ICBM Information Project

The Pentagon is currently planning to replace its current arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with a brand-new missile force, known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD.

The GBSD program consists of a like-for-like replacement of all 400 Minuteman III missiles that are currently deployed across Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming, and will also include a full set of test-launch missiles, as well as upgrades to the launch facilities, launch control centers, and other supporting infrastructure. The GBSD program will keep ICBMs in the United States’ nuclear arsenal until 2075, and is estimated to cost approximately $100 billion (in Then Year dollars) in acquisition fees and $264 billion (in Then Year dollars) throughout its life-cycle.

However, critics of the GBSD program––which include a chorus of former military commanders and Secretaries of Defense, top civilian officials, current congressional committee chairs, subject matter experts, and grassroots groups––are noting a growing number of concerns over the program’s increasing costs, tight schedule, and lack of 21st century national security relevance. Many argue that the GBSD’s price tag is too high amid a plethora of other budgetary pressures. Many also say that alternative deterrence options are available at a much lower cost, such as life-extending the current Minuteman III ICBM force. 

Despite these concerns, the GBSD program has been accelerated in recent years, apparently in an effort to lock in the system before the arrival of a new administration. However, the Pentagon has not offered a convincing articulation of  what role these Cold War-era weapons are supposed to play in a post-Cold War security environment. Attempts in Congress to scrutinize the program have been shot down, usually with the lobbying help of the major GBSD contractors. 

As a result, key decisions during the most crucial years of GBSD have been made without being able to access the full scope of information and analysis about the program.

To that end––and with generous support from Ploughshares Fund––the Federation of American Scientists has initiated an external review of the GBSD program, in addition to reviewing the fundamental role of ICBMs in US nuclear strategy. This project aims to put together a comprehensive, unclassified picture of the GBSD, while challenging many assumptions about the history, purpose, and utility of ICBMs. We hope it will be a useful resource for Congress, the incoming Biden administration, and the public.

Reports

Siloed Thinking: A Closer Look at the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (Mar. 2021)

This report reviews the fundamental role of ICBMs in US nuclear strategy and examines the Pentagon’s justifications for pursuing an ICBM replacement program.

The report ultimately suggests that these justifications were based on flawed assumptions, and many have since been deprioritized. The report also suggests that the initial outcome favoring a brand-new ICBM replacement program was largely predetermined by arbitrary force requirements and timelines that have little 21st century strategic rationale.

Download the report here.

Alternatives to the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (Feb. 2021)

This policy memo suggests that the Biden administration should immediately launch a National Security Council-led strategic review examining the role of ICBMs in US nuclear strategy, and presents four alternative policy options that the Biden administration could pursue in lieu of the current GBSD program of record.

Download the report here.

Public Perspectives on the US Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Force (Jan. 2021)

This report features the results of an October 2020 poll on US nuclear policy conducted by ReThink Media on behalf of the Federation of American Scientists.

Download the report here.

Polling

On behalf of the Federation of American Scientists, ReThink Media conducted a national survey of 800 registered voters between 12-28 October 2020, with the purpose of exploring Americans’ opinions about US nuclear posture in general, and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in particular. The survey included a 200 oversample of registered voters in “nuclear sponge” states (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming), in order to gain deeper insight into how residents of the “nuclear sponge” think about the weapons that their states are hosting.

To the authors’ knowledge, this is one of the most in-depth US-based surveys ever conducted about ICBMs, and therefore, the results shed significant light on how Americans perceive ICBMs and their role in US nuclear doctrine, and whether they ultimately support continued investment in this particular weapon system in the form of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD).

Our polling results are available on the FAS website here, and our report, Public Perspectives on the US Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Force, is available in PDF form here.

Fact Sheets

Public Perspectives on the US Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Force

Download this fact sheet here.

Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent: High Risk, No Reward

Download this fact sheet here.

Life-Extending Minuteman III is a Feasible Alternative to Building a New ICBM

Download this fact sheet here.

ICBMs Are Not Needed to Hedge Against Submarine Vulnerability

Download this fact sheet here.

ICBM Timeline

The FAS team has compiled a comprehensive timeline of all relevant actions taken relating to the ICBM force since the end of the Cold War, including force posture alterations, international treaties, congressional efforts, government studies, and milestones in the GBSD acquisition process.

Click here to see the comprehensive timeline.

The ICBM Information Project Team

matt korda

Matt Korda

Research Associate
Nuclear Information Project

2020 Ploughshares Fund Olum Fellow

@mattkorda

Tricia White

Tricia White

Intern
Nuclear Information Project

@triciawh1te

This project is made possible by generous contributions from Ploughshares Fund, with general support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Special thanks to our friends at ReThink Media for working with us on our polling effort, and for providing their expertise in publicizing and communicating our findings to a wide range of audiences. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.