The commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, Adm. Cecil Haney, said Friday that America can no longer delay modernizing its strategic forces. With the U.S. Air Force extending the B-52’s lifespan into the 90 year range, until 2040, this seems like an understatement.
“Modernization now is not an option” — it must happen. We have to realize we can’t extend things forever. We’re at the brick wall stage,” quoted Associated Press.
It’s not just the bomber force that is aging beyond a reasonable lifespan, the intercontinental missile force is also getting up in years, as well as naval ballistic submarines. Although the military says the weapons are safe, reliable and effective, commanders are approaching the time when they may not be able to say that if new programs are not put in place soon to modernize U.S. strategic forces.
Robert Work, the deputy secretary of defense, said the Pentagon will need an estimated $18 billion a year between 2021 and 2035 to modernize the three “legs” of the U.S. nuclear triad — weapons capable of being launched from land, sea and air. “We need to replace these,” Work said. “We can’t delay this anymore,” AP reported.
The cost for this modernization will be immense, tens of billions of dollars. The Air Force has recently awarded the contract for a hundred new bombers, dubbed the B-21. The Navy is looking at a new class of ballistic missile subs. However, the Minuteman missile, on continuous alert since 1970, was designed with a ten year lifespan. Recently, the USAF successfully tested a Minuteman which delivered its payload on target in the Pacific.