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Nuclear complex upgrades related to START treaty to cost $180 billion

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2010; A02

The Obama administration, seeking to bolster congressional support for the new strategic arms treaty with Russia, plans to spend $180 billion over the next decade to upgrade the nation's nuclear weapons complex, keep warheads capable and modernize strategic delivery systems, according to documents delivered Thursday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

With Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates scheduled to testify in support of the treaty next week, the administration sent lawmakers the treaty package, including a classified report that lays out in detail its program to sustain "a strong nuclear deterrent for the duration of the new START treaty and beyond."

The treaty requires the United States to reduce its stockpile of missiles and bombers that can launch nuclear weapons. Republicans had been insistent that they would not support the treaty unless the U.S. nuclear weapons complex is modernized so that more nuclear weapons can be built if needed.

Just last month, Sen. Jon Kyle (Ariz.), a leading Republican spokesman on the treaty, told an audience at the National Defense University: "As far as I'm concerned, it's got to be an absolute commitment to adequate funding for everything that has to be done."

The administration on Thursday released a one-page unclassified summary of the classified report sent to lawmakers. That summary shows that spending on modernization of the nuclear weapons complex over the decade will reach $80 billion, growing from $6.4 billion this year to $7 billion in coming years and eventually topping $8 billion beginning in 2016. The growing costs reflect not just construction of facilities but also the refurbishment and possible replacement of some warheads in the next decade, all without the need for testing, according to the summary.

An additional $100 billion is to be spent on strategic nuclear delivery systems such as bombers and land- and submarine-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. Research is underway on a new strategic bomber and a new class of strategic submarines.

To meet the proposed START treaty level of 700 deployed delivery systems, the administration will reduce the 450 ICBMs now deployed with single warheads to 420, and perhaps fewer. The number of B-52 and B-2 nuclear-capable bombers will drop from 94 to 60. The United States will retain its arsenal of 14 strategic subs, but the vessels will reduce the number of missiles they carry from 24 to 20 and deploy no more than 240 at any one time.

The treaty also reduces the number of warheads deployed overall to 1,550 and contains verification procedures to permit inspections that make certain the limits are followed.

Republicans, who were concerned about U.S. capabilities to monitor Russian compliance with the treaty, are awaiting a National Intelligence Estimate on that subject.

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