US nuclear upgrade stalls by $160 billion price tag

The cost of the Air Force’s program to replace aging nuclear missiles has skyrocketed to an estimated $160 billion, a significant increase from the initial $95.8 billion estimate in 2020. 

This dramatic rise threatens to cut into funding for other critical modernization projects.

The Sentinel program, led by Northrop Grumman Corp., aims to develop and deploy new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to replace the ageing Minuteman III fleet. 

Sources familiar with the project say the price tag has ballooned by $65 billion, potentially forcing the Pentagon to scale back the program’s scope or timeline.

The Nunn-McCurdy Act, triggered by this cost increase, requires the Pentagon to formally justify the program’s importance to Congress. 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is expected to deliver this justification next week. 

While Air Force officials argue that Sentinel is essential for maintaining a robust nuclear deterrent, the rising costs have reportedly prompted the Pentagon to explore extending the service life of the existing Minuteman III missiles.

This financial strain on the Sentinel program is putting pressure on other Air Force priorities, including the Next Generation Air Dominance fighter jet program. 

Hypersonic weapons development, the B-21 bomber project, and various space initiatives could also face funding shortfalls due to the Sentinel’s cost inflation.

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