Meet the Arms Program That Dwarfs Lockheed's Trillion-Dollar Super-Fighter


America's F-35 fighter jet program -- spending money at Mach 3. Source: Lockheed Martin.

Five years ago, when word began filtering out about Lockheed Martin's (NYSE: LMT  ) new F-35 fighter jet potentially costing taxpayers $440 billion, people were shocked. More recent revelations that the plane could conceivably cost as much as $1.1 trillion left taxpayers dumbfounded.

Well, if you were one of those upset about the cost of the F-35 program, you'd probably better sit down for this next bit: The Pentagon's working up a weapons program now that could cost twice as much as the F-35.

Defense spending goes nuclear
That's the upshot of a new report out of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which this week estimated that upgrades and expansions to the U.S. nuclear arsenal could cost as much as $355 billion over the next 10 years.

Now, the math here is somewhat tricky, so bear with me for a moment. At first glance, the F-35 program's sticker price -- $1.1 trillion -- looks like a bigger number than the nuclear upgrades cost of $355 billion. But notice: The nuke upgrade spending will take place over a 10-year span, from 2014 to 2023. In contrast, the F-35's trillion-dollar cost will be spread over 60 years of service.

So per year, the numbers work like this: Nukes -- $35.5 billion per year. F-35s -- closer to $18.3 billion .... or roughly half the anticipated annual cost of spending on America's nuclear arsenal.

And what do we get for that?
Spending on America's nuclear deterrent will be spread out among multiple nuclear "delivery" systems, from nuclear ballistic missile submarines ("boomers") to long-range bomber aircraft -- to the silo-based ICBMs, whose upgrades could begin any moment now, if the contract that GenCorp (NYSE: GY  ) won earlier this month works out as planned.


In December, GenCorp won a contract to demo a new stage III rocket booster for Minuteman III missiles like this one. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

According to CBO, all three of these delivery systems are in need of upgrading, modernization, or replacement with newer systems such as next-gen cruise and ballistic missiles. An anticipated purchase of 100 new "Long-Range Strike-Bombers" could cost taxpayers perhaps $55 billion all on its own, and generate $55 billion in revenues for the defense contractors vying to build it. (At last report, each of Lockheed, Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) , and Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) were planning to bid -- so at least all this spending is good news for someone.)


Northrop Grumman's B-2 Stealth Bomber looks like nothing else in the air. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

CBO anticipates that funds will also need to be spent on:

  • Maintaining the nuclear warheads themselves.
  • Nuclear reactors that power the boomers.
  • Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs.
  • The command and control and communications systems, and early warning systems, that weave together all the disparate threads of America's nuclear deterrent.

Then there's the cost of cleaning up nuclear contamination and disposal of waste, funds for nuclear non-proliferation activities, and security at nuclear sites. Finally, in the interests of being thorough, CBO adds an additional $59 billion to its estimates, to account for likely cost overruns on any or all of these programs.

It all adds up to a massive Pentagon spending program -- that's twice as big as the F-35.

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Read/Post Comments (16) | Recommend This Article (10)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 4:44 PM, Walterbag wrote:

    the Military/BANKER/Industrial Complex is the greatest ENEMY America faces. The MBIC is doing more damage, killing more Americans, then any terrorist ever dreamt of doing. Actually, the terrorists should just retire to some resort, the MBIC is doing their work FOR THEM.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 4:45 PM, TKK1959 wrote:

    Another contract where CEO's will profit @ 475% of the taxpayers money....

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 5:13 PM, SLTom992 wrote:

    Think about this - they are planning on keeping the B52's until 2045 or even later. I worked on those bombers and love them. But they are not the sort of heavy bomber that belongs in the modern AF inventory. Boeing should be tasked with a modern design which I suspect would be a great deal faster, more fuel efficient and with a much smaller radar signature.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 5:31 PM, rcs48 wrote:

    It is beginning to look like the tongue-in-cheek charts of weapons systems costs presented in Augustine's Laws (Norm Augustine) were more accurate than intended.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 7:35 PM, mancreo wrote:

    Stupid Humans! We eat Gristsle while they build missiles, this is the dumbest most stupid thing. All this money and resources and scientist and the entire complex should be put to better use, for peace.........

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 7:40 PM, bobway3 wrote:

    Thanks to Walmart..China owns us. Why bother with a military that we cannot use. The Chinese dump their positions in US Treasury Bonds and ruin our economy. It would hurt them to do this but they are more resiliant then us. Remember China

    is creating environmental apartheid through their

    extensive use of coal and its too late for the environmental groups to shut them down

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 8:20 PM, badkat7 wrote:

    The F-35 is already a redundant aircraft and a huge waste of money. The A-10, updated, could easily fulfill the low level strike role and at a fraction of the cost. In addition it has more punch - to achieve the same penetration the F-35 must fly at close to supersonic speeds which significantly reduces time-on-target and hence curtails the "support" role considerably.

