June 18, 2012
Our Nukes Cost More Than You Think; Stimson Pegs Annual Nuke Spending At
By Gordon Adams
The defense budget is going down...have you heard? The presidential campaign is shedding a lot of heat, but very little light on this reality; you won't hear much of substance about how or where it will go down. Or much sensible or reasonable discussion about how we manage a defense build-down in a way that saves money while ensuring we continue to be as secure as we are today.
In one nook and cranny of this discussion we find America's nuclear arsenal, almost forgotten in the age of counter-insurgency and nation building. As the administration considers next steps in the size and shape of our strategic nuclear weapons, there has been a small tempest over the question of how much we spend on our strategic nuclear forces.
Knowing the size of the nuclear budget will not solve the policy dilemma:
what is the right nuclear force for the 21st century? But an accurate
evaluation of how much we spend today will establish the baseline from which that argument can be had.
Surprisingly, our understanding of how much we spend on strategic nuclear
forces is quite imprecise and the Pentagon has been underestimating that
spending by almost 100 percent, according to a new study - just out - from the Stimson Center.
The official DoD estimate puts nuclear weapons spending at $214 billion over the next 10 years, or just above $20 billion a year. Several independent
studies have said spending is as high as $55 billion a year. Wild
accusations have been thrown around in the last year about "low balling" and 'high balling" the data.
The Stimson study decided it was time to "go to the fiscal video-tape" for a more definitive answer. It is pretty data-rich and moves a long way toward a more complete answer.
Like many such controversies, it comes down to a definition of what is in,
and what is out. From the perspective of the Stimson report, however, the
baseline the Pentagon uses is just plain too narrow, so narrow it is wrong.
The Pentagon counts what it calls "Strategic Forces," which in DoD planning
jargon is known as "Major Force Program One." They add this DoD total
around $12 billion a year - to what the Department of Energy spends on
nuclear weapons in the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)
budget (another $8 billon or so). All well and good, so far, but
something(s) are missing. For some analysts, we ought to include the $10
billion or so we spend every year on missile defense. Some want to throw in
the costs of cleaning up the environmental damage associated with the
nuclear weapons complex, another $6 billion a year.
The Stimson report sets these wider programs aside. Even if we dismantled
every nuclear weapon in our arsenal, we might want to spend funds on
defenses against the nuclear capabilities of other countries and we would be stuck with the environmental bill, as well.
The singular contribution of the Stimson report is that it focuses on
finding out what the Pentagon is spending in support of nuclear forces, but
does not count in its Major Force Program One. Turns out there is another
$11 billion in the Pentagon budget that is intrinsically tied to strategic
nuclear forces that they are not counting, but should.
The big pieces are the costs of developing next-generation weapons systems
to deliver nuclear weapons, like the next boomer submarine and long-range
bomber, the command and control system for nuclear weapons, centralized
supply and maintenance programs supporting nuclear weapons, refueling needed for nuclear bombers, and a number of costs supporting nuclear personnel, including health care, basic training and recruiting, and family housing, all of which are found in other parts of the Pentagon budget.
If we did not have a strategic nuclear force we would not be modernizing it, or providing command and control for it, refueling it, or supporting it
administratively. While these activities are in other parts of the budget,
they are intrinsically part of the strategic nuclear force. Analysts know
this, the Pentagon knows this, even the Congress knows this.
And other outsiders have tried to estimate these costs, largely by assuming
that nuclear weapons and strategic programs are a given share of the budget, so they might be the same share of these particular budget categories.
Critics say this method has led to an overestimate of the nuclear budget,
but the Pentagon has avoided including the modernization costs and has not
offered a better way to estimate the support costs.
The Stimson report is a step forward on this issue. It includes the
modernization costs and it uses an inductive approach to estimate the
support, going from the bottom up in the public Pentagon budget data. And
the Stimson conclusion is surprising. It finds an additional $11 billion in
support and modernization costs, every year, that the Pentagon is not
estimating or counting. That's $11 billion above the $12 billion the
Pentagon agrees is their share of the costs of our strategic nuclear forces.
Command and control of the nuclear forces accounts for nearly half of the
$11 billion. Research and development costs are another $1.5 billion per
year, but these will rise as the submarine and bomber programs grow over the next decade. Tanker, housing and other support costs account for the
remaining $3.9 billion.
The more accurate budget figure for the annual costs of our strategic
nuclear forces alone is $31 billion a year, not $20 billion. And with the
next generation programs, this number is going to grow. In total, over the
next 10 years, the study estimates we will spend between $350 billion and
$390 billion on our strategic nuclear forces, figuring in normal inflation.
Knowing the size of the nuclear budget does not answer the policy dilemma.
But it does establish a more analytically coherent baseline for the budget
argument. It is now up to the government agencies to develop a more accurate number. But the baseline number is clearer and higher than the current Pentagon estimate.
Gordon Adams, a member of the AOL Defense Board of Contributors, was the
last man at the Office of Management and Budget to preside over a defense
drawdown. He teaches at American University and is a defense expert at the