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"Forget the Rest" blog


For immediate release 2/2/15, updated 2/8/15

Administration’s warhead design, production budget larger than Reagan and Bush - again

Cheap alternative to ambitious “interoperable warhead” chosen

Previous plan for plutonium warhead core manufacturing finally scrapped, per Study Group request; $3 billion in new plutonium equipment & remodeling planned; $2 billion underground factory “modules” apparently deferred for now

New stealth cruise missile and warheads accelerated; would better enable nuclear sneak attacks; these strategic warheads not counted under New START

(Many other interesting details available upon request.)

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200 or 505-577-8563

ALBUQUERQUE - Today the Administration released its proposed fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget, including its budget for the Department of Energy (DOE) and the nation’s nuclear warhead program in DOE’s sub-agency the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).Using comparable budget categories,[1] NNSA warhead activities are proposed to increase from $8.008 billion (B) in the current fiscal year (FY15) to $8.847 B in FY16, an increase of $839 million (M), or 10.5%.

U.S. nuclear warhead design and production is fully privatized and the above figures do not include the costs for NNSA administration of the program, which in FY16 is expected to be $284 M (estimated from total NNSA Federal Salaries and Expenses on a pro-rata basis), giving a more accurate total warhead program cost of $9.131 B.

This is well above the comparable Reagan peak of $8.13 B in 1985 for the same kind of work, the G.W. Bush peak of $8.28 B in 2004, and Obama’s previous record last year of $8.27 B (all corrected for inflation and with administrative costs.  See Figure 1 below.

Figures 2 and 3 provide funding histories 1993 to 2016 (requested) of Weapons Activities spending at all NNSA sites, in then-year and in constant dollars respectively, exclusive of federal administrative costs.

The budget request explains that in 2014, the Nuclear Weapons Council decided to replace (“refresh”) the conventional high explosive (CHE) in the W88 high-yield warhead for the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) when those warheads are taken to the Pantex Plant for to be fitted with an upgraded arming, fuzing, and firing (AF&F) system beginning in 2020.[2]  This will extend the life of the W88 to “the late 2030s,”[3] allowing further deferral of the proposed first “interoperable” warhead (IW), should the administration or Congress so choose.  Last year, the Administration and Congress deferred the IW program for five years.[4]  Multiple sources tell this organization that the Navy does not support IW-1 and is not budgeting money and missiles for testing the proposed warhead.[5]

In its proposed budget NNSA provides some new details regarding its proposed plutonium warhead core (“pit”) production infrastructure at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL):

  • The proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), opposed for years by this organization and the object of years of litigation, has been formally cancelled.[6]

  • A new $675 M project is announced to modify, partially bring up to building codes, and re-equip the brand-new, $396 M Radiological, Utility, and Office Building (RLUOB) to handle larger quantities of plutonium.  This brings the total planned RLUOB investment to $1.071 B, making it by far the most expensive single construction project in the history of New Mexico in constant dollars.

  • A new $1.365 B project is announced to modify the interior of the main LANL plutonium facility and install new equipment to handle higher production rates, in addition to multiple other line items that have been investing in this facility, its equipment, and these programs.

The Administration’s Department of Defense (DoD) budget request would accelerate development of the air-launched Long Range Standoff (LRSO) cruise missile by 1.25 fiscal years (5 quarters).[7] Work on the proposed LRSO warhead, a W80 modification, has been moved up by two years, leaving a net delay of one year from the schedule presented in 2013.

Strategic bombers are counted as “one warhead” under New START, even though each B-52H can carry up to 20 nuclear-armed cruise missiles and/or many nuclear bombs.  (The B-2 also carries cruise missiles and the Long-Range Strike Bomber is being designed for this mission as well.)  LRSO warheads will not be counted under New START.  It would be difficult to detect an attack with stealthy cruise missiles.

Study Group director Greg Mello: “Overall this is a status quo budget, one that generally follows prior projections and plans.  The proposed big spending increase has been expected.  There are no sudden departures.  Contractor greed and waste are still being rewarded in the three big labs.  The contractors are still basically in charge.  The dead-man-walking ‘interoperable warhead’ program is still on the books despite its lack of support in the military.  No old warhead types are being retired instead of being replaced.  No ICBM bases are being closed.  This Administration lacks the courage to build a higher-quality, smaller program on a stronger, wiser, less-sprawling foundation.

“Looking deeper, morale and management problems will continue and are certain to explode in unpredictable ways in the future.  It’s only a matter of time.  The fiasco created by LANL at WIPP is a harbinger of further trouble down the line, because nothing fundamental has been fixed.

“There is no way to have a well-managed nuclear weapons program.  It’s a fiasco-generating contradiction that NNSA has to live every day.

“Sooner or later nuclear weapons will be gone.  They question they pose is whether we will exit at the same time – either because we finally open the “nuclear umbrella,” or because our investments in the mushroom cloud preclude the solidarity needed to save a living planet from the other threats we’ve created.”

“In this budget we see NNSA’s nuclear weapon ‘life extension program.’ What about a life extension program for humanity, for our civilization?  That, as Tom Lehrer said about Wernher von Braun, is not their department.”

Figure 1:Weapons Activities $ graph

Figure 2:Warhead complex spending graph

Figure 3:Warhead complex spending graph 2


1. See DOE Congressional Budget Request (CBR) for FY2016, Vol. 1, p. 6.  In FY2015, NNSA attempted unsuccessfully to transfer $224 million in work from Weapons Activities (WA) to Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN) in order to improve the “optics” of the FY15 request (quoted word is from an administration official to Greg Mello).   Without the program shift, the request would have greatly increased WA and decreased DNN.  But that’s what happened: the congressional budget process for FY15 concluded via an omnibus spending bill that did not include the requested program redefinition.  NNSA is requesting the same redefinition this year and the table on p. 6 compares enacted FY15 and requested FY16 spending in comparable terms.

2. This is Alt 370.  See DOE Congressional Budget Request (CBR) for FY2016, Vol. 1, p. 94: “NNSA, based on revised NWC guidance, has deferred this program to FY 2020 with a new projected FPU [First Production Unit] in FY 2030…Based on information provided by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in 2014, the NWC decided to replace the Conventional High Explosives (hereafter referred to as CHE Refresh) on the W88-0. CHE Refresh will leverage ALT 370 tests to maximum extent possible to minimize costs, reduce the logistical impact on the Department of the Navy, and [provide a] FPU coincident with the ALT 370.”

3. Nuclear Weapons Council Debating Expanding Scope of W88 Alt 370, Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor, Jun 20, 2014.

4. See slides 17-19 in Mello, Scottish Parliament Talk, January 7, 2015.  The cruise (“Long Range Standoff”) missile and its warhead (“W80-4”), as well as the pit production schedule, will be speeded up over these timetables if NNSA keeps up with the new schedules requested in the FY16 budget request.

5. Please see also “Former LLNL Director: '3+2' warhead strategy unlikely to be realized,Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor, Mar 28, 2014.

6. In a rare factual error, the Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor writes that the CMRR-NF was canceled because of “ballooning costs” (“NNSA Moving Forward With Pu Capabilities Project at LANL, Requests $155.6 Million in FY 2016,Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor, Feb 6, 2015).  Instead, DOE and NNSA officials admitted in public statements that the facility was no longer urgently needed and would be indefinitely deferred. See Bulletin 144 and contemporaneous federal statements.

7. With LRSO Accelerated, Air Force Pushes up RFP to Fourth Quarter of FY 2015, Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor, Feb. 6, 2015.

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