Revisiting the Nuclear Budget

Dec 14, 2011

By Eli Jacobs

Discussion over the amount of money the United States spends on nuclear weapons has exploded recently. The controversy started with a Ploughshares report that pegs our 10-year nuclear weapons-related expenditures at $700 billion. A Washington Post article fact-checked this study, positing the Obama administration’s 1251 Report number of $215 billion as an alternative figure. Joe Cirincione, the head of Ploughshares, responded to this piece, defending the $700 billion number. Letters exchanged between pro-cuts Rep Edward Markey and pro-nukes Rep Mike Turner demonstrate the high stakes of this debate in the suddenly cost-conscious Congress, and a chorus of responses has erupted from the blogosphere.
 
The most definitive conclusion of the debate (thus far) is that there is tons of uncertainty. The DoD has never publically reported the particulars of their nuclear budget, and apparently was rather unaware of it until the recent (and still classified) 1251 Report. It should be no great shock, then, given this uncertainty, that most of this post focuses on the shortcomings of the Ploughshares figure. There are, more likely than not, significant problems with the 1251 Report number (which strikes me as being on the low side), but the government’s lack of transparency precludes anything more than a cursory enumeration of what these problems might be.
 
So, with the caveat that this is far from an exact science, what explains the vast disparity between these two estimates, and who’s right? Markey and Turner, using the Ploughshares and 1251 Report numbers, respectively, differ on three crucial points.
 
1) “Related Programs”
 
The Ploughshares study includes expenses that do not contribute to the fielding of a nuclear weapons capability. These expenses, which include missile defense, deferred environmental and health costs, and international nonproliferation efforts, broken down into nuclear threat reduction and nuclear incident management, cost a 10-year total of $270 billion, or almost 40% of Ploughshares’ $700 billion figure.
 
All of these additional expenses are undoubtedly connected to the nuclear enterprise. With the exception of environmental and health costs, they are all mentioned in the Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review. For this reason, most likely, even critics of the Ploughshares figure have settled on an “agree to disagree” approach to what fits in the nuclear weapons basket. Jeffrey Lewis, for example, states of this disagreement: “[l]et’s set that aside, since reasonable people can disagree, as long they are consistent and transparent about including those sorts of costs.” Even the Washington Post Fact Checker, one of the most strongly anti-Ploughshares pieces, adopts this tact.
 
With due respect, I find this approach to be the wrong one. The reason is simple: people are not academically interested in the costs of nuclear weapons at this time; they want to establish a baseline nuclear weapons budget from which they can argue for or against cuts. The forerunners of Ploughshares’ work did not face the high stakes of today’s climate of budgetary austerity. Stephen Schwartz and Deepti Choubey’s 2009 Carnegie study and Schwartz’s 1998 book Atomic Audit emerged into a climate whose response was geared towards long-term, systematic changes rather than short-term spending cuts.
[Edit: unnecessary and inaccurate speculation about the motivations for Stephen Schwartz's work has been eliminated from this paragraph.]
 
Ploughshares’ use of the enlarged figure, in this context, has the potential to severely skew debate on the nuclear weapons budget. The case in point is Rep Markey’s letter to the Supercommittee, which uses Ploughshares $700 billion number to argue for $20 billion in annual cuts. Although Ploughshares is up-front about what is included in their study, it’s impossible to expect others – particularly politically-motivated others – to be as exacting in their citations of the work. If you publish a piece intended to inform a debate about the nuclear weapons budget, it should focus narrowly on factors that are relevant to that debate. Since missile defense and nonproliferation are categorically distinct from nuclear weapons and environmental and health costs cannot be reduced in the short term, these variables should be excluded from accounts of the nuclear budget published in the near-term.
 
2) Calculating Overhead & Support
 
One major criticism of Ploughshares’ study is that it over-estimates support costs. For instance, the Washington Post Fact Checker argues: “[u]nder that formula, estimated support costs for fiscal year 2008--$10.9 billion—were higher than the direct costs of nuclear delivery systems--$10 billion. Is that reasonable?” In response, Cirincione claims that overhead and support can be quite pricey, isolating specifically the F-35 and nuclear submarines.
 
