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Exploding Budgets

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The government is set to spend $640 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next ten years.

If you didn’t know that, you are not alone. No one has put together a reliable estimate of these future budgets – until now. A new report compiled by Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, is the first to aggregate all the programs and plans. Our calculations reveals a total cost of between $620 billion and $661 billion, or a median average of $640 billion.

The United States currently spends about $56 billion a year on these programs. As a result, America has the most powerful, modern, nuclear force in the world, dwarfing the arsenals of all other nations save Russia.

I recently sat in the cockpit of a B-52 bomber at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. The huge plane was built in 1961, but has been so carefully maintained and modernized that it seemed brand new. The crew (who, as is frequently noted, were all younger than the plane) was proud of their aircraft, their squadron and their mission. They fly what may be the best, most cost-effective, long-range bomber in the world. A B-52 can fly from its base and hours later steer a precision-guided bomb into the second window from the left of a terrorist headquarters.  Few would disagree that these funds were well spent.

As I stood in the plane’s bomb bay, the crew showed me the racks where the conventional bombs would slide out and the nuclear bombs slide in.  Although these bomber squadrons saw extensive service in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is difficult to envision a scenario that would require dropping dozens of nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, the crews train for this mission, and it is one of the reasons why the Air Force is planning to build a brand new bomber. It has budgeted $6.3 billion over the next five years to begin its design, with total costs yet unknown. A new air-launched nuclear cruise missile will also be ordered.

The nation may decide it needs this capability.  But does it need all the programs now on order? As Mark Thompson points out, these plans may be outdated:

Battleland has been asking military officials for years how much the U.S. nuclear arsenal has to shrink before continuing to invest in the triad’s subs, missiles and bombers no longer makes sense.

Yet, contracts are being signed and plans are being made to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on new nuclear weapons and programs. Procurement is racing ahead of policy. The Cold War has been over for 20 years, the public does not think much about nuclear weapons, our political leaders rarely talk about them, but the nuclear weapons complex still operates as if the Soviet Union still threatened us.

The Air Force, for example, is just finishing a $7 billion modernization of the Minuteman III, an intercontinental ballistic missile that can fly a hydrogen bomb around the globe in 30 minutes and drop it on an area the size of a football field. The current version has few parts remaining from the original missile, and is projected to be in good working order until at least 2030. The Air Force, however, has just added $10 million to this year’s budget to begin design of a replacement missile, a program that could ultimately cost tens of billions of dollars.

The Navy has the most modern nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines in the world. You don’t have to watch ABC’s new thriller, Last Resort, to understand that these 14 Trident class subs can carry up to 24 long-range missiles, each with four warheads on average, and each warhead eight to 40 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

To make sure these subs can continue to have enough firepower to simultaneously destroy every major city on Earth, the Navy is modernizing the sub’s missiles at a cost of more than $4 billion. But the Navy is also designing a new submarine whose development and production will cost an estimated $90-110 billion. With operations and maintenance, and the Navy estimates it will cost $350 billion over the lifetime of the fleet.

The entire nuclear arsenal “is set to undergo the costliest overhaul in its history, even as the military faces spending cuts to its conventional arms programs at a time of fiscal crisis,” The Washington Post found in a two-part series in mid-September. These programs would keep our nuclear arsenal at current force levels for another five decades. Once locked in, they build constituent support, making cancelation politically difficult, even as costs double, or triple.

Adding to the triad’s costs are programs to rebuild thousands of existing nuclear warheads, missile defense programs that cost over $10 billion a year, a new controversial multi-billion plant to make plutonium fuel for reactors (even though no power company wants to buy these hot rods), and the billions that are spent each year on dealing with the problems caused by these weapons  (such as environmental clean up), security for nuclear material stockpiles here and in other nations, and planning for nuclear incidents.

