Pentagon Review After US Minuteman III Missile Replacement Breaks $96 Billion Budget

The US Air Force is notifying Congress that the cost of the Sentinel ICBM program, designed and managed by Northrop Grumman, has now increased to over $131 billion, an increase of at least 37% over a pre-pandemic cost estimate finalized in September 2020. (US Air Force image)

WASHINGTON — The replacement for the ground-based U.S. nuclear arsenal anchored by the Minuteman III has officially busted through its $95.8 billion budget due to the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation, the Air Force said on Thursday.

Replacing Munitions is Pentagon's Priority in 2024 Budget

The Air Force is notifying Congress that the program, being designed and managed by Northrop Grumman Corp, is now at least 37% over a pre-pandemic cost estimate finalized in September 2020, Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, told Reuters in an interview.

Program changes, such as making bigger silos and switching to more durable materials, have also raised costs.

The total program cost, now estimated above $131 billion, could grow further as the U.S. Secretary of Defense concludes a review by the summer.

While cost overruns regularly occur at the Department of Defense, the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is especially expensive to replace.

The missile network is part of the so-called nuclear triad that includes nuclear-tipped ground-based ICBM, nuclear-capable bomber aircraft and submarine-launched nuclear arms. “It’s been over 70 years since we did the ground piece of this,” Hunter said. “We didn’t estimate it well.”

Blasting through cost estimate thresholds triggers the Nunn-McCurdy Act. The 1982 law requires the Pentagon to formally justify to Congress the importance of a program in which unit acquisition costs have risen more than 25% above a baseline, and to show there are no alternatives.

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