Some of the most expensive parts of the nuclear programme are not disputed, even by liberal Democrats. Few argue against the replacement of the 14 Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines which will begin to wear out in the late 2020s. The bill for that is likely to be around $140 billion for 12 new boats. More questionable is the air force’s bid last year to replace the 440-strong Minuteman III land-based missile force at a cost of $62 billion. A study in 2014 by the RAND Corporation judged that incremental modernisation might cost only a third as much, and could sustain the missile system for several more decades. Some, like Gordon Adams of the Stimson Centre, a think-tank, argue that land-based missiles are no longer necessary to maintain nuclear deterrence. They are the minority. The counter-argument is that as long as Russia builds all the 700 deployed missiles and bombers it is allowed under the New START treaty, America’s land-based force will still be needed—if only as a “sink” providing targets to absorb a nuclear strike.
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