The formula under fire here is one derived by Stephen Schwartz in 1998: calculate what percentage strategic forces compose of the overall offensive forces budget, and multiply that figure by the DoD’s total expenditure on overhead and support. The result is to assign strategic forces an amount of overhead that matches their share of the offensive forces budget. This forms a math problem that looks like this:
 
 
The difficulty is determining what counts as “offensive forces” and what counts as “overhead and support” (O&S). The DoD divides its budget (see p. 73) into major force programs, or MFPs, which include components such as strategic forces, general purpose forces, central supply & management, and training & health. Strategic forces are, loosely, U.S. nuclear forces (although they also include missile defense and conventional bombers), and Schwartz uses this figure both as the baseline DoD budget and to extrapolate overhead and support costs. The 10 other MFPs are included either as offensive forces, O&S, or neither of these. Those that count as offensive forces are in the denominator, reducing overhead and support related to nuclear forces. Those that count as O&S are in the numerator, increasing this figure.
 
Schwartz fills in this figure in three different ways at various points in his work. The first is in his 1998 book, Atomic Audit, he writes:
Although most of the O&S costs that are directly related to maintaining U.S. offensive strategic forces are included within the strategic forces MFP, many indirect and overhead O&S costs are not. Rather, they are separated out by the DOD and allocated to the [1] central supply and maintenance, [2] training, medical, and other general personnel activities, [3] administration and associated activities, and [4] support of other nations MFPs. If the costs of these four overhead MFPs were allocated proportionally to the [a] strategic forces, [b] general-purpose forces, [c] mobility forces, [d] guard and reserve forces, [e] intelligence and communications, and [f] special operations MFPs, the share for the strategic forces MFP would be about $780 billion [since the end of WWII]. (110)
In this calculation, a relatively small number of MFPs count as O&S (the numbered components) and a relatively large number count as offensive forces (the lettered ones). Unsurprisingly, this results in a fairly low estimate of nuclear overhead and support costs; the Washington Post notes that, using this formula, the FY2008 overhead and support figure would be $4.2 billion—less than half of Schwartz’s ultimate 2009 estimate.
 
The second formulation of the variables in this formula is in Schwartz and Choubey’s 2009 paper:
[I]t is necessary to estimate the share of spending that might be devoted to nuclear forces within six other MFPs (MFP 3—Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence, and Space; MFP 6—Research and Development; MFP 7—Central Supply and Management; MFP 8—Training, Medical, and Other; MFP 9—Administrative and Associated Programs; and MFP 10—Support of Other Nations). This is accomplished by adding together the FY 2008 totals for MFPs 1, 2, and 11 (Strategic Forces, General Purpose Forces, and Special Operations Forces), dividing MFP 1 by this figure, and multiplying the remaining MFPs by the resulting amount, which indicates that MFP 1’s operating and support costs might be about $10.9 billion. (22)
In this formulation, mobility forces and guard and reserve forces are removed entirely from the offensive forces category, research and development is added to O&S, and intelligence and communications is moved from offensive forces to O&S. Using Ploughshares’ inflation estimates, this results in a larger estimate for nuclear overhead and support in FY2008: $8.97 billion.
 
The final formula is the one used to form the final estimate in the 2009 Carnegie paper:
[Overhead and support is c]alculated by adding MFPs 1, 2, and 11 (Strategic Forces, General Purpose Forces, and Special Operations Forces; $272,984), dividing MFP 1 by this total (0.0368400987) and multiplying all other MFPs by this amount ($10,900.211). (49)
Here, the bucket of offensive forces is the same as in the preceding formula, but O&S has been expanded to include the previously excluded variables: mobility forces and guard and reserve forces. Predictably, this results in a higher estimate than does the formula in the body of the article—almost $2 billion in one year.
 
Personally, the middle of these three estimates seems the best to me. The last one has clear flaws: mobility forces and guard and reserve forces play no role in supporting strategic forces. The first one is equally problematic. Intelligence and communications plays a supporting role for strategic forces—one that has been foregrounded and emphasized by the Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review—and is not itself an offensive force capability.
 
