A worker steadies a mock B61-12 at Sandia National Laboratories

Costs of US Nuclear Arsenal Skyrocketing

Defense experts tell Trump plans are "unsustainable and must be rethought"

Update 11/3/2017: Read more about the CBO report and the letter by William J. Perry and General James E. Cartwright in The New York Times article by William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, October 31, 2017.


The Congressional Budget Office, CBO, recently released a new report estimating that the Trump administration’s plans to maintain and replace the US nuclear arsenal over 30 years would cost $1.2 trillion in constant dollars. With inflation, the total cost would be roughly $1.7 trillion. This is a massive increase over previous estimates and is leading defense experts to warn President Trump that the plans must be scaled back.

The new CBO report is the most comprehensive estimate to date of the total cost of rebuilding the US nuclear arsenal, consisting of new, controversial Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), air-launched cruise missiles, strategic submarines, long-range bombers, and the nuclear warheads they carry. Previous Pentagon cost estimates ranged from $350 billion to $1 trillion.

In response to the new report, William J. Perry, former Secretary of Defense, and General James E. Cartwright, former Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former Commander, US Strategic Command sent a letter to President Trump warning that CBO’s new estimate “should be a wake up call that current plans to rebuild the nuclear arsenal are unsustainable and must be rethought. Now is the time to stop and ask ourselves: which weapons do we need to maintain deterrence in the future, and which can we do without?”

In the letter, Perry and Cartwright express their support for new, nuclear-armed submarines and stealth bombers. But they question the need for a new generation of nuclear-armed cruise missiles and ICBMs, which together would cost roughly $150 billion. 

They write, “our ICBMs are in danger of being launched in the case of another false alarm (we have experienced three to date), thereby starting a civilization-ending nuclear war by accident. This is not a theoretical problem; we had three false alarms during the Cold War, and on one of those, we narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe.”

Perry and Cartwright state that taking a more prudent course in rebuilding the US arsenal would not only save money and help avoid accidental nuclear war, but would also “help avoid a new arms race with Russia that neither side should want.”

Tom Z. Collina, Policy Director here at Ploughshares Fund, said that, “Many elements of Trump’s nuclear spending spree are excessive and dangerous, and we would be safer and richer without them.” He cautioned against giving President Trump new weapons that could be used first in a crisis, or would make nuclear war more likely. “Americans are not comfortable with Trump’s finger on the nuclear button,” Collina said. “Let’s not give Trump new nukes that he might actually use.”


Ploughshares Fund is a publicly supported foundation that funds, organizes and innovates projects to realize a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons.

Photo: Flickr / Sandia Labs (cc). A worker steadies a mock B61-12, by Randy Montoya

Let's solve this massive budget problem, stop a #NewArmsRace and #KeepUsSafe.

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