To continue to field a nuclear force roughly the same size as it is today, the United States plans to modernize virtually every element of that force over the coming decades.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the most recent detailed plans for nuclear forces, which were incorporated in the Obama Administration’s 2017 budget request, would cost $1.2 trillion in 2017 dollars over the 2017–2046 period: more than $800 billion to operate and sustain (that is, incrementally upgrade) nuclear forces and about $400 billion to modernize them.
That planned nuclear modernization would boost the total costs of nuclear forces over 30 years by roughly 50 percent over what they would be to only operate and sustain fielded forces, CBO estimates. During the peak years of modernization, annual costs of nuclear forces would be roughly double the current amount. That increase would occur at a time when total defense spending may be constrained by long-term fiscal pressures, and nuclear forces would have to compete with other defense priorities for funding.
In its first few months, the Trump Administration began a new Nuclear Posture Review to determine a nuclear policy and force structure “appropriately tailored to deter 21st century threats.”
That review may recommend changing modernization plans and force sizes inherited from the Obama Administration to reflect the Trump Administration’s priorities for nuclear forces or to shift resources to address other defense priorities in the face of long-term budgetary pressures.
To assist policymakers, CBO examined nine options that could be pursued to lower or delay the costs of planned modernization. Some options would keep forces at or near the limit of 1,550 deployed warheads permitted under the New START treaty; others would reduce forces to around 1,000 deployed warheads. Those cuts to the forces would, to varying degrees, reduce the capability of future nuclear forces relative to those of forces as planned in 2017, although all components that would be retained in the options would be modernized.
What Are the 30-Year Costs of Planned Nuclear Forces?
CBO projects that the 2017 plan for nuclear forces would cost a total of $1.2 trillion from 2017 to 2046. Of that amount:
■ $772 billion would be allocated for the operation, sustainment, and modernization of strategic nuclear delivery systems and weapons—the long-range aircraft, missiles, and submarines that launch nuclear weapons; the nuclear weapons they carry; and the nuclear reactors that power the submarines (see Summary Table 1).
■ $25 billion would be allocated for the operation, sustainment, and modernization of tactical nuclear delivery systems—the aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons over shorter ranges—and the weapons they carry.
■ $445 billion would be allocated for the complex of laboratories and production facilities that support nuclear weapons activities and the command, control, communications, and early-warning systems that enable the safe and secure operation of nuclear forces.
Click here for the full report (73 PDF pages) on the CBO website.