The consequences of this altered assessment of variables are not unsubstantial. Accounting for inflation, excluding mobility forces and guard and reserve forces from the calculation of overhead and support eliminates another $22.5 billion for Ploughshares’ $700 billion figure.
 
[Edit: as noted in the comments, mobility forces and guard and reserve forces do, in fact, play a role in supporting strategic forces. Thus, the conclusion that the $22.5 billion of the Ploughshares figure comes from non-existent O&S costs is incorrect.]
 
There are other, more difficult-to-quantify problems with this formula. For instance, a disproportionate amount of the both the supply and maintenance and training and health budgets likely went to supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, it’s likely that even this revised figure is a bit on the high side. But, as I mentioned before, nuclear weapons spending is far from an exact science, and there’s far from enough information to quibble substantively with these details.
 
3) Double Counting?
 
The issue that (I think justifiably) has Ploughshares critics most up in arms is its alleged double-counting of an administration request for $125 billion dollars for nuclear weapons over 10 years. Ploughshares assesses this money to be designed exclusively for modernization of U.S. nuclear delivery vehicles – something not included in Schwartz’s baseline budget statistics – and simply adds this money to Schwartz’s inflation-adjusted 10-year projections. Michael Turner takes issue with this assessment, arguing that the $125 billion represents the entirety of the DoD’s nuclear weapons spending over the next 10 years. (There’s a consensus on the $88 billion NNSA budget, which produces the administration’s $215 billion number.)
 
It’s fairly clear that the $125 billion figure for DoD, which comes from the aforementioned 1251 Report, is intended to be exhaustive. Mike Turner writes that the number “includes research, development, testing, and engineering; procurement; operations and support; and personnel.” Further, Congressional testimony by administration officials indicates that this estimate is intended to be exhaustive. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense James Miller says that the 1251 Report includes “our best estimate of the total costs of sustaining and modernizing the nuclear enterprise and the delivery systems from fiscal year ’12 to fiscal year ‘21” (see video at 43:45). In the same hearing, General Kehler says “I too agree with the 1251 report and the 200 plus billion dollars that it documented for the need to both sustain and modernize, or begin the modernization of, the nuclear enterprise over the next ten years” (see video at 46:15).
 
Simply put, Ploughshares adds together two figures that are each intended to be exhaustive. That cannot be described as anything other than poor research practice. It does not necessarily mean that the results of their research are incorrect. Jeffrey Lewis speculates that the 1251 Report excludes escalating command and control costs and Kingston Reif identifies some other components it may have missed. Further, cost overruns seem extremely likely, given the history of nuclear weapons work. As a result, it’s possible that $700 billion may be quite close. But nothing about Ploughshares’ research technique makes that seem very likely.
 
I don’t think that Ploughshares was arguing in bad faith, though, as some recent literature implies. Administration word choice on this issue is a bit misleading. For example, Jim Miller’s initial testimony, cited by Ploughshares, states:
The Administration’s FY2012 budget reflects our commitment to the modernization of our nuclear arsenal for the long term, including some $125 billion over the next ten years to sustain our strategic delivery systems, and about $88 billion over the same period to sustain our nuclear arsenal and modernize infrastructure. (8)
As mentioned previously, everyone agrees on the size of the administration’s $88 billion request for NNSA funding to modernize U.S. warheads. This number is very clearly exhaustive of all warhead modernization efforts. It includes, for example, support operations such as facilities maintenance and repair and protection for weapons labs. And this is fairly uncontroversial, since these functions fall clearly within the NNSA budget.
 
The same cannot be said of the $125 billion. Within the labyrinthine DoD budget, it’s very tempting to think that there are overhead costs emerging from the need to keep weapons on alert that are not accounted for. So when Jim Miller says that we need $88 billion for the warheads and $125 billion for the delivery vehicles, we assume that the $88 billion pays for everything in the NNSA whereas the $125 billion pays for only the delivery vehicle hardware. The presumption is that there are lurking or unreported costs related to alerting that hardware that will drive up the price of the nuclear enterprise. And, as mentioned before, there probably are. But that does not validate Ploughshares’ approach to generating these numbers.
 
