Options for the Ground-Based Leg of the Nuclear Triad
The Air Force is on the cusp of beginning a new major defense acquisition program (MDAP) to replace the ground-based leg of the nuclear triad. This program, known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), will be one of the Air Force’s largest acquisition programs throughout the 2020s and will likely compete for funding with other acquisition priorities, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the B-21 bomber, and the KC-46A aerial refueling tanker. The new missiles acquired under the GBSD program are projected to remain in the inventory through the 2070s and serve as the backbone of the U.S. nuclear arsenal for a generation. Before the Air Force embarks on this effort, policymakers should consider the need for a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the timing of the program, and the broader context in which this acquisition is occurring. The purpose of this report is to provide an independent assessment of the options available; including the impetus for the program, a review of the Air Force’s analysis of alternatives for the GBSD, alternatives to modernization, and key questions for policymakers to consider as the MDAP moves forward.