Problems With Pentagon’s Plans to Build an Arsenal of Nuclear ICBMs
The Federation of American Scientists
(March 11, 2021) — The Pentagon is currently planning to replace its current arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with a brand-new missile force, known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD.
The GBSD program consists of a like-for-like replacement of all 400 Minuteman III missiles that are currently deployed across Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming, and will also include a full set of test-launch missiles, as well as upgrades to the launch facilities, launch control centers, and other supporting infrastructure.
The GBSD program will keep ICBMs in the United States’ nuclear arsenal until 2075, and is estimated to cost approximately $100 billion (in Then Year dollars) in acquisition fees and $264 billion (in Then Year dollars) throughout its life-cycle.
However, critics of the GBSD program –– which include a chorus of former military commanders and Secretaries of Defense, top civilian officials, current congressional committee chairs, subject matter experts, and grassroots groups –– are noting a growing number of concerns over the program’s increasing costs, tight schedule, and lack of 21st century national security relevance.
Many argue that the GBSD’s price tag is too high amid a plethora of other budgetary pressures. Many also say that alternative deterrence options are available at a much lower cost, such as life-extending the current Minuteman III ICBM force.
Despite these concerns, the GBSD program has been accelerated in recent years, apparently in an effort to lock in the system before the arrival of a new administration.
However, it is becoming increasingly clear that there has not been a serious consideration of what role these Cold War-era weapons are supposed to play in a post-Cold War deterrence environment. Attempts in Congress to scrutinize the program have been shot down, usually with the lobbying help of the major GBSD contractors.
As a result, key decisions during the most crucial years of GBSD have been made without being able to access the full scope of information and analysis about the program.
To that end –– and with generous support from Ploughshares Fund––the Federation of American Scientists has initiated an external review of the GBSD program, in addition to reviewing the fundamental role of ICBMs in US nuclear strategy.
This project aims to put together a comprehensive, unclassified picture of the GBSD, while challenging many assumptions about the history, purpose, and utility of ICBMs. We hope it will be a useful resource for Congress, the incoming Biden administration, and the public.
March 11, 2021: US test-fires ICBM targeting China.
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