Conclusion
 
It’s hard to pinpoint a solution to these inaccuracies. It almost certainly should include some consideration of the CBO’s 1998 report on the cost of a nuclear arsenal under START, but figuring out how that number fits into the current budget debate seemed a little too ambitious. For those who think the administration is underestimating, a better approach would be to work from one of the two exhaustive accounts – applying Schwartz’s initial formula or attempting to calculate expenses missing from the 1251 Report. I stand behind the statement I made in an update to a previous post: a cogent answer to this question will be impossible without clearer figures being released by the government.
 
However, even if the administration’s $125 billion figure is an underestimation, that (along with the $88 billion for NNSA) forms the baseline from which Congress will make budgetary cuts. (Unless, of course, Congress decides it wants to cut missile defense and/or nonproliferation funding in addition to nuclear weapons funding.) In the context of the budget debate, arguments about overhead and support and what to include in “related programs” play no role in influencing the task at hand. Speculation about overall expenditure makes for good talking points, but it plays little role in shaping short-term budget debates.
 
Eli Jacobs is a research intern for the Project on Nuclear Issues. The views expressed above are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Center for Strategic and International Studies or the Project on Nuclear Issues.

A healthy debate on US nuclear weapons spending

I appreciate your measured, thoughtful, and detailed contribution to the long, long overdue debate we're now having on understanding and quantifying nuclear weapons costs. While there's a lot to commend your post, there are a few areas that require some clarification. You've also made a few mistakes:

1. That there is "tons of uncertainty" (one might say even say "megatons") about what is being spent and what will be spent on nuclear weapons is really an understatement, As I've been saying since 1995, the fact that the DOD never collected, let alone analyzed, data on its nuclear weapons expenditures going back to the Manhattan Project is at the heart of this mess. A related but no less consequential problem is that Congress has never required the executive branch to prepare a comprehensive, unified nuclear weapons budget. Having said that, there's no reason this lamentable state of affairs "precludes anything more than a cursory enumeration" of the problems with the accounting in the Sec. 1251 report, and with the government's nuclear cost accounting in general. Indeed, I edited and co-wrote an entire book that went into enormous, unprecedented detail about this, and my 2009 Carnegie study did the same thing, albeit with a focus on just a single fiscal year (2008). The problems are well documented (if not yet well known inside the government) and easily described. It's the solution that's proven elusive (more on that below).

2. On the issue of whether "related costs" ought to be included, we should be clear that deferred environmental costs are most definitely tied to "the fielding of a nuclear weapons capability." Recall that these were labeled "deferred costs" in the 2009 Carnegie report because they were never taken into account or paid for at the time the costs where incurred (i.e., when the weapons were being tested and manufactured). These costs, which we are now finally paying for (and for which we will be paying for decades to come), are a direct consequence of building and maintaining a very large nuclear arsenal. Nor are these all costs addressing things that happened long ago; the NNSA modernization plans call for the decontamination and decommissioning of and acres acres of old process buildings, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars. On top of that, current NNSA activities generate toxic and radioactive wastes that must be safety handled, secured, and disposed of. Moreover, thanks to a recent DOE reorganization, beginning in FY 2013, the entire environmental restoration and waste management budget will be the NNSA's responsibility.

3. There's no need to speculate on the motivation for either Atomic Audit or Nuclear Security Spending: Assessing Costs, Examining Priorities: we spell it out in both volumes, and it was not about publicizing "the excesses of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex." (In fact, the original motivation for what became Atomic Audit was to demonstrate to potential proliferant states how it expensive it was to join the nuclear club, as a means of dissuading them from seeking membership. But once the experts we assembled ascertained that the entry fee is relatively low, our attention turned to a more comprehensive examination of the costs and consequences of the US program.) From Atomic Audit (pp. 2-3):

