WASHINGTON - The US nuclear arsenal needs a multi-billion dollar overhaul in the coming decade to ensure the weapons' safety and effectiveness, defence officials said on Tuesday, despite warnings from arms control groups that the effort is unaffordable and unnecessary.
Assistant Defence Secretary Madelyn Creedon told a panel in the US House of Representatives that modernisation work on the aging weapons was needed to give policymakers the confidence they need to pursue President Barack Obama's goal of deeper cuts to the nuclear stockpile.
"Modernisation work of this kind is expensive, but there is no doubt that the investment ... is necessary," Ms Creedon told lawmakers examining a programme to reduce the number of warhead types for US nuclear bombs and to put guidance systems on the weapons.
"There is not a cost-effective alternative that meets the military requirements and policy objectives," she said, adding that the B61 gravity bomb, which is deployed in Europe, is a"cornerstone" of the US nuclear deterrence commitment to Nato.
The United States is currently at the start of what Air Force General Robert Kehler, the head of US Strategic Command, told the panel was a "multi-decade effort to recapitalise our nuclear deterrent force and its supporting infrastructure".
In addition to modernising 1970s-era weapons, in some cases replacing 1960s-model vacuum tubes with current-day electronics, the Pentagon plans to upgrade much of its so-called triad of delivery systems, including a new class of ballistic missile submarines and a new type of long-range bomber.
The non-partisan Stimson Centre think-tank last year estimated the total cost of the nuclear upgrade over the next decade, including weapons, infrastructure and delivery systems, at between US$350 billion (S$433.7 billion) and US$400 billion.