U.S. Strategic Posture Commission Calls For Expanded B-21 Bomber and Nuclear Submarine Purchases: Is It Affordable?

The U.S. Congress Strategic Posture Commission final report released on October 12 has called for Washington to update and expand its nuclear and conventional forces with urgency, highlighting the potential need to face a combined Chinese and Russian force. “The United States and its allies must be ready to deter and defeat both adversaries simultaneously… The U.S.-led international order and the values it upholds are at risk from the Chinese and Russian authoritarian regimes,” it observed accordingly. A senior official involved in the report told Reuters that although no evidence of Russia and China working together to prepare for a joint nuclear war effort had emerged: “we worry… there may be ultimate coordination between them in some way, which gets us to this two-war construct.” The commission argued that the combined threat from China and Russia would become acute from 2027, and that accordingly “decisions need to be made now in order for the nation to be prepared.” B-21 intercontinental range stealth bombers and Columbia Class ballistic missile submarines were key focuses of the report’s recommendations for expanded acquisitions. The two new assets are expected to revolutionise the capabilities of the air and sea arms of the American nuclear triad and enter service close to 2030. 

The viability of massive expansion of American military spending has been called to serious question in light of unprecedented and worsening budget deficits, and expanding interest payments on government debts which now number in the tens of trillions of dollars. Interest payments are expected to have surpassed the Pentagon budget by around 2027. The Federation of American Scientists commented regarding the commission’s recommendations that “there is almost no mention of cost in the entire report,” which “does not seem to acknowledge any limits to defence spending.” It added that the only reason the commission did not argue for an immediate expansion of the American nuclear arsenal “is that the weapons production complex currently does not have the capacity to do so.” Although the United States spends more on its armed forces than the next several countries combined, its spending on arms acquisitions has been considerably lower than China’s since around 2020, as the large majority of American spending is allocated to salaries, veterans’ benefits and other personnel related costs.

The state of America’s nuclear forces has been the subject of growing criticisms, with the bomber fleet having contracted sharply due to issues with the B-1B bomber, which has suffered from among the worst availability rates in the fleet. The country’s sole stealth bomber squadron, meanwhile, was left out of service for an extended period due to major accidents. Ground based nuclear forces have proven even more problematic, with the arsenal of Minuteman III intercontinental range ballistic missiles being by far the oldest in the world at close to half a century since entering service. The possibility of retiring these missiles without replacement has increasingly been raised due to the massive costs of developing and mass producing a viable successor, with ongoing life extension for the airframes and their engine is becoming increasingly unviable.