Dave Majumbar, The Daily Beast, Jan 28
Arms control advocates say that the Pentagon is looking for something it doesn't need. "There is no need to build a new ICBM," Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, told The Daily Beast. "RAND did a report last year showing that the United States can maintain the ICBM leg of the [nuclear] triad [of bombers, ballistic missile submarines and land-based missiles] for decades to come by simply pursuing refurbishment," Reif said. "That would be much cheaper."
The counter argument is that though the Minuteman III has been refurbished many times, the older the weapon gets, the harder and more difficult it is to maintain. That means that the Pentagon would have to spend ever increasing sums of money to keep the 40-year-old Minuteman III viable. The Air Force wants to field the new ICBM "in the 2027 timeframe" due to Minuteman's rocket and guidance ageing-out and not having enough spare missiles lying around.
Yet the missiles aren't quite the creaky old machines they appear to be. In recent years, the missiles' engines, guidance systems, and other parts have been replaced.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, it costs about $2.6 billion per year to maintain the ICBM force. That sounds like alot-it is a lot-but it's a relative pittance, compared to the cash needed to maintain the other legs of the nuclear triad. And building replacements from scratch could cost much more. Further, the Pentagon could save a lot of money by reducing the number of existing ballistic missiles. "The ICBM force is the least important leg of the triad," Reif said.
The Air Force's ICBM force is largely designed to be a sponge to absorb part of a massive hypothetical Cold War-style Soviet nuclear attack. "An adversary would have to fire hundreds, if not thousands, of missiles to eliminate that leg of the triad," Reif said. The only potential adversary capable of doing so is Russia-China only has about 100 missiles that are able to hit U.S. territory.