Long-Term Nuclear Modernization Funding Hurdles

Plans to modernize the nation’s nuclear warhead stockpile and nuclear triad delivery systems will begin to run into funding challenges in the next decade, the five members of the US Nuclear Weapons Council told Senate legislators on March 4. Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel that after the Future Years Defense Plan, which runs from Fiscal 2016 to 2021, “affordability problems” will begin to surface as the US begins to produce systems and weapons to modernize the nuclear deterrent. “We acquired a lot of the same force structure at the same time,” Kendall noted. He said key systems, such as the Navy’s nuclear submarine modernization effort and the Air Force’s Air Launched Cruise Missile replacement and the Long-Range Strike Bomber, all will be gearing up during the early 2020s. “The budget is a bit higher in the out years,” Kendall said, because DOD wants to accelerate certain programs, such as the Long Range Standoff missile program to replace the ALCM by 2025 (up from 2027). Panel Chair Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) noted that even with increased costs, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the spending curve drops back down by 2034, but he said even with a temporary spike, the investment would not be “bankrupting the country.”