The Bill, Please

If you ask the government how much we spend on these programs, they have no answer. Official accounts of nuclear spending are opaque and poorly defined. Partially, this is due to the sprawl of these programs over several departments, services and divisions. Partially, it is due to disagreement over what programs should be included. Partially, it is the consistently unreliable government budget projections.

Whatever the reason, this unaccountable spending is unacceptable in a world where military leaders agree that these Cold War weapons should take a back seat to the conventional forces we need now. It makes even less sense if one takes seriously that the official policy of the United States is to reduce the number of weapons in our nuclear arsenal and their role in national security strategy.

Before the Congressional debates over cuts to defense spending take off in November, taxpayers have a right to know how their national security money is being spent. Can we save money by shifting resources out of the nuclear programs? Several congressional leaders think so. Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says the nuclear budget “is ripe for cuts.” Rep. Adam Smith (D- Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, says our nuclear policy is out of date and there are “clearly savings to be found.”

But how will they know where to cut without having a total picture of what we spend? The new study took a year of work and is the only existing projection of the total cost for nuclear weapons-related spending in the United States over the next 10 years.

Included in the estimate are all costs associated with nuclear weapons production, operation, maintenance, clean up, and defense, as well as the prevention of nuclear proliferation. The report includes an infographic depicting these various programs and their costs. Some programs, like those for environmental clean-up and securing weapon materials from terrorists, cannot be cut, even as force levels decline. But policy makers could realize substantial savings by cutting the nuclear force from today’s roughly 8,000 nuclear weapons, without sacrificing any benefits of the nuclear force.

Policy makers may well conclude that there are benefits to maintaining some level of nuclear weapons for the indefinite future. But it is very hard to imagine any military mission that requires the United States to drop 1,000 nuclear weapons on another nation Or 100. Or even 10. Yet we maintain an active stockpile of thousands of weapons and never bother to tally up the costs.

There are signs of hope. Just last month the Congress passed a continuing resolution that eliminated funding for a new plutonium-bomb factory at Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory. Originally estimated to cost $400 million, its cost had exploding to almost $6 billion. All to churn out 60 to 80 new bomb cores a year for reasons no one could well define. Republicans heading the House Appropriations Committee and their Democratic counterparts in the Senate agreed with the Administration plan to delay this program for five years – effectively killing it. The Department of Energy is disbanding the design team and redirecting unspent funds.  An alternative building is in the works that can produce the few replacement plutonium cores that we actually need each year for closer to the original budget. Net savings: more than $5.5 billion.

There are many more ways we can keep our weapons safe and effective while cutting costs. New scrutiny is being focused on plans to overhaul 400 B-61 nuclear bombs. What was supposed to be a simple modernization has spiraled into a $10 billion boondoggle, giving a literal meaning to “gold-plating.” At an estimated cost of $28 million, each of these 700-pound bombs will be worth more than its weight in gold.

Congress will have a fierce debate over the defense budget when it returns after the election. Before our representatives eliminate vital programs that may force veterans to sacrifice well-earned benefits and soldiers, sailors and marines to forego needed supplies, bringing basic accountability and a little common sense to nuclear programs can eliminate cold war weapons we no longer need and shift budgets to those that we do.

Joe Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund and author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons.

47 comments
izzyrox971
izzyrox971

But I heard on another Article by Russell Rumbaugh that we spent around $20 billion a year, and that in the next ten years we will spend $214 billion? So I'm confused whose statistics are right?

TammyatPNA
TammyatPNA

Thank you for such an informative article. You noted that the US "...spends about $56 billion a year on these programs," but I wonder how much profit is generated per annum?

Without detonation, nuclear weapons are already damaging us as a global society.   The time to demand change is long overdue.

investincreating
investincreating

So let's say this was a firefight between two people. 

X has 1,000 bullets and y has 10,000 bullets. Is there really any advantage to having 9,000 extra bullets? If they both start shooting, it is, in fact Mutually Assured Destruction after only 20 bullets fired. 

