GAO recommends cost estimates for modernization of nuclear weapons

The U.S. Government Accountability Office made seven recommendations on Friday to the Department of Defense and Department of Energy in regards to cost estimates on plans to modernize nuclear weapons.

The GAO recommended that the DoD and the DoE improve synchronization in providing cost estimates to the Nuclear Weapons Council, identify long-term Navy funding to support the interoperable warhead life-extension program and issue or revise existing DoD and Nuclear Weapons Council guidance. The DoD concurred with all of the GAO recommendations and the DoE concurred with the three recommendations requiring joint action between the two departments.

The GAO conducted the study after the DoD identified capability requirements and potential basing options for the Minuteman III follow-on intercontinental ballistic missile and the DoE started a parallel study of options to extend the life of its warhead. Neither department planned to estimate the total system costs for the new missile and its warhead.

While the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review recommended that the Nuclear Weapons Council look into the potential for developing a warhead interoperable on both Air Force and Navy missiles, the GAO found that the Navy did not fully engage in the effort. Additionally, the GAO said the Navy might be poorly positioned to perform the detailed analyses needed to validate an approved design, which could result in program delays. DoD guidelines may also be unclear about aligning programs and resources between the Navy and Air Force.

The GAO found that without an update to the DoD instruction, the two services may not be prepared to participate in future joint-service studies.