U.S. Air Force nuclear missile cost increase

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The US Air Force’s LGM-35A Sentinel nuclear missile program is experiencing a 37% cost increase, threatening its continuity.

Escalating costs threaten Air Force Sentinel program

The US Air Force’s next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile program, named LGM-35A Sentinel, has suffered a significant cost increase, exceeding initial estimates by 37%. This situation has triggered a review process that could lead to restructuring or even cancellation of the program. The missile, developed by Northrop Grumman, was intended to replace the Cold War-era LGM-30G Minuteman III as part of the US nuclear triad.

The Sentinel’s total unit cost, originally estimated at $118 million in 2020, has now risen to around $162 million, triggering the cost overrun process. A Nunn-McCurdy critical breach, declared when the cost of a major defense acquisition program increases by 25% over current cost targets or by at least 50% over the original cost, has been confirmed.

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The implications of a massive cost overrun

The escalating costs of the LGM-35A Sentinel program could have major implications for both the U.S. Air Force and overall U.S. defense policy. The 37% increase in the missile’s unit cost threatens to jeopardize program implementation, highlighting the challenges of managing large-scale defense projects. The extra cost could lead to tough choices, forcing the Pentagon to evaluate cheaper alternatives or restructure the program to control spending.

The decision to continue, modify or cancel the program will have repercussions on the United States’ nuclear deterrent capability, as well as on the overall strategic balance. In addition, it could affect relations with defense suppliers, notably Northrop Grumman, and influence future weapons projects. The Nunn-McCurdy process requires certification to Congress that the program is essential to national security and must continue, involving a rigorous analysis of costs, priorities and program management.

The significant cost increase of the LGM-35A Sentinel program raises critical questions about the management of large-scale weapons projects and the challenges associated with modernizing the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

War Wings Daily is an independant magazine.