5- 6 warheads per missile. In essence, the Navy would put the same number of warheads on each submarine, but would just spread them over a smaller number of missiles. The Navy has noted that, as the United States reduces its forces to New START levels, the lower number of missiles per submarine will allow the United States to retain a larger number of submarines, without exceeding the treaty’s limit of 700 operational delivery vehicles. This will allow the Navy to maintain a fleet of
12 submarines, and to operate those submarines with continuous deployments from 2 bases. The Navy has argued that, if it reduces the numbers of submarines in the fleet, and alters its deployment patterns, it will not be able to meet its requirements, as these cover more than just the total number of warheads on the fleet or total number of warheads at sea at any time. Critics outside the government, however, question this approach, both because a fleet of 12 submarines will cost more to procure and operate than a fleet of only 8 submarines and because this fleet presumes that the United States must retain its current pattern of operations for the SSBN fleet for the next 50-60 years.
With 12 submarines in the fleet, the Navy can maintain 4-5 on station at any time, patrolling in areas where they would need to be to launch their missiles promptly after a presidential order. But critics question whether this pattern, and the “continuous at-sea” deterrent of 4-5 submarines, will be necessary in the decades ahead. They note that the United States will be able to maintain a secure second strike deterrent on the submarines, even if they cannot launch as many warheads promptly as they can launch today. Others however, continue to support the current operational patterns, and to argue for a fleet of 12 submarines into the future. For example, Congress, in the FY2013 Defense Authorization Bill (P.L. 112-239, §130) stated that “the continuous at-sea deterrence provided by a robust and modern fleet of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines is critical to maintaining nuclear deterrence and assurance and therefore is a central pillar of the national security of the United States.” The legislation went on to indicate that “a minimum of 12 replacement ballistic missile submarines are necessary to provide continuous at-sea deterrence over the lifetime of such submarines…. ”
Issues for Congress
This report focuses on the numbers and types of weapons in the U.S. strategic nuclear force structure. It does not address the broader question of why the United States chooses to deploy these numbers and types of weapons, or more generally, the role that U.S. nuclear weapons play in U.S. national security strategy. This question is addressed in other CRS reports. However, as the Obama Administration reviews and possibly revises the plans for U.S. nuclear force structure, Congress could address broader questions about the relationship between these forces and the role of nuclear weapons.
The Bush Administration argued that, because the United States and Russia were no longer enemies, the United States would not size or structure its nuclear forces simply to deter the Russian threat. Instead, nuclear weapons would play a broader role in U.S. national security strategy. The Obama Administration, in contrast, noted that there is a relationship between the size of the U.S. arsenal and the size of the Russian arsenal. The 2010 NPR states that Russia’s nuclear force will remain a significant factor in determining how much and how fast we are prepared to reduce U.S. forces. Because of our improved relations, the need for strict numerical parity between the two countries is no longer as compelling as it was during the Cold War. But large disparities in nuclear capabilities could raise concerns on both sides and among U.S. allies and partners, and may not be conducive to maintaining a stable, long-term strategic relationship, especially as nuclear forces are significantly reduced.
The Bush Administration’s 2001 Nuclear Posture Review determined that the United States would need to maintain between 1,700 and 2,200 operationally deployed nuclear warheads. The Bush Administration also indicated that the United States would maintain in storage many of the warheads removed from deployed forces, and would maintain the capability to restore some of these warheads to the deployed forces to meet unexpected contingencies. The Obama Administration concluded, in its NPR, that the United States could reduce its forces to 1,550 deployed warheads, and agreed to do so under the New START Treaty, but it also planned to retain the capability to restore warheads to its deployed forces. It also plans to retain many warheads in storage, although it has indicated that the size of the total stockpile could decline as the United States reduces its deployed forces to the New START limits.
The Obama Administration has also indicated that the United States may be able to reduce its numbers of deployed and nondeployed warheads further, but that it should do so in parallel with Russia. It indicated, in the 2010 NPR, that “large disparities in nuclear capabilities could raise concerns on both sides and among U.S. allies and partners, and may not be conducive to maintaining a stable, long-term strategic relationship.” In June 2013, the Department of Defense completed a new study, as a follow-up to the NPR, to determine how deeply the United States might reduce its forces, and how it should deploy the remaining forces. Press reports indicate the Pentagon reviewed a number of alternatives in this study, with some contemplating reductions as low as 300 warheads, but the Administration concluded that the United States could reduce U.S. deployed strategic forces by about one-third, to a level of 1,000-1,100 warheads, if it did so along with Russia. They United States would not proceed with unilateral cuts in the U.S. arsenal.