"Atomic Audit is the first comprehensive effort to tally the total costs of the U.S. nuclear weapons program, from developing and deploying nuclear weapons to managing and ultimately disposing of the wastes created in the process. Along the way, we examine how and why key decisions were made, what factors influenced those decisions, and whether alternatives were considered. Cost is a prism through which we are able to separate and analyze the various aspects of the overall endeavor. Our purpose is neither to praise all nuclear weapons programs undertaken during the decades of uncertainty nor to criticize all nuclear weapons expenditures as dangerous and wasteful. Rather, we seek to explain the process by which an arsenal consisting of but two primitive weapons in 1945 was eventually expanded to more than 32,000, what this process cost, and how the costs and consequences of the program were viewed by policymakers at the time."

And from Nuclear Security Spending (p. 15):

"This study—building on a more comprehensive historical assessment of the costs of the U.S. nuclear weapons program published in 1998, as well as the ongoing analytical efforts of more than a dozen nongovernmental nuclear policy and budget experts—seeks to provide tentative answers to several critical questions: What does the United States spend to maintain its nuclear arsenal; manage and clean up the wastes left over from decades of weapons production; defend against nuclear attack; prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons, weapons materials, technology, and expertise; and prepare for the consequences of a nuclear or radiological attack? Or, in other words, how much does the United States spend on nuclear security?"

4. The formula for Atomic Audit is different from the one we used in 2009 because Atomic Audit was examining historical costs from the very beginning of the nuclear weapons program in 1940 through to 1996. During this period, and especially from the 1950s through the mid-1970s, nuclear weapons were heavily integrated into all aspects of the military. By one reliable estimate, from about the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s, perhaps half of all spending on General Purpose (i.e. conventional) Forces was nuclear-related (to be conservative, however, we just counted 15 percent historically for the entire period of the study, one of the reasons our eventual estimate was more of a floor than a ceiling).

5. It's incorrect to assert that mobility forces "play no role in supporting strategic forces." The 62nd Airlift Wing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State is the Prime Nuclear Airlift Force, responsible for ferrying strategic and tactical nuclear weapons and weapons components around the country and around the world. Last year alone, it transported more than 320,000 pounds of equipment. It not only supports operational forces, but also movement of weapons and weapons components under arms reduction agreements. While this mission may be only a relatively small part of overall DOD mobility costs, it is essential to sustaining our nuclear arsenal.

6. Similarly, the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve are responsible for operating the aerial refueling tankers strategic bombers would rely on to reach their targets in Russia or elsewhere in the world. That's a rather critical role. (The tankers would also refuel airborne command posts used to direct operations in the event of a nuclear attack and fighter aircraft used in air defense operations) In addition, National Guard and Reserve forces are deeply involved in nuclear incident preparedness and response and nuclear counterterrorism operations. And since those missions are nuclear weapons-related, and we consider all nuclear weapons-related costs in Nuclear Security Spending, it makes sense to try and estimate their contribution to the overall effort. That's why they're included.

7. Ploughshares did not argue that the DOD's $125 billion Sec. 1251 estimate is "designed exclusively for modernization of U.S. nuclear delivery vehicles." As its September 27 working paper clearly states: "It is unclear how much of the DoD's proposed budgets would be new money above base budgets. If the full $125 billion were added, the total estimated ten-year cost of nuclear weapons and related programs could reach approximately $740 billion." And Ploughshares did not include the entire $125 billion in its overall estimate of future spending.

Moreover, as I pointed out in a lengthy response to Jeffrey Lewis's December 5 post over at ArmsControlWonk.com assessing this debate, there are strong reasons to question Rep. Turner's and the DOD's James Miller's insistence that the $125 billion figure is all inclusive:

"[H]ere are DOD’s own actual and projected numbers for MFP 1 spending (in FY 2012 dollars):

FY 2001 – 8.991
FY 2002 – 10.585
FY 2003 – 10.224
FY 2004 – 10.676
FY 2005 – 10.497
FY 2006 – 10.940
FY 2007 – 11.034
FY 2008 – 11.311
FY 2009 – 10.391
FY 2010 – 10.221
FY 2011 – 11.367
FY 2012 – 11.395
FY 2013 – 11.301
FY 2014 – 11.477
FY 2015 – 12.622
FY 2016 – 12.911

Before parsing the numbers, let’s take a quick look at what happened to the strategic triad between 2001 and 2011:

Bombers - 115 (2001) -- 113 (2011; reflects total airraft inventory, not just nuclear-tasked)
ICBMs - 550 (2001) -- 450 (2011)
SSBNs - 18 (2001) -- 14 (2011)
SLBMs - 432 (2001) -- 288 (2011)

As we can see, even while there were some noteworthy reductions, overall costs actually increased during that period.

