Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2023 to 2032
CBO estimates that plans for U.S. nuclear forces, as described in the fiscal year 2023 budget and supporting documents, would cost $756 billion over the 2023–2032 period, $122 billion more than CBO’s 2021 estimate for the 2021–2030 period.
Nuclear weapons have been an important component of U.S. national security since they were developed during World War II. During the Cold War, nuclear forces were central to U.S. defense policy, and a large arsenal was built. Since that time, nuclear forces have figured less prominently in defense policy than conventional forces have, and for several decades the United States did not develop and field new nuclear weapons or delivery systems, choosing instead to sustain or extend the life of existing ones. But the nation’s current nuclear forces are reaching the end of their service life, and some delivery systems may not be capable of having their service life extended further.
U.S. nuclear forces consist of submarines that launch ballistic missiles (SSBNs), land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), long-range bomber aircraft, shorter-range tactical aircraft carrying bombs, and the nuclear warheads that those delivery systems carry. Over the next two decades, essentially all those systems will have to be refurbished or replaced with new systems if the United States is to continue fielding those capabilities.
Over the coming years, the Congress will need to decide which nuclear forces the United States should field in the future and thus the extent to which the nation will continue to modernize those forces. The Biden Administration released its Nuclear Posture Review report in October 2022 describing the nuclear policies and forces it envisions.
To help the Congress make decisions about U.S. nuclear forces, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (Public Law 112-239) requires CBO to estimate the 10-year costs of operating, maintaining, and modernizing those forces. CBO has updated that estimate every two years, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (P.L. 113-291). This report is the fifth update. In addition, in October 2017, CBO published an estimate of the 30-year costs of nuclear forces under existing plans and under various approaches for managing the costs of modernization.