[Defense in Brief] U.S. nuclear upgrades continue to be ‘highest’ priority but remain ‘underfunded’

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Three successive secretaries of defense through two administrations have consistently named upgrading and modernizing the United States’ nuclear deterrence of the highest priority, and yet the process — while ongoing — remains critically underfunded. “There is no higher priority for the joint force than fielding all of the components of an effective nuclear deterrent… we in the Joint Force put our nuclear deterrent as the number one priority for modernization and recapitalization,” said Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Paul Selva during congressional testimony in March. And yet, despite nuclear threats from Russia, China, and North Korea, U.S. nuclear forces are aging rapidly, with many already beyond their life expectancies. The newest systems in U.S. nuclear forces, our ballistic missile submarines, are over 20 years old; the B-52 bomber is more than 50 years old and not slated to be replaced anytime soon; and the Minuteman III ICBM is approaching 50 years old. The replacement programs for each of these systems are on tight schedules and there is no margin for further delays. Under the continuing resolution — which military experts, officials and lawmakers have repeatedly warned is hurting readiness — nuclear modernization and recapitalization programs are severely under-resourced by over $1 billion. This includes $640 million for the B-21 bomber (under development), the Air Force’s programs for developing the new ICBM and nuclear cruise missile are underfunded by over $460 million, and the Navy’s Columbia class ballistic missile submarine program is underfunded by more than $140 million.

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