The Pentagon insists it needs its Cold War-era nuclear triad of bombers, submarines, and land-based missiles to ensure at least one of those legs will survive following a surprise enemy attack. That’s so the U.S. can respond to such a bolt-out-of-the-blue strike with an atomic rejoinder of its own. It’s a long-standing, although dubious, refrain.
“We found that the Soviet threat to the weapon systems of the land and sea legs had … been overstated,” a top Government Accounting Office official at the time told Congress 26 years ago. “For the sea leg, this was reflected in unsubstantiated allegations about likely future breakthroughs in Soviet submarine detection technologies.”
Competition—which too often proves scarce when it comes to military procurement—is becoming an even rarer commodity.
The Pentagon’s logic undergirding the triad, such as it is, is in danger of falling apart: The U.S. military is on the cusp of putting all of those nuclear eggs into a single basket.
Northrop Grumman is developing the Air Force’s B-21, the nation’s only new strategic bomber, as well as the motors that power the nuclear missiles launched by Navy submarines. And now, as of July 25, it is the lone American company seeking to build a new generation of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). That’s the day Boeing, which has built the nation’s ICBMs for 60 years, announced it was junking its bid to build the newest such missiles. It contends that Northrop’s 2018 purchase of Orbital ATK, the maker of the nation’s largest rocket motor, gives it an unfair advantage.
Why we’re here—and how we got here—is a tale of a once-massive military-industrial complex melting down into a handful of firms. That has made competition, which too often proves scarce when it comes to military procurement, an even rarer commodity. And, as it stands right now in the case of the nuclear triad, non-existent.
If you’re a true hawk—or even just a taxpayer—this is no way to prepare for nuclear war.
Boeing’s decision to abandon its effort to build the next generation ICBM sent a jolt through the nation’s rocket business. It signals an apparent end to Boeing’s critical role in the production of ICBMs. It has built all three generations of the Minuteman, the first of which was deployed during the Kennedy administration. It has also played a key role in keeping them ready to launch within five minutes of a presidential order ever since.
For decades, the Pentagon has named its various ICBM forces after their missiles—Atlas, Titan, Minuteman I, II, and III, along with the MX Peacekeeper (only 400 Minuteman IIIs, buried in silos near Air Force bases in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming, remain on duty). But the ICBM force now under development is known, grandiosely, as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), kind of like a newborn human baby without a name. (“Right now, the GBSD procurement is open, so I’m not going to comment on that,” chief Pentagon weapons buyer Ellen Lord said August 26 when asked what impact Boeing’s withdrawal from the ICBM competition might have.)
The GBSD is part of the Pentagon’s mammoth plan to replace all three legs of the nuclear triad. In addition to the roughly $100 billion price tag on the new crop of ICBMs, the U.S. military wants to replace its B-52 and B-2 bombers with Northrop’s new B-21 Raider (estimated cost: $100 billion). It is retiring its Ohio-class “boomer” subs with a new Columbia-class fleet (estimated cost: $128 billion), both of which are outfitted with the Northrop-powered Trident missiles.
The cost of buying and operating these weapons is estimated at an eye-watering $1.7 trillion between now and 2046 (Emphasis added—Ed.), according to the independent Arms Control Association. (end of excerpt)
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