    The F-35B is a "part-time" VTOL aircraft due to high wear on critical components. This means it is unsuitable as a replacement to the Harrier which could do VTOL runs routinely without significant cost in terms of longevity. Britain had best get used to having a carrier... with no aircraft on it.

    The F-35 is also a complete fail at air superiority since it a) carries only two inboard air to air missiles (pylon weapons massively reduce the stealth characteristics of the aircraft); and b) it has been demonstrated that MANY foreign aircraft have the ability to detect, intercept and shoot down the F-35 (in part because of advances in avionics and in part because the F-35 is nowhere near stealthy enough to avoid detection). It is also a useless dog-fighter as it has been demonstrated the F-16, Eurofighter and many other aircraft can easily shoot it down.

    One of the biggest complaints about the Harrier was its reliance on a single engine - well guess what... that's all the F-35 has! And because of the power it has to generate that engine is incredibly noisy - about the same as an F15 Eagle at full reheat!

    I have no idea why anyone would want to buy the F-35 - I can only assume huge bribes will change hands along with "incentive packages" for the politicians supporting this fiasco.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 9:44 PM, 4mikie wrote:

    War is for idiots and ego manics. There will always be a faster gun. Stop feeding the insanity!

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 9:48 PM, antispy3 wrote:

    The F-35 is a product of developing a platform that is intended for multiple purposes @ the expense of a particular role. Like the ??Abrams personnel carrier, is this something made jsut to benefit the war industrial complex?

    I recently read Boeing & Lockheed have been tasked with "doing the math" on a possible new stealth bomber. Seems, like the B-1 Lancer (medium bomber) the B-2 is not capable of providing the impact of the obsolete but versatile B-52. The B-52 concept first hit the drawingboard in 1948. . .hard to contemplate a military platform that has been effective for upwards of 100 years! In that time frame we have had the B-1B & the B-2. . .the B-2 (I worked on this program, along with the YF-22) first was proposed in the early '80's. . .& because of it's shortcomings it is now considered replaceable. . .

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 5:32 AM, sonofamram wrote:

    Does the author know something we don't about an upcoming World War 3 in which the entire U.S. nuke arsenal is launched? Why does he choose to match the amortization of the nuke investment to the spending period of upgrades, but amortizes the spending on the F-35 program over the expected service life of the aircraft? Don't nukes also have a service life that extends beyond their purchase/upgrade? Motley Fool - once again your content contributors help you live up to your name.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 5:59 AM, BM2628 wrote:

    Badcat7, do your homework son.....A10 is not even close to a viable alternative. Hell, Wikapedia will talk unclassified capabilities so far in the stratosphere .....an ostrich with head in the sand I fear.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 1:46 PM, quasimodo007 wrote:

    What A WASTE of TAX Payers Money from the US Military TOP Brass who Protect RAPIST who Sexual Assault US Military Women and Civilian Women Protect also evil cheney Corrupt military contractors Thugs who RIP OFF Americans Tax Payers and they Outsource US Hourly Unions Jobs overseas.

    ISRAEL will supply Russia with the Copy of the F35 and it will be Better and Cheaper.

    The US Military Quit Wasting TAX Payers Money give it to Americans who are Homeless , and Veterans and Starving Americans.

    bring back FOOD Stamps to the Needy the Evil GOp congress Protects their mafia style Privilege Crooks of Wall street with Billions Dollars TAX breaks and giving Billions of Dollars to EVIL NSa and Evil CIa too.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 4:52 PM, RetiredArmy41 wrote:

    As someone that once served proudly for most of you posting here with the Dove attitude, I can only say, where were you when your country needed you? Did any of you ever serve. I see some posters here that undoubtedly never succeeded with a GED level education. Why does no one take a serious look at our ENTITLEMENT PROGRAMS on an ANNUAL basis. How about our Enormous DEBT of 17.5 Trillion and growing exponentially! At this time we have an unfunded debt of over 120 TRILLION Dollars and the Democrats keep on padding the give aways for their base players. The ACA (Not Affordable)a.k.a., Obama-Care (resembles something hatched in the Wilds of Africa)will be another huge Redistribution of Wealth. Take from the Working Tax Payers and give to the sick, lame, lazy and doped up takers. It will end bad for our once great country folks. Bank on it.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 6:11 PM, Kent wrote:

    Wouldn't it be cheaper to organize a global disarmament? What good is this tri-lateral nuclear weapon system when the only hope of mankind is that it is never used. It is the Sword of Damocles suspended over the head of humanity. Flush it down the toilet and get on with the business of peace on earth, goodwill to man.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 6:18 PM, Kent wrote:

    "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." ~~ Albert Einstein

    "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." ~~ President Eisenhower's farewell address to the nation

  • Report this Comment On January 01, 2014, at 4:39 PM, ALMARY147 wrote:

    WE ARE FOLLOWING THE PATH OF SOVIET RUSSIA! If this were Nazi Germany what would we have said?

    Much to late to change; blind spending will further depreciate our economy while China builds our TV's, medical instruments and just about every household product; our skills go to Weapons. God Help America, going nowhere at a high rate of speed. "AL" in California

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