So let's say x and y have lost their moral compass and decide to put a group of unarmed citizens - children, grandmothers, infirmed, in front of them - you know, as a deterrent. They might need more than 20 bullets now, they might need 120. Maybe even 200, so as not to leave people writhing in pain. Ready, aim, fire - you still don't need 10,000 bullets. 

So let's say x has 10,000 bullets and y has 10,000 bullets, and they stand there eyes locked for 3 days straight, soiling themselves, neglecting their families and profaning basic human dignity on both sides, because neither one can back down. 

Imagine X saying to Y: "Y, I see that you are suffering, and I hear my children crying behind me. Let us each give up 100 bullets. I'll go first, so you can see. Even giving up 100 bullets, we are both still capable of annihilating each other and these unarmed civilians we've randomly chosen." 

In the moment Y agrees to X's suggestion, they are now in cooperation. They have found something to agree on. The tone shifts toward nobility and civility, rather than toward fear and hatred. It creates a whole new set of possibilities. And neither one has put themselves at any more risk with 9,900, than with the whole shaBANG. 

Ironically it is the one who suggests disarmament that is the stronger of the two. Bravado taken to the extreme, that gets us all killed, is reckless, not praiseworthy.  

If the U.S. wants to be the world leader, let's at least lead the world in a noble direction. 

Let's START now. 

karnov
karnov

I'm sure that your careful reasoning for nuclear disarmament would go over wonderfully with a nuclear armed radical Islamist state in which the cult of death and martyrdom welcomes self destruction.

karnov
karnov

Somehow, I cannot see the Chinese joining hands with America to sing campfire songs and give up their nuclear arsenal as a show of goodwill. There are also any number of fanatics in the middle east who would love to pull off a nuclear strike on the United States.  Portraying the nuclear arsenal as a cold war relic fails to recognize such existing threats which still necessitate the nuclear option - to say nothing of the potential nuclear hostiles in North Korea or Pakistan.  

investincreating
investincreating

oh, so now China is our sworn enemy? When you're looking at the world through the scope of weaponry, everyone starts to look like an enemy. We have very different views from the Chinese, but in 200 years they have not made an aggressive gesture toward us. Are they poised to surpass us in science and technology? Yes. So why not spend the billions we're wasting on nukes and put it toward education instead?  

Fanatics in the Middle East. Well, we had 8,000 nuclear weapons on 9/11 and that didn't seem to "deter" anyone. And if a radical group was able to strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon, who would you suggest we retaliate against? The unarmed civilian population of that country? Does an eye for an eye take away the pain of the first act? Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. Love thine enemies, bless those that curse you.Thou shalt not kill. Turn the other cheek. Blessed are the Peacemakers.The nuclear arsenal at today's level IS a cold war relic. I think you missed my point entirely. (and the mocking of anyone who deems to suggest we might have overdone it just a tad is kind of a cliché). We do not need 8,000 nuclear warheads to "deter" North Korea. 

We have a choice as a species to continue down the road we're on and create hell on earth, or to change it and do something different. 

Theo76
Theo76

The problem here is that other countries are still experimenting and using plutonium enrichment as a means of possible armament. Trials continue to show their boldness with verbal threats and/or taunts with additional testing still taking place. Yes this is Cold War era mindset. The facts are right in front of us however if you take a look at history's timeline. Other countries are playing the game of catch up and are now including our most hostile threats. 

Just as we serve to protect allies ,these nuclear threats could also be sold to neighboring countries for war or terror. Yes we preach nuclear disarmament, however it does no good on the black market with countries who finance the research, countries who do not cooperate, or countries who turn a blind eye. It forces our hands to be played accordingly in a time period when we are 16 trillion in debt and counting. 

