By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Defense Secretary William Perry on Thursday called for the Pentagon to skip replacing its aging stockpile of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), arguing that U.S. nuclear-armed submarines and a new long-range bomber program would provide sufficient deterrent value.
Perry, a close friend and mentor of the current defense secretary, Ash Carter, said the United States was on "the brink of a new nuclear arms race," that would be extremely expensive, and the ICBMs were not necessary as a deterrent force.
He said they also posed the greatest threat of an accidental nuclear war since they were easy to launch.
But he said he was skeptical that his recommendation would ever become reality, given political pressures to maintain parity with Russia in the area of nuclear weapons. Russia is in the process of retiring its Soviet-era ICBMs and replacing them with new weapons systems.
Perry's comments came a day after the Pentagon's chief arms buyer said the Defense Department viewed all three legs of the so-called nuclear "triad" - nuclear-armed submarines, a next-generation long-range bomber, and replacement of the current ICBMs - as priorities in its fiscal 2017 budget proposal.
But he said the Pentagon was still trying to secure additional funding for all three programs, beyond current budget levels, since they would otherwise crowd out funding warships, fighter jets and other conventional weapons that were also needed.
The Congressional Budget Office last January estimated that the administration's plans for nuclear forces will cost $348 billion over the next decade, or about $35 billion a year.
Funding for nuclear programs will have a big impact on U.S. weapons makers, including Northrop Grumman Corp, which won a contract valued at up to $80 billion to build a new long-range bomber for the Air Force. Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp have protested the contract award.
General Dynamics Corp has the lead on developing a replacement for the Ohio-class nuclear-armed submarines, along with Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. The Air Force is just starting efforts to replace its current ICBM fleet.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)