"We have a lot of equipment that's out of date. I think you're going to see increased funding for that," he said.
The U.S. military is still using dated technology such as 8-inch floppy disks at some of its nuclear launch control areas, a Pentagon spokesperson confirmed Tuesday.
"The nuclear threat environment is dynamic and proliferating, with old and new actors developing advanced capabilities while the U.S. enterprise is relatively static, potentially leaving the United States at a technological disadvantage," according to the 2016 "Index of U.S. Military Strength" report issued by the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank.
The report noted that the U.S. nuclear triad uses aging technology that is dated, including Minuteman III missiles that are about 40 years old, Trident II missiles that are around 20 years old, as well as a fleet of B-52H bombers that are nearly 50 years old.
Indeed, components of some of the nuclear weapons are in some cases "timing out," according to Dodge, the Heritage analyst. "So what we do is try to remanufacture the components and of course the issue with that is that we are no longer testing or conducting field producing experiments."
Dodge said sometimes "very small differences" can impact the reliability of nuclear warheads so ultimately "our kind of margin of uncertainty increases. That might be problematic."
Heritage also found there's been a brain drain of sorts within the ranks of the U.S. military's nuclear weapon expertise. Experienced nuclear scientists and engineers are retiring from government laboratories and leaving behind knowledge of some of the older nuclear technology that serves as legs of the nuclear triad.
"It's probably true that the labs do have challenges in keeping the best people," said James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. "But I don't think that's exclusively a U.S. problem. Neither do I think it's an insurmountable problem either."
Despite the age of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Acton said evidence suggests it's still more accurate than the Russian arsenal. Moreover, he contends that more of the U.S. nuclear arsenal would survive than the Russian arsenal if the U.S. attacked the Russians first.
However, the Carnegie nuclear policy expert said with all the proposed spending on large-scale modernization across the nuclear triad there's still need to "prioritize" spending.
In particular, he said more focus should be placed on command and control systems, including satellite and other communication systems with nuclear forces as well as how the military gets early warnings of an incoming strike.
Acton estimates approximately $100 billion in savings alone could be achieved from the nuclear weapons modernization program. He calls the Minuteman ICBMs, or the land-based missiles in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, probably the "least useful leg of the triad."
"I wouldn't rip those weapons out of the ground tomorrow. But I would suggest taking a new look at whether the life of those systems could be extended," he said.
Additionally, the Carnegie analyst said the U.S. military should decide between updating the nuclear gravity bomb or a new nuclear-armed cruise missile. "I believe it's unnecessary to do both of those," he said.
Both the updated B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb and new cruise missile are designed to be dropped from airplanes. Northrop Grumman's B-2 bomber and General Dynamics' F-16 fighter jet are expected to be outfitted with the gravity bombs, and eventually, the newer B-21 stealth bomber being developed by Northrop.
The B61-12 — part of the military's so-called warhead life extension program — is a guided weapon expected to cost upwards of $12 billion and include a tail kit made by Boeing that will make it more accurate and able to guide toward targets more effectively.