Many Democrats, journalists, anti-defense hacks, and perhaps ordinary Americans believe that the US nuclear arsenal is too big and too expensive and is therefore “ripe for cuts”. This is utter nonsense, and I’ll show you why.
Firstly, the nuclear arsenal is NOT expensive to operate and maintain. According to Barack Obama’s own Energy Department budget request, the entire annual cost of maintaining the current arsenal is roughly $7 bn, a tiny part of the annual defense budget, let alone the entire annual federal budget. No big savings can be found there.
The fleet of delivery systems is not expensive to operate and maintain, either. It is, in fact, cheap to do so, and the fleet comprises just a tiny part of the DOD’s operations & maintenance budget. The ICBM leg costs just $1.1 bn, and the bomber leg just $2.5 bn, to maintain.
According to the Stimson Center, maintaining the US nuclear arsenal, nuclear triad, and their related facilities and programs costs only $31 bn per year, which is just 4.8% of the total FY2012 military budget.
Replacing them will not be very expensive, either. One ICBM costs just $70 mn to procure. The DOD’s planned next-gen SSBNs will cost $5 bn apiece, but that cost could be dramatically reduced by building a Virginia-class variant or resuming the production of the Ohio class instead of building a whole new class of submarines. A single Virginia class sub costs only $2.4 bn apiece, so for a 12-sub buy, the cost would be just $28 bn, spread over several years, of course. The saving compared to the SSBNX class is thus $32 bn.
As the Wikipedia entry on SSBNX states:
“Work on reducing the unit cost of boats 2-12 to $4.9 billion USD per boat is currently in progress. The Navy is exploring two options. The first is a variant of the Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines. The second is a dedicated SSBN, either with a new hull or based on an overhaul of the current Ohio.”
As for bombers, the USAF itself estimates that its no-frills next-gen bomber will cost only $550 mn per unit. Moreover, this is a dual-capable bomber that the USAF needs to have anyway, for conventional missions if not for nuclear ones. So even if there were no nuclear bombs for it to carry, it would still be needed for conventional missions. Therefore, it’s something the USAF must buy anyway.
So no, the nuclear arsenal and the nuclear delivery triad are not expensive to maintain (or even to replace) at all.
Barack Obama’s favorite general, James Cartwright, and other nuclear disarmament supporters falsely claim that “what we have is way more than what we need.” But that is a blatant lie.
The nuclear arsenal is already too small, as Russia has almost reached strategic nuclear parity with, and retains a huge tactical nuclear advantage over, the US. Under the New START treaty, the US is required to cut its deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by a third, to just 1,550 warheads, while Russia is allowed to grow its arsenal of these weapons, which has now reached 1,492, just 58 short of the ceiling. Furthermore Russia’s Tu-22M intercontinental bombers and Su-34 bombers are not covered by the treaty. Neither is Russia’s huge tactical arsenal.
China has an arsenal of up to 3,000 nuclear warheads (not the 300-400 that the leftist media often claims), according to two independent studies – one by the DOD’s former chief nuclear strategist Professor Philip Karber, and another one by retired Russian Strategic Rocket Forces Major General Viktor Yesin. North Korea is growing its nuclear arsenal, and Iran, completely uninhibited by Obama and unafraid of him, is quickly developing its own.
Moreover, China is steadily expanding its arsenal of delivery systems. In addition to its 5 Jin class, 1 Golf class, and 1 Xia class ballistic sub, fleet of JH-7 theater bombers, and 120-160 H-6K strategic bombers, China is steadily growing its ballistic missile arsenal and its sophistication. Once consisting only of 36 DF-5 ICBMs, it now includes MIRVed DF-5A ICBMs and modern, MIRVed DF-31A (30-48 missiles) and DF-41 ICBMs (unknown quantity). It is not clear how many of them China has, but there are bound to be many, given the 3,000 miles of tunnels and bunkers China has built for them and their warheads, so the 3,000 warhead figure is credible. In addition, China has 20 MIRVable DF-4 and 20-40 DF-3 IRBMs with a range covering most of Asia and Guam, a growing arsenal (currently 80) of modern DF-21 MRBMs with a range of 2,700 kms, and over 1,600 SRBMs, the vast majority of them stationed opposite Taiwan. These can carry nuclear or conventional warheads and are far more accurate than American or Soviet BMs of the Cold War era, including America’s sole remaining ICBM, the Minuteman III. Each Jin class SSBN can carry up to 24 SLBMs, each armed with up to 4 warheads. With 5 Jins in service, 5*24*4 = 480 warheads on these five subs alone. The Xia class can carry 12 single-warhead SLBMs.
To disarm, or cut the US nuclear arsenal, in the face of such a nuclear buildup by Russia and China would be worse than an utter folly. It would be suicidal.
Moreover, unlike Russia and China, which are threats to many and protectors to nobody except NK, the US is responsible for providing a nuclear deterrent not just for itself but for over 30 allies in Europe and Asia, who are threatened by Russia and China. Any further cuts will cause these allies to doubt America’s nuclear deterrent and, at some point, develop their own nuclear weapons, thus making the proliferation problem much worse.
If nuclear proliferation is the concern, cutting or eliminating America’s own nuclear deterrent is the worst way to handle it. It would only make matters worse.
As three distinguished CSBA analysts observed in December 2010’s edition of Foreign Affairs, America’s nuclear arsenal is shrinking just as its deterrence commitments are expanding substantially, and if the US cuts its nuclear arsenal below New START levels, “Washington will have fewer weapons to support these commitments, which will raise questions about its ability and its willingness to defend its allies and its partners if they are threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran.” The same must be applied to those allies threatened by Russia, China, or North Korea.
The record of the last 22 years is undeniable: decades of “arms reduction” and deeply cutting the US nuclear arsenal have only made America and its allies less secure and have utterly failed to stop nuclear proliferation, or to prevent China from significantly building up its nuclear arsenal.
Those who believe that America can safely cut its nuclear arsenal further are living in a kumbayah world of make-believe, a fantasy world which has nothing to do with the real Planet Earth.
No, America’s arsenal is not “oversized” nor “ripe for cuts”, nor is it expensive to maintain. It must not be cut. It must be retained at its current size (if not grown) and fully modernized along with the supporting infrastructure.
 New START covers only strategic nuclear weapons. When it was signed, Russia was significantly below, while the US was significantly above, its ceiling of 1,550 strategic warheads and 800 deployed and nondeployed delivery systems. Since then, Russia has steadily built up its strategic arsenal, reaching 1,492 strategic warheads as of the latest data exchange, and thus reaching approximate parity with the US. Before the treaty was ratified, Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Syerdyukov and SRF commander Gen. Sergei Karakayev said Russia would not have to decommission a single warhead or delivery system under this treaty, and they were right. Russia was, in fact, allowed to build up its arsenal and it has done so.
Meanwhile, New START completely fails to cover tactical nuclear weapons, in which Russia has a huge lead over the US.
 Predictably, Professor Karber’s rigorous, holistic study angered the ideological arms controllers inside and outside the federal government and provoked them to angrily respond with lies and vitriol – because not only can’t they stand the truth, Professor Karber’s fact-finding study completely undermines their agenda of disarming the US unilaterally.
 Eric Edelman, Andrew Krepinevich, Evan Braden Montgomery, The Dangers of a Nuclear Iran, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2010, pp. 76-77.