Do i condone spending $1,000,000,000,000 on Cold War assets? No. But we are forced to play the cards we are dealt in a time period when history is catching up with itself. None of it should even exist, but i would say its never been more important than today as a means of deterring overseas nuclear threats as they continue to arise. 

rolthewolf
rolthewolf

How our nation could honestly debate the necessity for Public Television funding or NASA or Federal education support funding or spending on food stamps, when we don't even debate the waste of $56 billion this year on weapons that we hope never to use; it's absolutely mind boggling!

karnov
karnov

 Total non sequitur:  the budget is not a zero sum game; just because nukes are pricey doesn't mean that their will be nothing left over for the kind of pork favored by those left of center. Lets put it this way: if this money was not spent on "weapons that we hope never to use" an exponentially greater sum would be spent recovering from the aftermath of the other guy using all of his nukes on us.

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

such state of things has a name, 

it s called cultural decline.

omegafrontier
omegafrontier

Of course, I'm getting numbed by Time's military bashing articles.  Yes, it's true that Cold War has ended.  But it's also true that Russia is still alive with an arsenal of ICBM for deterrence as well and they are building new ones because we are building an ABM system.  And we are not building new weapons, just upgrading the old ones, and the platforms of launching these weapons.  Nuclear weapons have drastically decreased over the years and yet there is still call for more of it to be disabled? 

jayman419
jayman419

Brand new nuclear bomber. Brand new nuclear cruise missile. Brand new nuclear submarine. Brand new factory. Brand new ICBM.

Even the "upgrades" are essentially replacements in-situ. Minuteman III, few parts remaining. For the price of upgrading the B-61 we could field 40 STOVL F-35s. While 400 nuclear bombs may have far greater raw destructive power, I bet the jets would be more useful in everyday events.

Especially if they were fielded by new, lighter carriers instead of new nuclear subs. And used to protect long-range conventional bombers launched from any base around the world.

Instead of just 11 massive task forces, we could have a entire fleet of smaller, more agile, more effective deterrent forces that actually work in the real world.

rolthewolf
rolthewolf

So, you want to support this corporate welfare? Fine. Then stop arguing to cut funding elsewhere, because there is no bigger waste in our government than these programs to maintain and build weapons we hope to never use. NO BIGGER WATSE!

NoFoolJule
NoFoolJule

 Is it really necessary for a nation of peace to require several delivery systems, each capable of destroying all the world's cities? What's going to happen to these weapons when your appetite for war eventually bankrupts you?

Keith_L
Keith_L

 Weak article, addresses the cost but offers no reasoning as to why a triad might be the best force structure or what a smaller force structure might even look like. 

America's nuclear weapons are used every day to protect us, our allies, and our partners from nuclear attack and more importantly from nuclear blackmail.  In addition to detering major nuclear war these weapons also assure our allies and allow them to rely on us rather than building their own nuclear weapons. 

Personally, I will happily foot this bill in order to prevent a wave of proliferation in South East Asia, the former eastern bloc, and the middle east as our allies come to believe they can no longer rely on our nuclear umbrella.  Kinda hard to punish Iran if Japan, South Korea, Ukraine, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey all go nuclear at the same time.....

rolthewolf
rolthewolf

Having nuclear weapons does nothing to discourage their proliferation. That is a fallacious argument. If anything, Iran wishes to have a nuke in order to balance Israel's having them. North Korea got them in order to keep us from having a splendid little war with them. We are hypocrites to expect other countries to gladly be under threat of our attack and do nothing to defend themselves. Meanwhile THE COST is more that we spend on education in our federal budget. WHAT OTHER WASTE DOES OUR PENTAGON HARBOR!!!!!!

Keith_L
Keith_L

Current department of education funding is about $68.1B, that means over 10 years we will spend $681B at current rates.  That is merely the federal dollars.  Most of the money for schools comes from local and state budgets (as it should).  Since states and local governments don't spend any money on nuclear weapons it is pretty clear that we spend far more on education.

So no, we don't spend more on nukes than we do on education.  Sorry to let facts get in the way of your ranting and raving....

[http://www2.ed.gov/about/overv...]

marathag
marathag

 Russia will not renew a decades-old agreement with Washington on

dismantling nuclear and chemical weapons when it expires next year,

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying on

Wednesday.