Some analysts have questioned why the United States must maintain such a large force of nuclear weapons. They have questioned whether the United States would attack with such a large number of weapons if its own national survival were not at risk, and they note that only Russia currently has the capability to threaten U.S. national survival. They assert that the United States could likely meet any other potential contingency with a far smaller force of nuclear weapons. Some have concluded, instead, that the United States could maintain its security with a force of between 500 and 1,000 warheads. Others, however, dispute this view and note that the United States has other potential adversaries, and, even if these nations do not possess thousands of nuclear warheads, some may expand their nuclear forces or chemical and biological capabilities in the future. Some have argued that the also needs to assure its allies of its commitment to their security, and this goal could require a force of significant size, regardless of the number of potential targets an adversary
nation might possess.
When the Bush Administration announced the results of the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, it indicated that the United States would retain a triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers for the foreseeable future. The Obama Administration also offered continuing support for the retention of the strategic triad. Nevertheless, as the Obama Administration has outlined plans to modernize and replace the delivery vehicles in all three legs of the strategic triad, many analysts have begun to question whether the United States can afford to retain the triad and whether it can retain a robust deterrent without one of the current types of strategic delivery vehicles.
The Obama Administration indicated, in the 2010 NPR, that the United States would convert some of its bombers to conventional-only missions. This is consistent with the view, among some analysts, that, in the future, the bombers may be more important in the conventional mission. As was noted above, most discussions about the bomber force focus on how many bombers, and what types of bomber weapons, the United States needs to bolster its conventional long-range strike capability. There is little, if any, discussion about the role that bombers may play in either nuclear deterrence, or, if deterrence fails, in the launch of U.S. nuclear weapons. It is not surprising that some in the Air Force and Pentagon and some outside government have questioned the continuing need for nuclear-capable bombers.
The Obama Administration has indicated that the United States will retain 400 deployed ICBMs under the New START Treaty. Each will be equipped with a single warhead. Analysts have often argued, and the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review affirmed, that single-warhead ICBMs bolster crisis stability, and discourage efforts by an adversary to launch a disarming first strike, because the cost of the strike, as measured by the number of attacking warheads, would exceed the benefits, as measured by the number of warheads destroyed. Moreover, these missiles will remain
deployed at three ICBM bases.
Some analysts outside government have called for reductions in or even the elimination of the U.S. ICBM force. Some have argued that the Air Force could save up to $360 million per year if it reduced the ICBM force to 300 missiles. Others have noted that, under the current financial pressures, the Air Force may not be able to afford a new ICBM after 2030. Moreover, even if the financial pressures did not exist, some argue the Air Force should eliminate the ICBM force because it no longer serves U.S. national security needs. For example, in a study published in May 2012, the Global Zero Organization argued for the elimination of the ICBM force because it views these missiles as dangerous and destabilizing in the current security environment. It noted that “ICBMs can only support nuclear wartime operations against Russia” and that current generation ICBMs “fired from the existing bases, on their minimum energy trajectories,” have to overfly Russia and China or fly near Russia to reach targets in potentially adversarial countries. It contends that, if U.S. missiles fly over or near Russia on their way to more southerly targets in Iran or Syria, Russia might be confused by ambiguous attack indications and might then launch its own retaliatory attack against the United States. Second, the report asserted that, because ICBMs are based in fixed silos that are vulnerable to destruction in an attack, they must depend heavily upon “launch on warning” to survive and retaliate in some scenarios. As a result, according to the report, ICBMs exacerbate the risk that the United States might launch its weapons on false warning.
