Nuclear Bow Wave Builds With Program Starts
Feb 2, 2015 Bill Sweetman | Aerospace Daily & Defense Report
The 2016 budgets for the U.S. Defense and Energy departments mark the start or expansion of a number of nuclear-deterrence initiatives, but with many of the bills coming due in future years.
The biggest current-year items cover research and development of the Navy’s Ohio Replacement submarine, at $1.39 billion in fiscal 2016. This comprises a $971 million Navy R&D line item and part of an Energy Department $1.37 billion request for naval reactor development under the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), of which $156 million is dedicated to the new life-of-ship reactor for the Ohio replacement. Navy leaders have complained that the service cannot afford to build the boats within its current shipbuilding budget, but this year’s budget does not address procurement for the new ballistic missile submarine.
The U.S. Air Force’s Long-Range Strike Bomber receives $1.25 billion in research and development funding for fiscal 2016. In previous years’ budgets, this program has been projected to reach $3.1 billion per year in 2018 and $3.45 billion in 2018. The Air Force’s budget briefing describes the LRSB as “optionally manned.”
Two Air Force nuclear missile programs start in 2016. The Long Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO) replacement for the Air Launched Cruise Missile gets $36.6 million in R&D, up from $3.4 million in 2015, but the Air Force states that the fiscal 2016 budget “accelerates the LRSO program by two years.” Together with the fact that the Air Force announced last week that the LRSO analysis of alternatives had been completed, this implies strongly that the new Future Years Defense Program will provide more money beyond 2016. Older budget documents suggest that LRSO could rise to $300-$350 million per year in its early development stages.
A new line item provides an initial $75.2 million for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program, which is currently aimed at developing a replacement intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to replace the Minuteman III. A request for information on GBSD was issued in January, and the basic plan includes the restoration of the ICBM infrastructure – launch control centers and silos – starting in 2022. That will be followed by development of an all-new missile using the existing warheads.
Also seeing a substantial increase is the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Modernization program, now mainly dedicated to the B61-12 aircraft-delivered nuclear bomb. R&D is budgeted at $212.1 million in fiscal 2016, up from $168.3 million in 2015 and $33 million in 2014. This funds the non-nuclear elements of the program, including the GPS-inertial guided tail-kit and part of the integration onto the F-35. Development of the nuclear package – rebuilt from existing B61s, with increased security and an 0.3-50 kiloton variable yield – is included in the $8.8 billion NNSA budget for nuclear weapons.
In a January report, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that nuclear programs will cost the U.S. government an average of $35 billion per year over the next decade, with $227 billion spent by the Pentagon and $121 billion by the Energy Department’s NNSA.
In a pre-budget briefing, Todd Harrison, senior fellow of defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, noted problems with the idea of special funds for nuclear programs. He credits the Navy with being “forthright” about its inability to afford the Ohio Replacement submarines – “there is a huge bow wave of modernization beyond the FYDP,” he says – but the proposal’s “logic breaks down. There are lots of other things that meet the same definition of a national asset,” including LRSB and GBSD. “What about satellites? What about tankers that refuel bombers? It’s ridiculous where that logic takes you. Just admit that it’s going to come from the Army.”
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