Construction of a new weapons generation facility (WGF) at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., for the storage and handling of nuclear warheads recently started, per the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).
The new WGF, “which will replace the current Weapons Storage Area (WSA), will be a 90,000-square-foot reinforced concrete and earth-covered facility with supporting surface structures,” Hans Kristensen, director of FAS’ Nuclear Information Project, wrote in a Sept. 28 FAS post. “A satellite image taken in August and obtained from Maxar shows construction is well underway of the underground facility as well as several supporting facilities.”
The WGF is to provide “a safer and more secure facility for the storage of U. S. Air Force assets,” per a June, 2016 Air Force environmental assessment.
“The primary interior walls of Maintenance and Storage Area are 4-foot thick reinforced concrete (RC) elements with 4-foot thick RC roof slabs,” per the assessment. “The primary wall and roof elements are surrounded by a 20-foot thick soil layer which is contained by a 3-foot thick RC wall and roof element layer.”
On Dec. 7, 2018, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded Fluor Corp. [FLR] a $145.7 million firm fixed price contract for the WGF, also known as a Weapons Storage and Maintenance Facility (WSMF). The DoD contract said that the estimated completion date was April 17 this year.
“Bids were solicited with five received,” per the contract announcement.
Kristensen’s Sept. 28 post noted that the president of Flour’s government group is Tom D’Agostino, who served as the undersecretary for nuclear security at the Department of Energy and administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) between 2007 and 2013.
“I don’t have any information or indication that laws were broken,” Kristensen wrote in a Sept. 28 email. “But I thought it was a relevant detail in this city of revolving doors.”
Warren AFB said that it held a ground-breaking ceremony for the new WGF on May 21 last year and that “Fluor has been given a 40 month period” for the construction–a time period which would mean an end construction date of September 2022, two and a half years later than DoD said in the Dec. 7, 2018 contract announcement.
Substantial building of WGF that “we can see on the satellite images now didn’t get underway until spring 2020,” per Kristensen. “Soil digging did begin in 2019, but the actual structures didn’t appear until spring 2020. Winter probably had something to do with it.”
The recent start of the building of the new WGF at F.E. Warren comes as NNSA projects that it will cost $14.8 billion to build W87-1 warheads for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) missiles to replace the Minuteman III ICBM as the land-based leg of the nuclear triad starting around 2030. according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (Defense Daily, Sept. 23).
That could make W87-1 — a newly manufactured copy of the existing W87 design, but with a brand new plutonium-pit trigger — “the most expensive program of this type to date,” GAO said in a summary of its report.
The report also said that it is unclear if the NNSA “can produce enough of the W87-1’s fissile cores in time to meet its planned production schedule.”
The NNSA has said it is working on a W87-0 warhead that could tip initial GBSD missiles if the W87-1 is not done in time to be installed aboard the first of the next-generation, silo-based weapons. Northrop Grumman [NOC] will build the new missiles, under a roughly nine-year, $13 billion Air Force contract. The Air Force plans to buy more than 650 of the missiles but currently plans to deploy about 400: the same number of Minuteman III missiles now in service.
The NNSA plans to start casting new war-ready, W87-1 plutonium pits at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2024. Those planned warheads will replace the current W78 models.
The Minuteman IIIs in F.E. Warren AFB’s 150 missile silos carry both W87 and W78 warheads.