Morning Briefing - March 14, 2024
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March 13, 2024

Air Force budgets $3.7 billion for Sentinel in fiscal 2025; Requirements changes possible in fiscal 2026

By Dan Leone

The Department of the Air Force’s $217.5 billion fiscal 2025 budget includes $3.7 billion for the planned LGM-35A Sentinel ICBM as the department looks for cost savings and faces possible delays to address a Nunn-McCurdy breach.

Such breaches occur when programs exceed 25% program acquisition unit cost growth.

In January, the Air Force informed Congress of a 37% unit cost Nunn-McCurdy program breach on Sentinel, an increase in cost per missile to $162 million from $118 million in 2020 due not to missile development, but to unpredicted military construction costs in what amounts to be a massive civil works project. 

The total program cost estimate is now more than $125 billion compared to more than $95 billion earlier.

Northrop Grumman is building Sentinel to replace the Boeing-made Minuteman III fleet, notionally starting in 2030. The first sentinels will carry W87-0 warheads, a version of the Minuteman III’s W87 adapted for the new missile. Later missiles will carry W87-1 warheads, freshly made weapons that will include a new pit cast at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is the lead on both warheads.

The Air Force’s fiscal 2025 funding request “was not changed as a result of [the] Nunn-McCurdy [breach] so we still have the funding we needed for ’25,” Kristyn Jones, acting undersecretary of the Air Force, told reporters in a pre-budget release briefing on March 8. “It’s gonna be [fiscal] ’26 and out that we need to be looking.”

Any changes the Sentinel program has to make as a result of the Nunn-McCurdy breach “will play out over the next couple of months. We’ll have the results by July so you’ll see where we have any tradeoffs and any rephasing that’s required for the budget.”

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall is recused from decisions on Sentinel due to past consulting work for Northrop Grumman.

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