DoD Beginning to Tackle Nuclear ‘Bow Wave’

By Jon Harper

The fiscal year 2017 budget request is the first to deal with the looming spike in planned nuclear modernization spending in the 2020s, said the Pentagon’s director of cost assessment and program evaluation.

“What the [fiscal year] ‘21 projection in the future years defense plan lays out is really the start of a ramping back up” in nuclear investment, Jamie Morin said during a recent conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The budget plan calls for an $11.4 billion increase in the fiscal year 2021 Pentagon topline relative to 2020.

“That was a product of a very serious and deliberate discussions between the leadership of the Department of Defense and the senior staff at the White House all the way up to the president about this upcoming nuclear modernization bow wave,” Morin said.

Over the next five years, the Navy plans to spend $13.2 billion on the Ohio replacement ballistic missile submarine, with the first ship procured in fiscal year 2021.

There will be “substantial bills” for the submarine beginning in 2021 and “significant costs” for the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missile replacement effort and the new stealth bomber, Morin said.

“That bow wave will grow significantly particularly by the time we get to the mid-2020s and the late 2020s,” he said. “It’s on the order of $12 billion to $18 billion a year above sort of where we were over this last decade, which was a period of very low investment in the nuclear enterprise.”

Analysts have estimated that the Defense Department’s long-term nuclear modernization plans would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

Without a big bump in funding, the Pentagon will not have enough money to pay the nuclear modernization bills without cutting into non-nuclear programs, Morin said.

“Unless the department was willing to divest the submarine leg of the triad — which we’re not — there is no way to pay for that modernization within the [nuclear forces] budget,” he said. “You have to look beyond the portfolio. Even if you chose to do radical things within the portfolio it would not [come] close to paying for that.”

In the past, the Pentagon received the money it needed during peak periods of nuclear modernization, Morin said.

“Each of those modernizations in history has been aligned with a period of increasing topline for the Department of Defense,” he said. “But obviously that will be a decision the new administration will have to make and maybe even the administration after the next administration … before we really get to FY ‘21, FY ‘22 and FY ‘23,” he said.

Political leaders will be tackling a number of looming budgetary challenges in the 2020s such as entitlement spending, noted Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord.

“It’s really a larger national question of how much are we willing to pay for defense when you get to that era and … are we willing to make that investment?” he said.

Photo: Navy

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget

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