Hmm.

Maybe a good reason to keep the US stockpile up to date

marathag
marathag

 "But it is very hard to imagine any military mission that requires the

United States to drop 1,000 nuclear weapons on another nation"

It's called WWIII

NoFoolJule
NoFoolJule

Do you think you'll be able to live in that world after dropping 1000 nuclear bombs?!

marathag
marathag

That wasn't the point.

It was to make sure the other party wouldn't be able to 'enjoy' what was left after doomsday.

JasonJoyner
JasonJoyner

WWIII will NEVER happen. It's called Mutually Assured Destruction.

J Villain
J Villain

The US and other countries that have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty have an obligation to reduce their stock piles of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately the only ones they are focused on reducing is the non existent ones Iran might or might not decide to make some day.

Kant Feng
Kant Feng

having 100 nukes is no different than having 10000nukes

rolthewolf
rolthewolf

Except the weapons manufacturers wouldn't be able to fleece the American people if we stopped wasting so damned much money on this horrible weaponry.

Distantsmoke
Distantsmoke

A squadron of nuclear operations officers costs about 1% of what it costs to field an NFL team.  I know there is a lesson in there somewhere..........

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

think this way, $1T for bombs that cannot be used anyway

How smart is that?

KeinJunkMail
KeinJunkMail

 I am not sure it is $1T well spent, but your reasoning is incorrect. The worry is that if we don't spent the $1T someone will use them.  Thus, the idea is $1T spent so that no one uses them. Still might be too much money, but at least the analysis makes sense that way.

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

I am not advocating the total elimination of nuclear weapons nor the compromise of the Mutual Destruction principle. It is however not necessary to keep enough missiles to destroy the entire planet 50 times over.  A couples of times  over is enough in my opinions, unless you want to be make sure you will die 50 times over in case of nuclear apocalypse.

One thing is developing the knowledge on how to destroy, another is deploying it. What is the purpose of a bomb with the destructive power 1000 higher than the Hiroshima bomb? Have you been in Hiroshima? How is that not enough? What is then the purpose of multi head intercontinental missiles able to deploy in 20 min anywhere in the world 15 such bombs in just one launch? What is then the purpose of having 1500 such missiles? Now this is what we have already, and now there  the proposal to spend $1T on this????

I understand the system need to be maintained  and needs to be kept safe. I have no issue with that... but that does not cost $1T. 

All while the country is firing teachers because they cost too much?

Are you kidding me? 

NO, the reality is that there is an industry well too well embedded  into the institutions, meaning in bed with the political process (and I bet in some cases literally in bed with the politicians) .

The individuals involved are enriching themselves out of this with a absolutely disproportional rate. I bet they plan to charge $1B for a missile that probably will cost them to manufacture just a few million dolalrs , they do so because there is no oversight of cost and they just play into it big time. 

I can tell this, the nuclear war program is the essential display of how the corruption of the procurement and political process has become. 

We do not need one single additional nuclear missile,  if anything we could easily get rid of 2/3 of them and still keep the mutual destruction guarantee well working (and the know how and industry behind alive, just downsized to a common sense level ). There must be a clear choice here, do we need to keep feeding an industry that brings nothing to the country or do we want to keep our kids smart enough so that they can understand how the missiles work?While we spend this kind of money on useless new missiles  third world countries are beating  US kids at school.Make your choice

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

Ok. that is immensely stupid ... freeze all nuclear military spending to zero, reduce the current pile of misses and bombs to a fraction, they will never be used and having one third is more than enough to keep the threat of retaliation alive.

Man, this country is firing teachers while spending almost a $1T dollars to build weapons it will never ever use and that do not have any meaningful use in the current context, nor ever will in the future .

