An illustration of the LGM-35A Sentinel, the Air Force’s newest weapon system known as the ground-based strategic deterrent.

An illustration of the LGM-35A Sentinel, the Air Force’s newest weapon system known as the ground-based strategic deterrent. (U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON — Cost projections for the Air Force’s new Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile have grown to about $140.9 billion, or 81% more than originally forecasted four years ago.

“There are reasons for this cost growth, but there are also no excuses,” William LaPlante, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters Monday. “We fully appreciate the magnitude of the cost, but we also understand the risks of not modernizing our nuclear forces and of not addressing the very real threats we confront.”

The Sentinel is meant to replace the LGM-30G Minuteman III, as part of a broader effort to revamp the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The Air Force notified Congress on Jan. 18 that the new missile would cost 37% more than expected and take about two years longer than planned to build and deploy. Under the Nunn-McCurdy Act, established during the 1980s, significant cost overruns in a major Pentagon acquisition program require the defense secretary to report the breach to Congress.

A critical Nunn-McCurdy breach occurs when the cost increases by 25% of the current baseline or 50% of the original estimate.

In addition to the latest cost projection, LaPlante rescinded the Sentinel’s Milestone B approval, which would have allowed the new missile to move forward to the full engineering and manufacturing development phase. He instead directed the Air Force to come back with a plan to restructure the program.

“Preserving schedule will be a key consideration during this restructuring. But a delay of several years is currently estimated,” LaPlante said.

Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, told reporters that the service expects the process for developing the new program to take 18 to 24 months.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Reps. John Garamendi, D-Calif., and Don Beyer, D-Va., co-chairmen of a congressional working group on nuclear arms, announced last month that there is a hearing scheduled for July 24 on cost overruns of nuclear modernization programs.

“The United States cannot preach temperance from a barstool. We have a responsibility to prevent the heightened threat of nuclear war,” Markey said in a news release. “I will continue to work with my Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group colleagues and other members across both chambers to seek more transparency from our government on the Sentinel program and stop the insane spending on nuclear weapons.”

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Matthew Adams covers the Defense Department at the Pentagon. His past reporting experience includes covering politics for The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and The News and Observer. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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