Sentinel ICBM Program Costs Skyrocket To $160 Billion, Threatens Other Defense Projects

The cost of the Air Force’s Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program has soared to about $160 billion, up from a previous estimate of $95.8 billion, three sources familiar with the details have confirmed. This increase poses a significant threat to funding for other key defense modernization efforts.

Managed by Northrop Grumman Corp, the Sentinel program aims to replace the aging Minuteman III missiles. The latest price tag, an increase of around $65 billion since the 2020 estimate, could force the Pentagon to either reduce the project’s scope or extend its timeline, according to industry insiders.

Bloomberg recently reported that the revised cost estimate was approximately $141 billion, with the Pentagon evaluating changes to construction and scheduling. Northrop Grumman and the Pentagon both declined to comment on the specific figures, but the Pentagon indicated it would release a new cost estimate by Tuesday.

The Sentinel program’s cost increase surpasses the $131 billion estimate provided by the Air Force in January, triggering the Nunn-McCurdy Act. This 1982 law mandates that the Pentagon must justify to Congress the importance of any program whose unit acquisition costs have risen more than 25% above the baseline.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is expected to notify Congress of the increased costs next week. While Air Force officials argue that the Sentinel program is crucial for maintaining the country’s nuclear deterrent, the Pentagon has sought cost estimates for extending the service life of the existing Minuteman III missiles, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The escalating costs of the Sentinel program are putting other Air Force priorities at risk. These include the Next Generation Air Dominance fighter jet program, hypersonic weapons development, the B-21 bomber, and various space initiatives.

As the Sentinel program’s costs continue to climb, the Air Force and the Pentagon will need to reassess their budget allocations and strategic priorities to ensure that critical defense projects receive the necessary funding. The situation underscores the challenges of managing large-scale defense programs amid evolving financial and strategic landscapes.