After reading Dana Priest’s second article on nuclear weapon modernization, which talks about the B61’s upcoming upgrades and what they might cost, it’s clear that Priest is trying to scaremonger the American people about the project by:
- giving high-end, possibly overpessimistic, cost estimates totalled for the project’s entire multi-year duration rather than the annual cost, thus inflating the cost and making it look large when it isn’t;
- trying to portray nuclear deterrence as an outfashioned, obsolete policy; and
- devoting more space to opponents’ “arguments” than to those of modernization supporters.
How is Dana Priest inflating the costs?
Firstly, she takes the high-end (highest-possible) forecasts of modernization costs; and secondly, by summing up all of these costs for the entire multi-year duration of the program. For example, she says that B61 nuclear bomb modernization will cost up to 10 bn according to one extremely leftist Democrat’s estimates (Dianne Feinstein’s), even though most other estimates say it will cost billions of dollars less than that.
“Now, nearly five decades after the first version rolled out of Los Alamos National Laboratory 100 miles north of here, age threatens to make the workhorse of the arsenal unreliable. So the B61 is poised to undergo a major renovation to extend its life span, a project that could cost as much as $10 billion, according to the Pentagon, or about $25 million for each of the 400 or so left in the arsenal.”
But $25 mn per bomb is a bargain price, especially compared to what almost all other American weapons cost. A single F-35 fighter costs $197 mn per copy, so for every F-35 you can fully modernize EIGHT B61 bombs. As for that supposed $10 bn pricetag for all 400 bombs… it’s Feinstein’s estimate, not the DOD’s. I wouldn’t trust Feinstein’s numbers; Feinstein is biased against nuclear weapons and is a longtime supporter of unilateral nuclear disarmament.
“The current estimate is more than double some early projections, so high that the Federation of American Scientists, a respected Washington disarmament think tank, dubbed it the “gold-plated nuclear bomb project.”
It is not gold-plated at all. It is absolutely necessary, and as page 4 of Priest’s own article admits, many components deemed not 100% necessary were removed from modernization plans. As for the FAS, it’s “respected” only by leftists, and is a biased, pro-disarmament organizations and is therefore not credible.
“The Obama administration and Congress have pushed the program forward despite the enormous cost of refurbishing such complex weapons and over the strenuous objections of some nuclear strategists, who say the threat the B61 was designed to counter disappeared with the Cold War. Advocates, including the Obama administration, argue that the bomb is still essential to U.S. national security. In their view, the B61s deployed in Europe are the most concrete example of shared responsibility among the NATO countries, providing the indispensable psychological glue that binds the often-fractious alliance.
The B61s represent less than 10 percent of the 5,113 bombs and missiles that make up the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In the coming decade, updating vast elements of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex — from weapons to delivery systems to the labs and plants that make and test them — is expected to cost at least $352 billion, according to the Stimson Center, another nonpartisan Washington think tank.”
But again, the claims of “enormous costs” and $352 bn estimates are not true. $6 bn, $7 bn, or even $10 bn is not much even per one year. It’s a fraction of the DOD’s ($645 bn in FY2012, and $645 bn is not a big amount out of a $15.29 trillion economy) or the entire federal government’s ($3.833 trillion) annual budget. Moreover, these modernization expenses would be spread over several years, not incurred over one year, and that means the financial strain would be even lighter. $10 bn (Feinstein’s estimate) spread over 5 years is just $2 bn – a rounding error in the DOD budget, let alone the entire federal budget.
“When the group gathered a year ago and first heard the new price tag for the B61, there was stunned silence even in a roomful of people accustomed to dealing with billions of dollars. “It was the trigger that sucked all the air out of the room,” one participant said.
The cost was $7 billion for an estimated 400 bombs. The explanation was that it had climbed so high in part because designers had added more safety features to an already nearly foolproof bomb, namely an optical scanner that required a retina scan from authorized personnel. Eventually the scanner and some other new equipment were dropped to save money, cutting the cost to $6 billion.
But recently, an independent Pentagon assessment concluded the cost would actually be much higher — at least $8 billion and possibly as high as $10 billion, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).”
Again, the $10 bn is Feinstein’s estimate and is therefore likely to be overstated. Anyway, as explained above, $7 bn or even $10 bn isn’t much compared to the annual defense budget or entire federal budget. It’s a tiny sum of money compared to what Washington spends every month. If those guys are “accustomed to billions of dollars” and yet think that $7 bn is a lot of money, they’re incompetent and don’t know anything about the federal government.
And, as stated above, $7 bn or even $10 bn is not much when phased in over several years. Incurred over 5 years, it would amount to just $2 bn per annum.
Yet, Priest continues to shamelessly scaremongering people:
“The soaring cost has rippled through other modernization programs. To try to keep the entire stockpile overhaul within budget, the administration delayed refurbishing two other aging warheads used on Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles by three years and pushed back construction of a new nuclear-armed submarine by two years.
In the complex matrix of repairs and deployments, the two-year delay in submarine modernization means that at some point in the near future, the nuclear-armed sub fleet patrolling the oceans will be reduced by two vessels for a period of time.”
No, the administration didn’t do that because of the “soaring cost” (which isn’t soaring that much, BTW, and still remains at just $7 bn). It did so because of budget cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act without regard to government priorities. Morever, the construction of the new SSBN class would actually lost a lot less – at least $32 bn less over the entire program – if the Navy builds a Virginia class derivative instead of an entirely new class of submarines. Economies of scale would likely reduce the construction and operation costs further.
Priest concludes by writing:
“Each delay adds to the cost of maintaining the nuclear status quo. But the work goes on. An Air Force team with a $340 million budget is trying to figure out how to mount the B61 onto its new F-35 fighter jet, which itself is expected to be the most expensive weapon in U.S. history. And once the B61 overhaul is completed, the nation’s vast nuclear weapons complex will turn its attention to the next major weapons renovations: the W78 and W88, a pair of thermonuclear warheads whose redo is already predicted to cost at least $5 billion more.”
$5 billion is an even smaller amount of money, even for one year. Phased in over several years, it’s microscopic. As for the F-35, it would cost a lot less if it hadn’t been mismanaged so badly, and even now, the entire program would cost $38.8 bn less if the Congress would authorize its production in bulk, rather than in a piecemeal manner.
Furthermore, these costs could be paid for with no new federal spending, if any following savings were made elsewhere:
- Cutting the three Service Departments’ administration budgets by 50%.
- Cutting the OSD’s budget by 75%.
- Shifting DOD logistics to a performance-based model, rather than how much is shipped from point A to point B.
- Reforming military healthcare programs.
- Reforming military retirement programs.
- A new BRAC round to save $5 bn per year, enough to pay for W78 and W88 modernization in one year.
- Cancelling the Littoral Combat Ship and license-building Nansen-class frigates and Skjold-class patrol boats instead.
- Producing F-35s in bulk rather than in a piecemeal manner.
- Abolishing any of the many unconstitutional federal agencies and programs, e.g. the Education Department.
So no, nuclear modernization won’t be expensive, and its costs can be cut even further, while still delivering the same number of warheads and delivery systems.