WASHINGTON --- When President Barack Obama’s term ended in January, he left a momentous decision to the Trump administration: whether to continue a 30-year, $1 trillion program to remake America’s atomic weapons, as well as its bombers, submarines and land-based missiles.
Mr. Trump has pledged to overhaul the arsenal, which he has called obsolete. But his challenge is growing: The first official government estimate of the project, prepared by the Congressional Budget Office and due to be published in the coming weeks, will put the cost at more than $1.2 trillion — 20 percent more than the figure envisioned by the Obama administration.
The Trump White House’s proposed budget calls for big increases in research and development for new weapons, but it does not yet grapple with the ultimate budget-busting cost of producing a new fleet of delivery vehicles. The Obama administration left the hard budgetary choices for the next administration, and it is unclear whether Mr. Trump’s administration can stomach the rising cost.
“This is why there is no real five-year plan for the defense budget,” said Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, who has asked whether the United States needs all of the 1,550 nuclear weapons it can deploy under a 2010 treaty with Russia. “No one wants to face these numbers.”
The new estimate, which was obtained by The New York Times, offers a hard look at what it would take to remake an aging nuclear weapons complex that is vulnerable to cyberattack. While Mr. Obama once talked about eliminating such weapons over a period of decades, Mr. Trump has a different view. In December, he wrote on Twitter that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.”
The Obama administration program envisioned a nuclear arms buildup unseen since the Reagan administration, with all the resonance of a re-emerging cold war. On the table is the development of a new long-range, nuclear-tipped cruise missile that Mr. Obama’s Defense Department embraced but that some leading nuclear strategists consider unnecessary and potentially destabilizing.
While few question the need for a major update to the nation’s nuclear infrastructure — there are B-52 bombers now being maintained or flown by the grandchildren of their original crew members — the United States is facing a bill so large that the Trump administration has yet to fully figure it into its budget projections.
“It’s a staggering estimate,” said Andrew C. Weber, an assistant defense secretary in the Obama administration and a former director of the Nuclear Weapons Council, an interagency body that oversees the nation’s arsenal. (end of excerpt)
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