If Miller and Turner are correct, then average annual spending going forward for maintaining and updating the strategic arsenal will be $12.5 billion a year. But the average annual spending for MFP 1 from 2001-2011 was $10.567 billion, which means that any “new” modernization spending would amount to roughly $1.9 billion a year. (It’s possible and likely that at least some of this new spending will come from MFP 6– Research & Development. But that MFP, which covers much more than nuclear weapons programs, falls from $54.563 billion in FY 2010 to $40.776 billion in FY 2016, suggesting either that any increases for nuclear weapons R&D will come at the expense of conventional weapons, or that R&D spending is going down across the board.)

Is $1.9 billion extra each year (or $19 billion over a decade) sufficient to design, test, and build a next generation bomber, new ICBMs, and new submarines and SLBMs (the first two of which aren’t even fully counted in the estimate even though STRATCOM and Congress seem determined to maintain the triad even if forces fall further)? No. Which brings us back to the key question DOD has not yet fully answered: How much of that $125 billion is for things we’re not already doing?

Another way to do a quick reality check on Turner’s claim is to examine what happened to MFP 1 the last time we decided to make substantial new investments in all three legs of the triad: the last years of the Carter administration and the Reagan administration. In billions of FY 2012 dollars, here’s what that buildup/modernization effort (which included the B-1 and B-2 bomber, the Advanced Cruise Missile, the SRAM II, the MX missile, the Small ICBM or 'Midgetman,' the Ohio-class SSBN, and the Trident II/D-5 SLBM) looked like:

FY 1978 – 29.568
FY 1979 – 25.522
FY 1980 – 29.151
FY 1981 – 29.327
FY 1982 – 33.694
FY 1983 – 40.639
FY 1984 – 51.456
FY 1985 – 50.129
FY 1986 – 45.468
FY 1987 – 41.255
FY 1988 – 36.035
FY 1989 – 36.772

Granted, the Obama administration’s plans are, by comparison, more modest, but this is another indication $125 billion is likely to be the tip of the iceberg."

8. I agree that Turner and the DOD intend for the $125 billion to be "exhaustive." Trouble is, we can't take that at face value given all the uncertainties noted above and elsewhere. And that's not even taking into account the likelihood that there will be significant cost increases in many programs and the fact that spending will continue, and increase, well beyond the arbitrary ten-year planning horizon Congress required for the Sec. 1251 report.

9. I disagree that "it's hard to pinpoint a solution to these inaccuracies." You even state at the end of that paragraph that "a cogent answer to this question will be impossible without clearer figures being released by the government." Bingo! We recommended this back in 1998 when Atomic Audit was published, and again in 2009 when Nuclear Security Spending was released. And three months ago, I laid it all out again at the PONI conference in Livermore. There's no mystery about what needs to be done, just a lack of interest and political will to do it. And unless and until we fix this problem, we will never know what we are truly spending on nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs, or what sorts of actual savings are possible if warhead levels are reduced further or changes are made in how our nuclear forces are operationally deployed.

Reply to Stephen Schwartz

This post is in response to a comment left by Stephen Schwartz on his Facebook. We're hoping to get it up on the blog soon, but, for now, here is my response:

Thanks for the comments! This is an under-utilized facet of the somewhat misnamed PONI Debates the Issues blog - I'm happy to get some discussion going. I have made a couple of corrections to the post. Responses are below.
 
