(Bloomberg) -- The Pentagon faces a delay of at least a year in its timetable to deploy the new $96 billion intercontinental ballistic missile that’s central to modernizing the US nuclear arsenal, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The Air Force’s Sentinel ICBM, built by Northrop Grumman Corp., may miss its goal for initial deployment in May 2029, reaching that milestone in April to June of 2030, according to Pentagon data cited by the congressional audit agency. Defense Department efforts to head off such a delay were reported in April by Bloomberg News.

“According to the program office, Sentinel’s master schedule contains many deficiencies and cannot be used to effectively manage the execution of the program,” the GAO said in its an annual assessment of major defense programs, which was released Thursday. “The prime contractor and the program are conducting a high-level review and discussing potential changes to the schedule.”

The GAO’s 259-page compendium of major defense acquisition programs found that more than half of the 26 systems that hadn’t yet become operational reported new delays. It said reasons included “supplier disruptions, software development delays and quality control deficiencies.” Over the past two years, net costs for 35 major systems studied increased by $37 billion, the GAO said.

Such cost increases and program delays may undercut the push from some members of Congress for speedy action on a supplemental defense spending bill beyond the level approved in the new deal to raise the US debt limit. That would include more aid to Ukraine. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has thrown cold water on such plans.

Read more: McCarthy Opposes Expedited Ukraine Funding Pushed by GOP Hawks

China, Russia

The Sentinel ICBM is a key part of the US drive to modernize its air, land and sea “nuclear triad” in the face of China’s rapidly expanding arsenal, Russia’s suspension of participation in the New Start nuclear treaty and North Korea’s nuclear development.

The Sentinel’s development phase has extended to 118 months from 106, the GAO said. It is behind schedule “due to staffing shortfalls, delays with clearance processing, and classified information technology infrastructure challenges.” Supply-chain disruptions have also caused delays, according to the report. It said Northrop Grumman “is working on multiple supply chain mitigations to address the issue.” 

The contractor previously said in a statement that it’s “closely partnered with the Air Force to ensure this critical national security program meets operational time lines, including working to jointly address the effects of supply chain disruption and other macroeconomic factors on the program.”

Earlier: Pentagon Seeks to Head Off Delays in Northrop Grumman’s New ICBM

Among other GAO findings:

  • Air Force One: The two new planes that will eventually serve as Air Force One when the president is on board have developed multiple “stress-corrosion cracks,” as has Boeing Co.’s commercial version of the same aircraft. “About half of the cracks have already been repaired as of December 2022, and the remaining cracks will be repaired by summer,” the GAO said. A review team found the cracks don’t pose safety issues provided inspections are done during scheduled maintenance. Boeing won’t be delivering the first of the new Air Force One jets until September 2027, a delay in the $5.1 billion replacement program from September 2024.
  • New Fighter: Boeing had trouble delivering the new F-15EX fighter because of “supplier quality problems related to a critical component in the forward fuselage assembly that ensures safety of flight.” The problem in the $9.1 billion program has been fixed.
  • Submarines: Performance on Virginia-class submarine construction “continues to degrade,” as the Navy now estimates construction of each new Block V submarine “will take an average of over two years longer than reported last year.” The $37 billion procurement program is managed by General Dynamics Corp. and HII. “The delays are due to problems meeting original staffing and work efficiency estimates,” and program officials “are developing a new, more realistic schedule.”
  • Carriers: The total cost for the Navy’s four-carrier Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier program has increased to $49.2 billion from $45.7 billion.
  • Destroyers: The first of the Navy’s three DDG-1000 Zumwalt stealth destroyers, costing about $9.6 billion each, was due to be declared combat-ready in April, three years after it was delivered and more than six years later than planned. The remaining two vessels “continue to face delivery delays.”


--With assistance from Julie Johnsson.

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