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Report: US strategic bomber spending totals $58B through 2024

The US government expects to spend $33.1B building its next-generation strategic bomber over the coming decade and a further $24.4B upgrading the Northrop Grumman B-2 and Boeing B-52, according to a 30 July Government Accountability Office report.

The figures come as the US Air Force prepares to award a development contract for the Long-Range Strike Bomber to either Northrop Grumman or a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team. An announcement is expected in late August or early September and could be worth upwards of $80B to the winner for 80 to 100 new bombers.

The 10-year spending projections are accurate as of May 2014, but represent the most comprehensive bomber figures made public so far.

By comparison, the Congressional Budget Office reported in January that strategic bomber spending would total $40B through 2024, $18B less than the government estimate.

GAO’s numbers come from its analysis of the Pentagon and National Nuclear Security Administration’s joint 2014 forecast of nuclear weapons spending, and the LRS-B total was not reported in 2013.

The report shows that the total estimated cost of sustaining and modernising the nuclear force rose 40% in 2014 compared to the 2013 projections, partly because the new sum includes LRS-B and the air force’s replacement for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD).

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Source: GAO

Through 2024, the US government intends to spend $298.1 billion on sustaining and updating its nuclear stockpile after what one air force general calls a “procurement holiday” since the end of the Cold War with Russia. Of the total, $163.4 billion will be spent on nuclear delivery systems like bombers, missiles and submarines. The numbers do not reflect the air force's recent decision to accelerate the Long-Range Standoff cruise missile project.

The numbers come after US deputy secretary of defense Robert Work’s statement in June that the Pentagon will need an average of $18 billion per year between 2021 and 2025 on top of what it already spends on the nuclear force just to pay for new bombers, cruise missiles, ICBMs, and submarines.

US nuclear weapons spending is expected to peak above $25 billion by 2025, according to the US Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

This latest joint report by the government looks five years beyond what is projected in its 2015 budget books, with $21.7B in LRS-B spending between 2020 and 2024 and $11B for B-2 and B-52 modernization over the same period.

LRS-B is advertised as a conventional and strategic nuclear asset, and could eventually replace the B-1, B-2 and B-52.

The B-52 has already celebrated its 50th anniversary, but could remain in the force through 2040. Meanwhile, the 20-year-old B-2 could keep flying through 2058.

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Source: GAO

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