Costs Of US Nuclear Missile Program Soar To $160 Billion, Raising Concerns

The cost of the Air Force’s program to replace its aging nuclear missiles has surged to approximately $160 billion, up from an initial estimate of $95.8 billion. This significant increase threatens funding for other critical modernization projects, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

The program, known as the Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program, is managed by Northrop Grumman Corp and aims to replace the outdated Minuteman III missiles. The latest cost estimate represents a $65 billion rise since 2020, a U.S. official, an industry executive, and a congressional aide briefed on the matter have disclosed.

This dramatic cost escalation could force the Pentagon to either scale back the scope or extend the timeline of the project. A second industry executive indicated that these adjustments might be necessary to manage the ballooning budget.

Bloomberg reported earlier that the new estimated cost was around $141 billion, with the Pentagon considering modifications to construction and schedule plans. While Northrop Grumman declined to comment, the Pentagon did not address the specific figure but noted that a new cost estimate would be provided around Tuesday.

The new Sentinel cost projection surpasses the “at least” $131 billion estimate disclosed by the Air Force in January. This triggered the Nunn-McCurdy Act, a 1982 law requiring the Pentagon to justify to Congress the necessity of a program if its unit acquisition costs increase by more than 25% from the baseline.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to formally notify Congress of the cost increase next week. Although Air Force leaders insist that the Sentinel program is vital for maintaining America’s nuclear deterrent, the Pentagon has asked the industry for cost estimates on a potential service life extension for the current Minuteman III missiles, as per documents reviewed by Reuters.

The increased costs are putting pressure on other crucial Air Force priorities, such as the Next Generation Air Dominance fighter jet program. Sources indicate that other programs potentially at risk include hypersonic weapons development, the B-21 bomber, and various space initiatives.