Thursday, June 25, 2015

Analysis: U.S. nuclear force upgrade affordable despite high cost

David Alexander, Reuters
24 June 2015

WASHINGTON – An effort to modernize the U.S. nuclear force, from bombs to ballistic missile submarines, is affordable despite estimates the cost could be as high as $1 trillion over 30 years, according to a new study by a Washington think-tank.
But paying for the nuclear modernization could mean trade-offs elsewhere, "thus, the issue is not affordability – rather, it is a matter of prioritization," the authors of the study said in preliminary findings released late on Tuesday.
Todd Harrison and Evan Braden Montgomery, analysts at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think-tank, estimated the annual cost of maintaining and upgrading the U.S. nuclear force would rise 56 percent to a peak of about $26 billion by 2027 before falling back to current levels of about $17 billion per year by 2039.
They said rebuilding the country's nuclear force was affordable because the cost would never exceed 5 percent of the total annual defense budget, currently at more than $500 billion.
Five percent is half of what the Pentagon spends on healthcare each year, they said.
The question, they said, is: "Should nuclear forces, and by extension their modernization programs, be given a higher priority in the budget than other forces? This question is ultimately a matter of national security strategy."
The United States is in the process of overhauling all three legs of its nuclear triad of delivery systems, submarines, ballistic missiles and bombers, because the aging current systems are reaching the end of their service life.
The modernization program is expected to take some 25 years to complete. It comes at a time of tight budgets as the
U.S. military is buying other expensive new weapons, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and new aircraft carriers.
Harrison and Montgomery did not initially offer a specific dollar estimate of the cost of modernizing nuclear missiles, bombers, warheads and submarines.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated this year the cost would be about $348 billion over the next 10 years, similar to findings issued by the Stimson Center think-tank in 2012.
Because modernization is expected to take 25 years or so, much of the work would fall outside the 10-year timeline of the CBO and Stimson studies.
The Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California estimated last year that the cost of nuclear modernization would top $1 trillion over 30 years.
A congressionally mandated National Defense Panel concluded last year the modernization program was "unaffordable" under current budget constraints.

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