Discretionary Spending

Function 050 - National Defense

Reduce the Size of the Nuclear Triad

CBO periodically issues a compendium of policy options (called Options for Reducing the Deficit) covering a broad range of issues, as well as separate reports that include options for changing federal tax and spending policies in particular areas. This option appears in one of those publications. The options are derived from many sources and reflect a range of possibilities. For each option, CBO presents an estimate of its effects on the budget but makes no recommendations. Inclusion or exclusion of any particular option does not imply an endorsement or rejection by CBO.

Billions of Dollars 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025 2026 2027 2028 2029 2030 2021–
  Retain a Nuclear Triad With 10 Submarines, 300 ICBMs, and 1,550 Warheads
Change in Planned Defense Spending  
  Budget authority 0 -0.1 -1.1 -1.4 -1.1 -2.7 -3.7 -0.4 -0.9 0.2 -3.7 -11.2
  Outlays 0 * -0.2 -0.5 -1.0 -1.2 -1.7 -2.1 -1.9 -1.7 -1.7 -10.3
  Retain a Nuclear Triad With 8 Submarines, 150 ICBMs, and 1,000 Warheads
Change in Planned Defense Spending  
  Budget authority 0 -0.3 -1.2 -1.6 -1.2 -2.7 -3.9 -0.9 -1.4 -0.3 -4.3 -13.6
  Outlays 0 * -0.2 -0.6 -1.1 -1.4 -2.0 -2.5 -2.4 -2.1 -2.0 -12.4

This option would take effect in October 2021.
Estimates of savings displayed in the table are based on the Department of Defense’s 2021 Future Years Defense Program, the Department of Energy’s 2021 Future Years Nuclear Security Program, and the Congressional Budget Office’s extension of those plans.
ICBM = intercontinental ballistic missile; * = between −$50 million and zero.

The United States’ nuclear deterrence strategy is built around the strategic nuclear triad, which comprises long-range bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and submarines that launch ballistic missiles (SSBNs). The United States maintains a strategic nuclear force that complies with the limits of the New START arms control treaty. That force consists of the following components: 12 deployed (14 total) Ohio class SSBNs that together carry up to 1,090 warheads on 240 missiles; 400 deployed (454 total) Minuteman III ICBMs, each carrying a single warhead; and 60 deployed (66 total) B-52H and B-2A bombers, each of which counts as a single warhead under the terms of New START. Almost all components of the triad are scheduled to be modernized (refurbished or replaced by new systems) over the next 20 years.

This option would reduce modernization costs for the ICBM and SSBN systems (two legs of the triad) by retiring some existing delivery systems early and by purchasing fewer of the new systems. The Congressional Budget Office examined two alternative approaches. The first would maintain the current number of deployed warheads at 1,550 (as defined by the terms of New START) but would reduce forces to 10 SSBNs and 300 ICBMs. The Navy would retire 4 Ohio class SSBNs at a rate of one per year starting in 2022; delay by one year the purchase of new SSBNs included in its current shipbuilding plan; and cancel orders for the last 2 SSBNs scheduled to be purchased under the current plan. In addition, the Department of Defense would retire 150 ICBMs—50 each year for three years starting in 2022—and procure 482 new ICBMs instead of the 642 that are in the current plan. The second alternative would make deeper cuts to forces and reduce the number of deployed warheads to 1,000 but still retain a triad structure. The Navy would field 8 SSBNs, and the Air Force would deploy 150 ICBMs.