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Auditors: Price Tag on U.S. Nuclear Arms Excludes Key Expenses

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

A Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile lifts off during a 2013 trial launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Official estimates are excluding key costs for maintaining and updating U.S. nuclear weapons, according to a Government Accountability Office report. A Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile lifts off during a 2013 trial launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Official estimates are excluding key costs for maintaining and updating U.S. nuclear weapons, according to a Government Accountability Office report. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Congressional auditors say official estimates are ignoring key expenses for the U.S. nuclear force, such as costs of overhauling missiles and aircraft.

The Defense and Energy departments indicated that they planned to spend roughly $263.8 billion on the atomic arsenal over the coming decade, but their projections omitted significant items while obscuring "assumptions and limitations," according to a Tuesday report by the Government Accountability Office.

The investigators singled out the Air Force, in part, for listing planned updates to the intercontinental ballistic missile and strategic bomber fleets as "zero-cost" projects in the covered 10-year period. The service is seeking $914 million in fiscal 2015 for designing a new nuclear-capable aircraft, and is still examining possible options for the future of the ICBM force.

The Defense Department should supply at least "preliminary" estimates of all work to maintain and refurbish the U.S. nuclear deterrent, so that budget planners in Congress are "not left to speculate," the auditors argued in their assessment. The authors looked at where the nuclear-arms cost projections stood as of last July.

The Pentagon accepted a GAO call -- similar to a request put to the Energy Department in December -- to provide "a range of potential 10-year budget estimates" for their nuclear-arms initiatives if more exact figures are unavailable.

The report's authors also asserted that the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration would need more money than it expects for refurbishing cruise- and ballistic-missile warheads through fiscal 2018.

"An NNSA official told us that the agency shifted funding within its budget estimates for these two programs beyond fiscal year 2019 to stay within [White House] guidelines," the assessment states.

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