Co-Chairs of Congressional Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group Lead Letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Regarding Concerns about Sentinel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Program

Letter Text (PDF)

WASHINGTON, DC— Today, U.S. Representatives John Garamendi (D-CA-08) and Don Beyer (D-VA-08) and Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), co-chairs of the Congressional Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group, led a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin regarding concerns about the Department of Defense’s (DOD) handling of the Sentinel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program.

On January 18, 2024, Congress was notified of a “critical” Nunn-McCurdy breach on the Sentinel program, which is triggered if a program incurs a cost or schedule overrun of more than 30 percent. The program is now estimated to cost over $130 billion, a staggering 211% higher than initial estimates from 2015. These inflated costs stem from underestimated budgets, poor assumptions, and incomplete data. Despite these issues, public statements from senior DOD officials indicate a bias towards continuing the program.

“We write to express our concern that the Department of Defense (DoD) is not completing a comprehensive, thorough, and unbiased assessment of the Sentinel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program, the replacement to our nation’s current ICBM the Minuteman III, as required by the Nunn-McCurdy Act. Recent comments, particularly by Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment William LaPlante, who is overseeing the process, stating ‘Nunn-McCurdy or not’ that the program must proceed, suggest that the review is being prepared with an end-state in mind. Given the imperative of advancing nuclear policies that promote stability and prevent escalation, we demand a thorough review of all alternatives,” wrote the lawmakers.

“Given the cost and importance of this program it is essential that the DoD is as transparent as possible with Congress and the public. While some details may merit classification, it is imperative that DoD officials transparently share details of this determination to ensure proper oversight, given that a Pentagon official will be determining the fate of a defense program. Without clear explanations and justification, there is no reason that Congress should continue to fund this program at ever-increasing levels, especially given the trade-offs it imposes on other “critical” programs. We therefore demand a public response to these concerns, outlining how the Department is ensuring that it is conducting a fair and fulsome review,” continued the lawmakers.

“We write this letter as concerned lawmakers to remind the DoD that the American people have not granted them a blank check to pursue wasteful, unnecessary programs that are improperly managed and incur waste. As a varied group, our positions on the overall nuclear posture may vary, but we all share a common commitment to preventing government waste, avoiding dangerous nuclear escalation, and promoting peace. We look forward to hearing how your evaluation will provide essential oversight to this program and, if it is not terminated, begin applying the necessary scrutiny to this project,” concluded the lawmakers.

In addition to the Congressional Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group co-chairs, the letter was cosigned by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representatives Sara Jacobs (D-CA-51), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07), Barbara Lee (D-CA-12), Jim McGovern (D-MA-02), Mark Pocan (D-WI-02) and Jerry Nadler (D-NY-12).

This month, the Congressional Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Association co-chairs announced a July hearing to provide oversight on cost overruns of nuclear modernization programs. This followed the failure by the House Armed Services Committee majority to pass several amendments to curb wasteful and dangerous nuclear weapons spending in the “National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2025” (H.R.8070) in committee.