Analysts who support the continued deployment of U.S. ICBMs disputed many of the assertions outlined in the Global Zero report. First, they noted that, although each individual ICBM silo may be vulnerable to destruction if targeted by several incoming warheads, an attack that threatened to destroy the entire U.S. ICBM force would have to consist of hundreds, if not thousands of attacking warheads. This is because the United States maintains nearly 450 ICBM silos hardened against nuclear blast, and an attacker would have to target two or three warheads against
each silo to ensure their destruction. Further, because the United States now deploys each Minuteman missile with only a single warhead, the attacker would have to expend two to three times as many warheads as he could hope to destroy. This calculation underpins the conclusion, which is widespread among nuclear policy analysts, that single-warhead ICBMs enhance stability and discourage attack because they are not lucrative targets.
The Obama Administration has also indicated that it plans to retain 14 Trident submarines until it begins retiring the Ohio-class SSBNs in the late 2020s. Moreover, the New START Treaty allows the United States to continue to reduce the warheads on each missile. It also allows the United States to eliminate some of the launch tubes by simply removing the gas generators that assist in the launch of the missiles. As a result, the United States will have a significant amount of flexibility in apportioning warheads among its SSBNs, and will not have to eliminate any submarines to meet the new START limits. Moreover, the Navy does not plan to alter the basic structure of its Trident fleet; it will continue to deploy its submarines at two bases, with a portion of the fleet deployed in the Atlantic Ocean and a portion deployed in the Pacific Ocean. As a result, with its ability to remain invulnerable to detection and attack, and with the increasing accuracy and reliability of its missiles and warheads, the Trident fleet will continue to represent the backbone of the U.S. nuclear force. Some argue that the United States should reduce the size of its SLBM fleet and retain only 8 or 10 submarines. They argue that this reduction now, and the future acquisition of fewer replacement submarines, could save the Navy $6 billion-$7 billion over the next 10 years. They also note that this change need not reduce the number of operational warheads on SLBMs, because the United States would deploy each submarine with 24 missiles, rather than the 20 planned under New START, and could increase the number of warheads on each missile. However, with so few submarines, the United States might have to eliminate one of its submarine bases, leaving it with submarines based only in the Atlantic or only in the Pacific Ocean. Or the United States might have to reduce the number of submarines on station, and, therefore, the number of warheads available to the President promptly, at the start of a conflict. These changes may not be consistent with current submarine operations and employment plans. President Obama and the U.S. military may want to consider the implications of these basing, operational, and policy changes, before deciding whether or not to reduce to 1,000 warheads, as opposed to choosing the warhead number first then deciding later how to base and operate the remaining nuclear
forces. Analysts outside government have also questioned the Administration’s plans to replace the air launched cruise missile (ALCM) with the new long-range strike missile (LRSO) in the 2020s. As noted above, some argue that this missile will be redundant, as the Air Force is already planning to deploy a new penetrating bomber.
They note that, during the 1980s, the United States deployed cruise missiles both to extend the service life of the B-52 bombers, which could no longer penetrate Soviet air defenses, and to provide a means to attack and destroy those air defenses prior to follow-on attacks with penetrating bombers. But, according to the program’s critics, if the Air Force deploys 100 new bombers that can penetrate advanced air defenses, it will not need cruise missiles to destroy those defenses. Moreover, even if the United States does plan to attack an adversary’s air defenses, it could do so with existing conventional cruise missiles, such as the extended range version of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) missile.
The Air Force has disputed the assertion that the bomber and cruise missile capabilities are redundant. Air Force officials have noted that the two systems are complementary, with each providing different capabilities for the United States and different profiles that would complicate an adversary’s attempts to defend against a U.S. attack. Some analysts also note that advanced air defense systems have proliferated among potential U.S. adversaries, and that these capabilities “make it harder for our forces to reach their targets.” Deploying both penetrating bombers and long-range cruise missiles, therefore, will strengthen the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
The Cost of Nuclear Weapons
When the Obama Administration submitted the 1251 report to the Senate during the New START ratification process, it indicated that it expected to spend around $210 billion over the next 10 years (2011-2021) to maintain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This total, however, did not include most of the costs of producing and procuring the next generation of submarines, bombers, and missiles, as these activities would occur after the timeframe contained in the report. Moreover, it became evident, as Congress reviewed the Administration’s plans to modernize the nuclear enterprise, that it was difficult, if not impossible, to determine how much the United States spent each year on nuclear weapons, as the funding was divided between the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, and, in many cases, was combined with funding for other, non-nuclear activities. In other words, the United States does not maintain a single, unified budget for nuclear weapons and other nuclear activities.