This is what an empire in decline does, spend money to satisfy an established network of buddies. And Ryan says military spending can't be touched ... so stupid 

Well, do not compelling when ignorance will be such that you won't even know how to use the missiles 

Talendria
Talendria

Your article illustrates why it's imperative that we downsize our government's bureaucracy.  These agencies don't like to communicate with each other, much less share anything.  They're penalized for failing to spend 100% of their allotments, because they would get less funding the next year.  The system is functioning as designed; if we don't like it, we have to change the system.

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

this is not about bureaucracy, this is about Congress being corrupt . The overspending is not because of inefficient gov, it's because the very same people who make the missiles are paying the Representatives election campaign cost ... It's called corruption.  

Talendria
Talendria

I agree with you that pork barrel politics is a problem, but bureaucracy is an equally serious problem. I worked with the government for many years, and it truly is astonishing how much money they fritter away. It's not corruption because no one profits from it. The money is simply wasted.

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

well one problem does not exclude the other one.

bureaucracy  affect efficiency ... bureaucracy  pushed to the extreme affects freedom and how money is spent, but that is not the case int eh US, at least if the political process wasn't corrupt by money  such things could not happen cause the public opinion could not be  so much manipulated through false and biased ads. 

bureaucracy  is not what increase the cost of procurement and management of such program, corruption does that.

That said, bureaucracy  is not a problem to underestimate, but cleaning the bureaucracy  issue will not stop the spending of $1T in wasted nuclear missiles this country already has too many anyway.

Look, for  example, recently the US Army has requested to stop spending money in M1 tanks, because they have already too many  so many they actually have said they will stop repair of the one that have that do not work, cause they say that way they will save $3B for something they truly do not need.

What does Congress do? Try to force spend this wasted money ..cause the Representatives need ot be re-elected and the only way they can afford to pay for the campaigns is have the M1 manufacture pure good money into they no unlimited campaigning  funds.

Here is the absurdity  the corporations pay the politician's election campaigns with the money the politician have  given them in exchange to pay for their elections. 

That is corruption, it does not have any other name, Solve that, I will then give you all the support you need to cut down on bureaucracy  

rolthewolf
rolthewolf

Exactly! Every dime of this program is welfare for billionaire corporations and it sickens me to my core!

marathag
marathag

 One welfare creates shiny weapons that probably will never be used, except for their Deterrence value.

The other welfare tends to enable a sullen underclass of 'takers'

hope that made your head that sits atop that sick core, explode.

Mark Tracy
Mark Tracy

Sadly, the presence of nuclear weapons will be with us for decades to come, until we either destroy each other (MADD), disarm, or find a more powerful weapon making nuclear weapons obsolete.  Anyone with a basic understanding of the devastating effects of nuclear weapons (e.g. Nagasaki / Hiroshima) knows that the use of these weapons worldwide would destroy life as we all know it, so the presence and proliferation/upgrade of these weapons has been and will probably continue to be a MADD deterrent to their use. It seems insane that we spend so much money, time, and energy to produce, maintain, and upgrade a weapon that no one wants to use but which everyone wants to obtain. Until everyone is smart enough to stop no one will be  trusting enough to disarm. 

Rassam
Rassam

Nobody would "win" a nuclear war.

wanda.creek
wanda.creek

@DebbieSmith1956:disqus At least, that's what I hear Mitt saying. My mothers neighbour is working part time and averaging $9O00 a month. I'm a single mum and just got my first paycheck for $6546! I still can't believe it. I tried it out cause I got really desperate and now I couldn't be happier. Heres what I do,..Zap21.com

Paweł Kasperek
Paweł Kasperek

Sadly, as long as enemies out there have nukes, US needs to have them too.

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

yes of course, however, no need to go bankrupt for that ... nor no need to fire teachers. $4T in 10 years is a lot for something that will never be used  and that nobody cares about. Iran will try get nuclear weapons regardless if what bombs are available in the US  and the US has enough to threaten anybody ... 

this is really stupid

mtngoatjoe
mtngoatjoe

But other countries won't be afraid of us if we can't drop 10,000 nuclear bombs. At least, that's what I hear Mitt saying.

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