Cost of US nuclear missile program soars to nearly $160 billion – sources

Cost of US nuclear missile program soars to nearly $160 billion – sources
Cost of US nuclear missile program soars to nearly $160 billion – sources

The cost of the U.S. Air Force’s program to replace aging nuclear missiles has climbed to about $160 billion from $95.8 billion, according to three sources, a move that could trigger cuts in other crucial funding for modernization plans.

The project, now called the Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program, is designed and managed by Northrop Grumman Corp and is aimed at replacing the aging Minuteman III missiles.

Its price tag has risen by about $65 billion from a previous estimate in 2020, according to a U.S. official, an industry executive and an aide briefed on the matter. That could force the Pentagon to reduce the scope or timeline of the project, a second industry executive said.

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Bloomberg reported earlier Friday that the new price tag was around $141 billion and that the Pentagon was considering changes to the construction and schedule.

Northrop Grumman declined to comment. The Pentagon had no comment on the figure but said it expected to provide a new cost estimate around Tuesday.

Sentinel’s new cost estimate dwarfs an increase of “at least” $131 billion that the Air Force made public in January.

This factor triggered the Nunn-McCurdy Act, a 1982 rule that requires the Pentagon to formally justify to Congress the importance of a program whose unit acquisition costs have increased more than 25% above the initial price.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to deliver that notification next week.

While Air Force leaders argue that Sentinel is crucial to maintaining America’s nuclear deterrent, the Pentagon asked industry to provide cost estimates on a life extension program for the existing inventory of Minuteman III missiles, according to documents seen by Reuters.

According to two of the sources, rising cost estimates are putting pressure on other Air Force priorities, such as the Next Generation Air Dominance fighter jet program.

Other programs potentially at risk include the development of hypersonic weapons, the B-21 bomber and various space initiatives.

With information from Reuters

 
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