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POGO Asks Defense Secretary to Cut B61 Bomb Program Funding

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The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is once again requesting that the Departments of Defense and Energy review the B61 nuclear bomb program in Europe. Last year POGO wrote to then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta regarding the ever increasing costs of the life extension program for these bombs, but did not receive a substantive response. As costs continue to climb, we are hopeful that current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will finally put this pricey Cold War-era program to bed.

There are approximately 200 B61 bombs deployed and stored at six bases in five European countries as part of NATO’s defense. Given the magnitude of U.S. fiscal concerns, the taxpayer can no longer afford the skyrocketing costs of this program:

Since POGO first raised the issue, the total cost estimate for extending the life (called a life extension program, or LEP) of B61s has grown from approximately $4 billion to $10 billion total, according to the Pentagon. Approximately half of the U.S.’s B61s are deployed in Europe, thus the cost to complete the LEP for our NATO allies is approximately $5 billion. Furthermore, the annual budget for the B61 LEP is set to increase by over 300 percent from $126 million in FY2012 to $537 million in FY2014, according to the latest numbers from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The funding increase “reflects the continued ramp-up” of engineering and testing, according to the budget.

But cost overruns are just the beginning in this troubled program. Questions have also been raised over the military effectiveness of the deployment of these nuclear bombs in Europe. For example:

Currently, ranges to potential adversary targets outside NATO-friendly territories are such that multiple, in-flight refueling would be required. The concern is that these aircraft would run out of gas while engaged in the mission over adversary territory.

Furthermore there are significant security issues at the bases where these nuclear bombs are kept, and complex agreements between the U.S. and host counties place limitations on operating areas and weapons that can be used in response to an attack:

A 2008 report by a U.S. Air Force Blue Ribbon Review states that security at the host-nation locations is varied and often does not meet U.S. nuclear weapons protection standards. Physical facilities such as structures, fences, lights, and alarm systems are not well maintained.

Many of the security vulnerabilities raised in this 2008 report have yet to be fixed, and to competently and completely address them will only add to the cost of this already bloated program.

These details show that the B61 program is a relic of the Cold War and is no longer effective or relevant in a modern nuclear strategy. The U.S. taxpayer should no longer be responsible for the majority of the costs of maintaining a nuclear weapons capability in Europe, particularly in light of recent budget constraints. It is our hope that Secretary Hagel will follow through on his talk of changing existing programs and practices to ones that better suit twenty-first century realities and challenges and cut funding to the B61 bomb program in Europe.

Image from Flickr user Dabe Bezaire and Susi Havens-Bezaire.

By: Lydia Dennett
Investigator, POGO

lydia dennett Lydia Dennett is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Lydia handles whistleblower intake and works on nuclear safety and security at the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: DOD Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear Weapons Complex Oversight, Wasteful Defense Spending

Authors: Lydia Dennett

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