How Obama can slash defense budget: Cut unnecessary nuclear weapons programs
In order to reach its goal of at least $480 billion in Pentagon savings over the next decade, the Obama administration must scale back previous schemes for a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems.
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The first step is to downsize the nuclear-armed submarine force. By reducing the Trident nuclear-armed sub fleet from 14 to eight or fewer boats and building no more than eight new nuclear-armed subs, the US could save roughly $27 billion over 10 years, and $120 billion over the 50-year lifespan of the program.Skip to next paragraph
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And by increasing the warhead loadings on each submarine, the Navy could still deploy the same number of strategic nuclear warheads at sea as currently planned under the New START treaty (about 1,000).
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Second, work on a new strategic bomber should be delayed. There is no rush to field a fleet of new bombers given the Pentagon’s plan to retain 60 of its existing nuclear-capable, long-range B-2 and B-52 bombers into the 2040s. Delaying work on the new bomber program would save $18 billion over the next decade, according to the Pentagon.
For additional savings, the Pentagon could consider reductions to its land-based strategic missile force from 420 to 300 by cutting one squadron at each of the three Air Force bases where such missiles are deployed and foregoing a follow-on missile program to replace the existing force.
Some may believe that further reductions in US nuclear forces might encourage other states to improve their nuclear weapons capabilities. In reality, wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on an excessive nuclear force does nothing to help convince nations, such as Iran or North Korea, or terrorist actors to abandon their pursuit of dangerous weapons.
Moreover, by maintaining a larger nuclear force than America needs, it is more likely to induce Russia to build up its nuclear arsenal, which only undermines international security.
We can expect the congressional “doomsday caucus” – many of them have strategic nuclear weapons bases in their states – will oppose any reduction in the number of nuclear-armed subs, missiles, or bombers for fear of losing defense dollars and jobs in their districts.
But fresh thinking is in order. Programs that address low-priority threats must be scaled back to make room for more pressing national priorities and reduce the deficit. Smart reductions in spending on unnecessary new nuclear weapons systems would enhance US security.
Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the independent Arms Control Association. Tom Z. Collina is research director.