U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ian Dudley

Since the 1980s, all three legs of the United States’ nuclear deterrent force have been kept up and running with regular, pricey maintenance and upgrades. But the Air Force is moving ahead with plans to overhaul the ground and air legs of the atomic triad by buying two new nuclear-capable missile systems — despite the fact that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that nuclear purchases through 2024 could ultimately cost taxpayers upwards of $384 billion. While the service’s top brass are adamant that they need to modernize to keep American deterrence credible, critics say the branch is taking the wrong approach. Here’s a quick and dirty primer on what’s happening.

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