US nuclear missile program to be years behind schedule, over budget, Pentagon says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Pentagon program to replace some of its aging intercontinental ballistic missiles will be years behind schedule and 81% over budget, the U.S. military said on Monday.

The project, now named the Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile program, is designed and managed by Northrop Grumman, and aims to replace aging Minuteman III missiles.

The program is estimated to cost $140.9 billion, up 81% from a cost estimate in September 2020.

"We are fully aware of the costs, but we are also aware of the risks of not modernizing our nuclear forces and not addressing the very real threats we confront," U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment William LaPlante told reporters. LaPlante certified that the program should continue despite the cost overrun.

"There are reasons for the cost growth, but there are no excuses. We are already working to address the root causes, and more importantly, we believe we are on the right path to defend our nation," LaPlante added.

The majority of the cost growth is associated with launch facilities, launch centers and other processes involved with converting from Minuteman III to Sentinel. Reuters has reported that the "unmodified program" cost could be as much as $160 billion.

The new Sentinel cost estimate eclipses an increase to "at least" $131 billion that the Air Force made public in January.

That triggered the Nunn-McCurdy Act, a 1982 law that requires the Pentagon to formally justify to Congress the importance of a program whose unit acquisition costs have risen more than 25% above a baseline.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Bill Berkrot)