Alissa Tabirian, Defense Daily
3 February 2016
Significant cuts to the U.S. nuclear modernization program, including the cancellation of the B61 gravity bomb consolidation and new cruise missile programs, could save the U.S. $120 billion over the next 30 years, according to a report released Wednesday by the Center for American Progress.
The report noted that the cost of the U.S. nuclear deterrent would likely surpass $1 trillion over the next 30 years and, due to a constrained budget environment, compete with military services' conventional weapons system priorities and readiness.
"There absolutely is a tension between modernizing conventional forces and nuclear forces," Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said at the report launch. "It comes down to strategic priorities," he said. "Every dollar we spend on a nuclear program is a dollar we can't spend on something else in the budget, and vice versa, so these are real trade-offs."
The report offered four changes in the modernization program that could save $120 billion while preserving the structure of the nuclear triad and maintaining the warhead ceiling under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. It recommended procuring 10 ballistic-missile submarines instead of the Navy's planned 12 Ohio replacement submarines, canceling the new long-range standoff cruise missile, abandoning the tactical nuclear mission that sustains 180 B61 bombs at European bases, and gradually reducing the size of the intercontinental ballistic missile force.
The report said President Barack Obama should cancel the new cruise missile and B61 consolidation programs before leaving office. Co-author Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the White House should at the very least pause these two programs to give the next administration flexibility in making decisions on the need for either one. He said the additional strategic benefits of the B61-12 gravity bombs stationed in Europe are marginal. "We believe that these are not core systems necessary for deterrence, but in fact they're niche systems that can help with a couple of highly tenuous, very specific deterrence problems, but in fact they're simply not worth the cost," Mount said.
The Pentagon should be directed to produce a report on modernization plans to help the next administration develop its Nuclear Posture Review, the report said. Obama should "order a comprehensive review of these modernization plans, gather the data, do the budget analysis that's necessary to inform the next Nuclear Posture Review," Mount said. "It should be ready on day one for the next administration as they take office." The review should consist of modernization plan cost estimates, the role of each strategic system, and the impact of nuclear plans on conventional modernization programs, he said.
The report added that the next administration should "seriously consider" further reducing the next-generation submarine force from 10 to eight vessels and delaying the Long-Range Strike Bomber program for more cost savings.