The U.S. Air Force is responsible for two of the three legs in the nuclear triad. In 2015 it awarded an engineering contract to develop the nation’s next long-range strategic bomber, and in August of this year it awarded two risk-reduction contracts that commence development of a successor to the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. If strategic modernization is to move forward without an undue degree of risk, though, the service needs to take a different approach to developing its new ballistic missile than it did to developing the bomber. In the case of the bomber, the service accepted a winning bid that was so aggressive in terms of cost that execution to schedule is unlikely. Burdening a second leg of the the triad with similar developmental uncertainty would be dangerous. The Air Force should probably spend less time trying to get a bargain, and more time considering the risk-limiting way the Navy has gone about sustaining its own leg of the triad — sea-launched ballistic missiles. After all, nuclear deterrence is one mission where the survival of the nation could ultimately be at stake. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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