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Air Force nuclear costs $30 billion over next four years, report estimates

The Air Force will likely spend more than $30 billion to overhaul its nuclear arsenal over the next four years, according to a report from Congress' top watchdog that quoted Defense Department estimates.

Between this year and 2019, the service expects to spend $16.7 billion on operations, maintenance and personnel costs; $15.5 billion on research and development; and $2.5 billion on procurement and construction costs, according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office.

But that budget estimate is likely to increase throughout the 2020s, as the Air Force begins purchasing and operating its next-generation Long Range Strategic Bomber to join and eventually replace the B-52 and B-2.

Designed to carry both conventional and nuclear payloads, the new bomber could cost the Defense Department estimated it could spend almost $22 billion on the planes alone between 2020 and 2024, the GAO report said, quoting a DoD estimate.

The Air Force is also looking to its long-range standoff missile program in an effort to keep air-launched cruise missiles operational through 2030, the report said. But this year the Pentagon decided to delay that update until at least 2018 to focus on other priorities first.

The GAO report is an evaluation of a May 2014 estimate released by DoD and Energy Department analyzing costs for updating the nation’s nuclear weapons and capabilities. As part of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act for FY2012, the two agencies are required to submit annual budget reports to Congress on nuclear upgrades.

GAO said the nation's nuclear infrastructure needs an overhaul.

"The strategic missiles, submarines, aircraft, and the nuclear weapons carried by these delivery systems are aging and being deployed beyond their intended service lives," the report said. "Key National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) nuclear weapons research, development, and production facilities date back to the 1940's and 1950's, and…require modernization to ensure a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal."

The DoD and DoE evaluations estimate the government will spend nearly $300 billion on nuclear weapons and capabilities between 2014 and 2024.

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