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Since the late 1950s, the United States has fielded a Triad consisting of air-, sea-, and land-based nuclear delivery systems. After decades of service, major components of all three legs are now nearing the end of their scheduled service lives. Several modernization programs are well underway, but the decision to replace the aging Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a new system, called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), has catalyzed a debate over the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security policy and the composition and costs of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

This Perspective presents an overview of the principal arguments publicly advanced for and against continuing the GBSD program of record. Intended to assist Air Force officials' decisionmaking, it describes the role of the Triad in U.S. nuclear weapons policy, surveys the current strategic landscape, and outlines the major nuclear modernization programs of record, as well as describing and assessing the major objections related to fielding a new ICBM.

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This research was conducted by the Strategy and Doctrine Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This commentary is part of the RAND expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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