In response to both the growing concerns about the pending costs of nuclear weapons modernization programs and the confusion about how to calculate the annual costs of the nuclear enterprise, Congress directed the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to estimate the costs of U.S. plans for operating, maintaining and modernizing nuclear weapons, the delivery systems, and the DOE nuclear weapons complex over the next 10 years. CBO issued its report in late 2013. It found that the United States was likely to spend $355 billion over the next 10 years on its nuclear weapons enterprise. This total included $56 billion for command, control, communications, and early warning activities and $59 billion for additional costs based on historical cost growth of similar programs. Neither of these categories had been included in the Administration’s estimate in 2010. When CBO considered the same categories as the Administration, it estimated 10-year spending of $241 billion, a number close to the estimate provided by the Administration. CBO updated its estimate in January 2015, and reported that it calculated that the United States would spend $348 billion between 2015 and 2024; excluding command and control and cost growth, the total that was comparable to the Administration’s 2010 estimate was now $247 billion. According to CBO, around $89 billion of its $355 billion total between 2014 and 2023 would go to the modernization programs. As with the Administration’s estimate, the CBO estimate did not include procurement costs for most of these programs, as these would occur in the later 2020s and 2030s. The CBO study noted, however, that annual spending would increase from a total of around $18 billion in FY2014 to an average of $29 billion from 2021 to 2023 and that spending was “likely to continue to grow after 2023 as production begins on replacement systems.” This result indicates that the United States could spend at least $30 billion per year on the nuclear weapons enterprise as it completes its modernization programs. This estimate is consistent with others that have been presented by organizations outside government. For example, in January 2014, analysts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies estimated that the United States might spend $1 trillion, or an average of just over $30 billion per year, over the next 30 years, to modernize its nuclear enterprise. In addition, in a briefing prepared in May 2013, the Air Force estimated that the investments in nuclear modernization programs would peak in between 2025 and 2035, at approximately $30 billion per year.
While there now appears to be a broad base of agreement about the magnitude of the costs that the United States is likely to incur as it modernizes its nuclear arsenal, there is little agreement about whether the United States can, or should, proceed with all of these programs. Many analysts have noted that, with the passage of the Budget Control Act in 2011, the amount of funding available for defense spending will be nearly $1 trillion lower than expected when the Obama Administration first outlined the nuclear modernization program. In this environment, rising costs for nuclear weapons programs are likely to cut into funding for other Pentagon priorities. As noted above, the Navy addressed this problem when it noted that funding for the Ohio Replacement program would undermine the rest of the plans in its shipbuilding budget.
Moreover, this problem is not likely to disappear after the Budget Control Act expires in 2021. Frank Kendall, the Under Secretary of Defense for AT&L, noted in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that “the funding that we have requested from both departments, through the 5-year plan that we’ve submitted, is adequate to execute our plan during that period. After the end of that period, as we start to actually produce the systems I talked about, we’re going to have an affordability problem that we have to deal with.” He went on to say, “In 2021, we’re going to start to have a problem finding ways to afford these systems.”
Others, however, argue that the United States not only can afford to bear the costs of these systems, but cannot afford the costs of failing to modernize its nuclear arsenal. Admiral Haney, the Commander of Strategic Command, made this point in a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, when he said that “achieving strategic deterrence in the 21st century requires continued investment in strategic capabilities and renewed multigenerational commitment of intellectual capital.” He argued that “any cuts to that budget, including those imposed by sequestration, will hamper our ability to sustain and modernize our military forces.” He noted that, as the modernization programs progressed, spending on nuclear weapons was likely to rise from around 2.5%-3% of DOD’s budget to around 5%-6% of that budget in the late 2020s to 2030s. When asked whether the United States could afford to make this investment, he noted that other nations have been modernizing their forces and continued to pose an “existential threat” to the United States. He noted that “in order to maintain and sustain its strategic stability, it’s very important that we have that kind of balance” with these nations. And he asked, “Quite frankly, the question really is, can we afford not to” proceed with the modernization programs.