The Air Force's ambitious next-generation Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program is emerging as a striking example of Pentagon procurement mismanagement, resembling an ongoing game of escalating costs. Originally estimated at $62 billion, the price for this high-stakes program has consistently surged, presenting a concerning trend in defense spending.
Initiated in 2016 as a replacement for the aging Minuteman III ICBMs, the Sentinel's initial projection for 659 missiles had already jumped to $85 billion. By 2020, the cost further ballooned to $96 billion. Shockingly, just last month, the Air Force disclosed an alarming escalation to a staggering $131.5 billion – a 37% increase and more than double the program's original estimate.
— Daryl G Kimball (@DarylGKimball) February 2, 2024
In response to the program's persistent cost overruns, the Secretary of Defense has initiated a review, a move often signaling potential cancellation. However, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to advocate for the program's continuation, asserting its critical role in national defense and presenting it as the only viable option.
The Sentinel missile is integral to the broader Air Force strategy to modernize the United States' nuclear triad, encompassing submarines, bombers, and land-based missiles. Despite the program's substantial cost overruns, Secretary Austin is likely to leverage the national defense imperative to justify its continuation.
Adding to the financial burden, the Sentinel program is just one component of a colossal 30-year modernization plan, carrying a staggering $2 trillion price tag. This estimate does not even encompass additional essential upgrades, such as the revamped W87-1 warhead and the construction or refurbishment of silos, portraying a seemingly limitless expenditure akin to an unrestricted teenager's credit card shopping spree.
Delays and cost overruns have plagued the program, with a Government Accountability Office report citing staffing shortages, clearance processing delays, and challenges related to classified technology infrastructure. The overall sentiment characterizes the initiative as a bureaucratic mess.
While some argue for the necessity of land-based missiles within the nuclear triad, dissenting voices view it as an extravagant waste of funds. Nonetheless, the bipartisan consensus in Congress currently asserts the indispensability of land-based ICBMs. This raises questions about the rationality of spending billions on items like bombers and submarines that lack recall capabilities or stealth features.
In conclusion, the Sentinel missile program epitomizes the pitfalls of oversized government spending, resembling a continuous rollercoaster of escalating costs and bureaucratic obstacles. Despite the financial concerns, the overarching narrative posits that, when justified in the name of national defense, the zeros on the price tag become secondary considerations.