Pentagon Orders Cost-Cutting Measures for LGM-35A Sentinel ICBM Program

By Madz Dizon

Jul 08, 2024 07:52 PM EDT

Pentagon Orders Cost-Cutting Measures for LGM-35A Sentinel ICBM Program
Aerial view of the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on March 31, 2024.
(Photo : DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)

The military plans to proceed with the development of the LGM-35A Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile.

However, the US Air Force has been instructed to restructure the program to manage the increasing costs.

Pentagon Directs Restructuring of LGM-35A Sentinel ICBM Program 

According to a statement from the Pentagon, the cost of a modified version of the Northrop Grumman-made Sentinel is expected to be $140.9 billion, which is 81% higher than the original cost estimate of $77.7 billion. If Sentinel remains unchanged, it is projected to incur a cost of approximately $160 billion.

The Pentagon's highest-ranking weapons buyer expressed strong dissatisfaction with the projected 81% cost growth of the US's new intercontinental ballistic missile program, emphasizing that there should be no room for excuses.

Additionally, there is a concern that the final price tag for American taxpayers could potentially exceed expectations.

William LaPlante, the undersecretary for acquisition, has pointed out a major oversight by planners. It seems that they completely underestimated the actual cost of the ground element of the Northrop Grumman Corp. program, also known as Sentinel.

As the Pentagon expands its ground network, it will require both permanent and temporary real estate easements.

According to a recent Pentagon review, the projected costs for the Sentinel missile could potentially rise to $214 million per missile in 2020 dollars. This represents an increase from the previous estimate of $118 million, as reported by Bloomberg News.

According to the latest update from the Pentagon, it appears that there will be a significant delay in the deployment of the initial missile, extending over several years. According to the latest estimate, the projected timeline for its service initiation is set for 2030.

Air Force official said the potential increase in costs may not have an immediate impact, but could affect programs in the future if the increases cannot be reversed. 

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Cost Review Highlights Challenges in Sentinel's Command-and-Launch Segment 

According to the Nunn-McCurdy review, the main reason for the cost increase is in Sentinel's command-and-launch segment.

This segment includes the complex communications and control infrastructure that enables missile launch officers to connect with the silo-based missiles and launch them when necessary, even when they are stationed in underground launch centers for extended periods of time.

There are plans to scale back some of the modernization efforts for the launch facilities and reconsider the ambitious replacement of the underground cabling network known as Hicks cables. This is being done in order to explore more affordable alternatives.

According to Gen. Jim Slife, Air Force vice chief of staff, the increased cost will eventually be balanced out by reductions in other programs. 

Nevertheless, according to the Air Force, most of the cost increases for the Sentinel program are expected to occur beyond the next five fiscal years of budget planning. This implies that there is no immediate need to make tough decisions regarding program cuts, AP News reported.

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