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"Forget the Rest" blog

Obama Administration Requests Funding to Upgrade Several Types of Nuclear Bombs

Rushed press remarks

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-577-8563

Washington, DC – On May 5 the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) sent a mid-year funding “reprogramming” request to four congressional committees, which request primarily seeks funds to increase the pace of planned refurbishment and upgrades to a family of air-dropped nuclear bombs collectively called the “B61.”

This news was first reported by Todd Jacobsen of Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor.

Significantly, this request asks congressional permission to modify the nuclear explosive within the bomb.  If granted, this would be the first such permission granted by Congress since the end of nuclear testing in 1992, unless there have been secret modifications we don’t know about. 

All variants of the B61 except the B61-11 “bunker-buster” would be upgraded in this proposed action, including the B61 variants (“mods”) 3, 4, 7, and 10. 

The B61-7 strategic bomb completed a Life Extension Project (LEP) in 2009. 

Under President Bush these bombs were not slated for LEPs (which usually include component upgrades which may also in cases add military capabilities) until 2023.  The Obama Administration would thus greatly accelerate this work. 

(An example of such is the upgrade of the W76 Trident missile warhead into the W76-1 LEP product, which makes the warhead capable of addressing hardened targets.)

Work on the new comprehensive B61 LEP was first funded on September 30, 2009.  An additional $15 million became available for the project upon release of the Nuclear Posture Review last month.  This week’s request would add $39.6 million to the funds available for this project. 

Mello: “It will be very difficult to contain the costs of this multi-billion-dollar bomb upgrade if the nuclear explosive is changed.  The result may not be reliable, and it’s possible it will not be certifiable.  Changing nuclear explosives is not something that should be done.  We should disarm gradually, as the President says he wishes, within the set of bombs we have, and not make new ones.  And this would be a new one, even if built around some of the old parts. 

"This new proposed “omnibomb” will cost some billions of dollars to make, assuming NNSA gets that far.  A brand new factory in Tennessee may be necessary to make components for it, or else the surge of production there must rely on aging, unsafe facilities.  George W. Bush didn’t have the B61 LEP on his schedule for this decade.  We don't need to do this for any reason.  It's gratuitous.

"NNSA is building a programmatic house of cards.  They cannot bring the many new huge programs they are initiating to simultaneous successful conclusions with the money they are requesting and projecting -- and probably not with any amount of money.  There is a train wreck coming, and just adding more and more money won't prevent it.  That will, however, be the first impulse.  

“This is a real poke in the eye to our European allies, in whose countries many of these bombs are to be based.  Many leaders in Europe don’t want them.   

There’s a lot more to be said about this bomb and this request. 

More raw information may become available later today.  I (Mello) will be in meetings on Capitol Hill and sporadically available. 


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