The Associated Press reported yesterday that Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is expected to name Admiral John Richardson as the next chief of naval operations (CNO). Richardson is currently head of the Navy’s nuclear program, with responsibility for the nuclear reactors that power the service’s submarines and aircraft carriers. Following in the footsteps of Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Richardson will be the second consecutive submariner to hold the position.

Richardson’s appointment is not yet official as of this writing, but he is expected to be a strong advocate for the replacement program for the Navy’s Ohio-class submarines. As the AP’s Lolita Baldor wrote yesterday,

Richardson is a 1982 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in physics, and he also holds a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has served as director of the Navy’s nuclear reactors program since November 2012, and his choice signals the military’s continued emphasis on undersea warfare and nuclear deterrence.

One official said Richardson has a reputation in the Navy as an analytical strategic thinker and that he is expected to continue to make the planned nuclear submarine replacement program a top priority.

The question is not whether the new CNO should support the Ohio-class follow on program though. It is how he should. While the Navy has consistently declared it a priority, the development of a new ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) is turning into a costly affair. According the Congressional Research Service, at some point in the mid-2020s, the Ohio-class replacement program will cannibalize the Navy’s shipbuilding budget—making it difficult to procure other types of ship. To get around this problem, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees created the “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund”—a defense-wide account meant solely to provide funding for the new SSBN. In reality, the fund is a budget gimmick that, fortunately, congressional appropriators have managed not to fall for yet.

The sea leg of the country’s nuclear triad is the most important of three legs, which include long-range nuclear bombers and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. However, that a new SSBN is a priority for the Navy does not exempt if from normal budgetary rules. Instead of looking for budget gimmicks to find funding, Admiral Richardson can look to other elements of the nuclear force. In a study I co-authored in 2013 with Benjamin Friedman and Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute, we found that three nuclear deliver systems are unnecessary for nuclear deterrence. In fact, the triad itself was largely a post hoc justification for systems that were already in place. As Preble and I wrote in an op-ed around the time our report was released, the Navy should prioritize the new SSBN, but it should do so by looking elsewhere in the nuclear arsenal for funding.