Complications with the B61-12 and W88 Alt-370 programs might delay production of new intercontinental ballistic missile fuzes at the Department of Energy’s Kansas City National Security Campus by more than a year, Pentagon budget documents show.
The Air Force will need 10 months longer than expected, 41 months total, to purchase long-lead parts for the the ICBM Fuze Modernization program: a drive to replace the fuzes that set of the W87 nuclear warheads of the Minuteman III and its planned successor, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.
That delay, however, would have a cascading effect that pushes back Minuteman III test flights needed to sanity check the new fuze in real-life conditions, delaying full-scale to some time in late fiscal year 2025 instead of the middle of fiscal 2023 as planned a year ago, budget documents show.
“The increase is due to delays in the Joint Navy (W88) and Air Force (B61-12) programs,” according to the Air Force’s detail 2021 budget justification.
Last year, the DoE’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced it was scrapping plans to use commercial capacitors in the refurbished B61-12 gravity bomb and the W88 Alt-370 submarine-launched ballistic-missile warhead, delaying the first production of those refurbished weapons for the better part of two years: to 2022 and 2021, respectively.
Kansas City and the Sandia National Laboratories are now working on custom capacitors that can last as long as the refurbished weapons for which they are intended, but the effect on programs waiting to enter the production pipeline is now showing.
The Air Force funds the ICBM Fuze Modernization program, which is performed by the NNSA’s prime contractor at Kansas City, Honeywell [HON] Federal Manufacturing & Technologies.
For the public, the most visible manifestation yet of this capacity crunch at NNSA’s assembly hub for non-nuclear nuclear-weapon parts will be delays to future Minuteman III flight tests out of Vandenberg Air Force base in California.
The service is halfway through a planned battery of four flight tests to evaluate the new fuzes — the second launched Feb. 3 — and now will delay the modernization program’s third test flight to August 2022 from March 2022. The fourth flight will slip to February 2024 from November 2023, according to the Air Force’s 2021 budget request.
Because full-scale production of 693 planned fuzes cannot begin until after the test flights, the Air Force now expects Kansas City to start cranking out deployable fuzes late in fiscal year 2025, rather than in the middle of fiscal year 2023, according to budget documents.