WASHINGTON — The US government will spend an estimated $348 billion over the next decade to maintain, upgrade and operate its nuclear arsenal, according to a new estimate by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

That figure is slightly down from a Dec. 2013 estimate of $355 billion, but still represents an average price tag of $35 billion a year — major costs in an era when the Pentagon is focused on finding savings.

The Pentagon's share of the $348 billion total is estimated at $227 billion, or about $6 billion more than the 10-year estimate published in 2013. The Department of Energy's total has shrunk by $13 billion in the newer estimate, down to $121 billion.

The drop in overall cost is due in part to "budget-driven delays in several programs, including a three-year delay for the new cruise missile and its nuclear warhead and longer delays in some programs for extending the useful lives of nuclear warheads," the CBO wrote in its report, released Thursday.

The overall breakdown looks like this:

  • $160 billion for strategic nuclear delivery systems and weapons;
  • $8 billion for tactical nuclear delivery systems and weapons;
  • $79 billion for nuclear weapons laboratories and their supporting activities;
  • $52 billion for nuclear-related command, control, communications, and early-warning systems;
  • $49 billion representing CBO's estimate of additional costs that would be incurred over the coming decade if the growth rates for the nuclear program's costs are similar to the average.

Costs were estimated by looking at nuclear budget lines, examining long-range plans for each relevant program, and projecting each one out.

"Over the next two decades, the Congress will need to make decisions about the extent to which essentially all of the U.S. nuclear delivery systems and weapons will be modernized or replaced with new systems," the authors of the study wrote. Indeed, there are major upgrades planned to the bomber, nuclear submarine and ICBM fleets, something the CBO calculated into their long-term projections.

The CBO projects $40 billion to be spent on the bomber fleet during this time period, which includes an expected ramp up in the Air Force's new Long Range Strike-Bomber. The nuclear submarine forces are estimated at $83 billion over 10 years, while ICBMs will cost $26 billion over the next decade.

The command and control subcategory of systems dropped $1 billion, the result of planned reductions in costs at Strategic Command and Global Strike Command.

Twitter: @AaronMehta

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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