It will cost a combined $850 million or so to replace commercial capacitors unsuitable for use with a refurbished nuclear gravity bomb and submarine-launched warhead, a senior National Nuclear Security Administration official told lawmakers.
For the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb, an ongoing homogenization of four different versions of the oldest deployed nuclear weapon, the costs will range from between $600 million to $700 million, Charles Verdon, deputy administrator for defense programs for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), said Wednesday at a hearing of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.
For the W88 Alt-370 program, which aims to replace the arming, fuzing and firing systems of the larger of the Navy’s two submarine-launched, ballistic-missile warheads, costs could range between $120 million and $150 million, Verdon told Subcommittee Chair Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.).
The NNSA was planning to use commercial-off-the-shelf capacitors that cost about $5 each in the two weapons, but now will have to use different capacitors that cost around $75 each, Verdon said.
To fund the fixes, Verdon said the NNSA wants to take money from warhead refurbs that are not as far along as B61-12 and W88 Alt-370: the W80-4 cruise-missile life-extension program, and the W87-1 silo-based, intercontinental ballistic missile life extension program.
Verdon said the shuffling of funds should show in the agency’s 2021 budget request, nominally due to be published in February. W87-1 W80-4 programs are not yet at the point in their program management cycles that the NNSA has set a formal cost and schedule baseline.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) asked Verdon whether, in light of the problems with commercial components, the NNSA itself could manufacture all future non-nuclear weapons components.
“It’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves,” Verdon said, pointing out that during the Cold War, the DoE and its predecessor agency made about 70% of needed non-nuclear components in house, leaving outside vendors to provide the other 30%.
Currently, that ratio is the other way around, with vendors providing about 70% of the non-nuclear components being used to refurbish the active nuclear arsenal.
“We’re going to look at it on a part-by-part basis,” Verdon said, adding that NNSA may well end up bringing more manufacturing work in-house.