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Pentagon Defends $265 Bln ICBM-Replacement Programme Amid Reports of Possible Biden Review

01/06/2021

The United States is in the middle of a $1.5 trillion programme to upgrade its nuclear arsenal. The programme started under President Barack Obama and continued in expanded form under Donald Trump, with costs continuing to grow.

 

The head of the combatant command responsible for America’s nuclear arsenal has mounted a defence of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) – the $264 billion lifetime cost nuclear missile system meant to replace the Minuteman III arsenal.

 

“You cannot life-extend Minuteman III,” Stratcom chief Charles A Richard said, speaking at a recent defence writers event, his remarks cited by Defence News. “It is getting past the point of [where] it’s not cost-effective to life-extend Minuteman III. You’re quickly getting to the point [where] you can’t do it at all,” he insisted.

According to Richard, further delays to the GBSD programme are not possible, because Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles are so old and obsolete that their original designers are dead and engineers no longer even have some of the necessary technical documentation.

 

“That thing is so old that in some cases the [technical] drawings don’t exist anymore, or where we do have drawings, they’re like six generations behind the industry standard. And there’s not only [no one] working that can understand them – they’re not alive anymore,” he added.

 

Richard cited the alleged growing threat posed by Russia and China as a reason to push forward with the spending. “This nation has never before had to face the prospect of two peer, nuclear-capable adversaries who have to be deterred differently. Actions done to deter one have an impact on the other. This is way more complicated than it used to be. [The GBSD] is an example of a capability we’re going to have to have to address threats like that,” the commander said, without elaborating.

 

The Stratcom chief also insisted that he would “welcome” a review of the US nuclear posture by the incoming Biden administration, but hinted that such a review would likely mean the discovery of additional new spending needs giving the comprehensive range of threats the US is said to face. “I would recommend a broader-base strategic review, as opposed to parsing it out in pieces,” Richard said.

 

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Biden team was planning to carry out a review of US nuclear policy, including the GBSD and other missile systems, such as the new low-yield nuclear weapons approved by Trump. In October 2020, the Pentagon estimated that it would cost $95.8 billion to replace the 450 existing Minuteman II ICBMs with GBSDs. However, a separate audit by Bloomberg found the lifetime cost of the missiles, not counting the new warheads, could be as high as $264 billion.

 

The Democrats had criticized Trump’s nuclear weapons spending as “unnecessary, wasteful, and indefensible” at their summer convention, but Biden has also threatened a “get tough” approach to US strategic adversaries, which may require additional outlays.

 

According to the Pentagon’s estimates, Russia, the world’s other nuclear superpower, spent a total of about $28 billion, about 2 percent of US spending, or nearly ten times less than what Washington plans to spend on the GBSD alone, on upgrading its own nuclear arsenal in recent years, with that programme nearing completion with the addition of new hypersonic missile systems capable of evading missile defences.

 

The nuclear warhead-armed Minuteman III has served as the silo-based ground component of the US nuclear triad since the 1970s.

Date: 
01/06/2021
Sources of Information: 

Sputnik, news agency controlled by the Russian Government

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