After ten years of higher defense spending the defense budget is likely to decline over the next ten years. Despite the huge increases over the last ten years, spending on strategic forces has held constant, as you can see from the chart below from our recent report on the costs of nuclear weapons.
The stability of MFP-1, Strategic Forces isn’t especially surprising. Nuclear forces have played a small role in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, even though bombers have been employed in both conflicts. No new nuclear delivery systems have been procured over the last ten years, so modernization costs haven’t increased spending on strategic forces, either. The bottom line is that there has been little relationship between pressures on the defense budget and changes in spending on strategic forces.
Will this continue over the next decade? The defense budget is certainly facing considerable financial pressures that could prompt cuts in nuclear spending. On the other hand, cuts might require changes in nuclear requirements, and the recent New START battle suggests any effort to reduce the size of the nuclear arsenal could be politically controversial. By the end of the next decade, expensive new ballistic missile submarine procurement will add to the cost of MFP-1. A new bomber will tack on additional spending in the 2020s, so it looks like the long term trajectory of MFP-1 might be up, not down.