The United States Air Force is requesting new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to replace the currently used weapons from the 1970s. The cost of maintaining its 40-year-old ICBM weapons comes at a high price financially and operationally. An ICBM replacement missile will provide military capability to continue U.S. nuclear deterrence. The Air Force is in dire need of a new missile that can adapt to continuing and emerging threats at a more affordable cost.
ICBMs are a critical component of the nuclear triad, which also includes submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and heavy bombers. ICBMs are the cheapest, most-reliable component of this triad, and together, the three legs of the nuclear triad ensure that the U.S. can protect its security and interests and those of its allies. Modernization of all three legs of the triad remains an integral part of the U.S. security posture.
The Minuteman III, the current ICBM used in the United States’ weapons system, was deployed in the 1970s. While other nations modernized their ICBM capabilities, the United States has been relying on a technology that dates back to the same year as the invention of the floppy disk. Russia is producing a new ICBM with a completion date in 2018 that will replace its Cold War–era counterpart and has plans to build 130 new nuclear weapons and a new strategic bomber.
New ICBMs will protect the United States, ensuring the necessary capabilities to stay safe in a very dangerous world. North Korea and Iran have made the production of ICBMs an important component of their weapons program. A South Korean assessment of discovered long-range missile components shows that North Korea has ICBMs with a range of 10,000 kilometers, putting the west coast of the U.S., Hawaii, and Alaska at risk of a North Korean strike.
Those who oppose building new ICBMs argue that the cost is too great, but over the past few years, programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid have more than tripled in funding. These programs are crowding out resources for defense, one of the primary obligations of the federal government. ICBMs are crucial to the defense of the United States and the 30 nations that the U.S. has vowed to protect through nuclear security agreements.
Nuclear threats continue to advance, and the Air Force should be given the ability to build new ICBMs. Additionally, the cost associated with new ICBM technology is significantly smaller than other budget items. A new properly funded ICBM program will lay the groundwork for a new age in combatting existing threats and ensure that the U.S. and its allies remain safe.
Jonathan Tallman is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.