1) I did get the sense from the intro of Atomic Audit that our knowledge of the history of nuclear spending is a total disaster. That's why I included this sentence: "The DoD has never publically reported the particulars of their nuclear budget, and apparently was rather unaware of it until the recent (and still classified) 1251 Report." As far as I understand it, the 1251 Report was intended to solve this issue, at least for the question of DoD nuclear weapons spending (only a small piece of the overall nuclear enterprise). The reason we can't account for its problems is not because of this historical obscurity, but because the report has not been released. The point I was making at the beginning of the post is, basically, that fully disclosed studies are more easily criticized than black boxes--which, unfortunately, the 1251 Report still is at this point.
 
2) Although environmental costs emerge from fielding a large nuclear weapons capability, those are not expenditures we can choose to eliminate in the current budget debate. Rather, they are largely locked in by our history of fielding a large nuclear arsenal. The reason everyone is suddenly very interested in the costs of nuclear weapons is because of the emerging climate of fiscal austerity, which has prompted a search for the appropriate things to cut. For the purpose of the current political debate, it's misleading to include this money under the same umbrella as delivery vehicles, warheads, and O&S. Although we certainly could cut these costs in near-term budgets, the character of those decisions would be very different from a choice to reduce the U.S. commitment to nuclear weapons.
 
3) This was an oversight on my part--I apologize. My intention was not to impugn your integrity by suggesting that there was some ulterior motive to your research. Instead, I was trying to point out the importance of the political environment into which the Ploughshares paper was released. It's possible to imagine all sorts of potential motives for a comprehensive study of U.S. nuclear weapons spending like Atomic Audit. By contrast, the range of potential motives for the Ploughshares paper is much smaller. It's pretty clear to me (and this has been partially confirmed by some of Joe Cirincione's subsequent writings) that the goal of the Ploughshares piece was to raise the issue of nuclear spending so that reductions would be considered in the context of the current budget debate. Mentioning the "excesses of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex" was just my stab at what a potential alternative motivation might have been. That's the sort of thing that would compel me to edit a book like Atomic Audit.
 
4) I understand that the management of our nuclear weapons - particularly their integration with other parts of the military - has varied over time. I also understand the different tasks that Atomic Audit and your 2009 study were trying to achieve. I don't understand how that variation accounts for the changes in your formula between 1998 and 2009. If nuclear weapons became less integrated with the armed forces overtime, wouldn't the proportion of overhead and support costs dedicated to sustaining them also decrease? I understand that there's an argument for why all non-offensive forces MFPs should be included in calculating O&S for U.S. nuclear weapons, but I don't understand how O&S costs could be so much relatively higher for 2009 than they were for 1940-96.
 
5&6) Points taken. Why is the formula used (and noted in the footnotes) different from the one explained in the body of the article?
 
7) I understand that Ploughshares chopped off about $40 billion to make up for potential excesses in the original calculation. To me, however, this doesn't validate the research technique that produced their original number.
 
The issue of relatively little funding for modernization in the 1251 Report estimate is mysterious to me as well. Until the 1251 Report is released, though, it's a tough question to answer. Maybe part of the reason is the conventional components of the MFP - missile defense plus conventionally-tasked bombers - which are not included in the administration estimate. Another potential explanation is that the 1251 Report number doesn't include all the overhead and support costs (although Mike Turner claims it does), which led me to conclude: " For those who think the administration is underestimating, a better approach would be to work from one of the two exhaustive accounts – applying Schwartz’s initial formula or attempting to calculate expenses missing from the 1251 Report."
 
8) I agree, there probably will be cost overruns.
 
9) This is certainly true. Fortunately, there may be a beacon of hope (one that I was planning to and may still blog about, actually). The FY 2012 NDAA includes a requirement that "the President, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Energy, shall transmit to the congressional defense committees, the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives a detailed report on the plan for the nuclear weapons stockpile, nuclear weapons complex, nuclear weapons delivery systems, and nuclear weapons command and control system." (Accessed through the House Rules Committee here: http://www.rules.house.gov/Media/file/PDF_112_1/legislativetext/HR1540co... see Section 1043.) This should be at least a first step towards figuring out the reality of these issues once and for all.