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Trump’s nuclear modernisation plan will be more costly, but DoD officials are optimistic

04 February 2018

The Trump administration’s new nuclear modernisation plan, outlined in a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) released on 2 February, will add to the prior plan’s already significant cost, but Department of Defense (DoD) officials are optimistic they can afford it.An unarmed Minuteman III ICBM is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California during a routine system test. The previous nuclear modernisation plan was estimated to cost USD1.2 trillion over 30 years, but the plan adds several programmes and will be more costly. (USAF)An unarmed Minuteman III ICBM is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California during a routine system test. The previous nuclear modernisation plan was estimated to cost USD1.2 trillion over 30 years, but the plan adds several programmes and will be more costly. (USAF)

The Obama administration planned to upgrade all legs of the ‘triad’. This includes a new nuclear-capable Long Range Standoff (LRSO) cruise missile, 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) to replace the Ohio class, Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) to largely replace silo-based Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and new Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider long-range nuclear bombers.

The Trump administration will continue those efforts, plus add low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and a new nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM). Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood told reporters the funding numbers for this new plan would not be revealed until the fiscal year 2019 budget is submitted later in February.

The US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the previous nuclear force plan would cost USD1.2 trillion, in 2017 dollars, over the 2017-46 period.

“While cost estimates for the programme to sustain and replace US nuclear capabilities vary, even the highest of these projections place the highpoint of the future cost at approximately 6.4% of the current DoD budget,” the new NPR said. “Maintaining and operating our current aging nuclear forces now requires between 2% and 3% of the DoD budget.” It does not say how the DoD will account for that 3-4% increase from the current costs to the future costs.

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