The 2020 budget bill working its way to President Donald Trump’s desk would fully fund the next generation of nuclear-tipped, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the civilian-operated infrastructure that makes their warheads.
Gone from the national security minibus that passed the House Tuesday are nearly all of the restrictions House Democrats wanted to put on the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) procurement, and supporting infrastructure programs managed by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Instead, the bill creates only one funding gate on the DoE end, block 25 percent of the NNSA budget for the GBSD warhead until the civilian agency starts providing quarterly progress reports about the weapon.
GBSD itself would get a little more than $555 million, which is only 2 percent lower than the requested level because
Boeing [BA] dropped out of the competition to build the solid-fueled missiles and the Air Force will no longer pay out the company’s GBSD technology development contract. The three year pact, awarded in 2017, would have been worth $100 million in 2020, according to an explanatory statement appended to the latest DOD spending bill.
Northrop Grumman [NOC] last week confirmed it has bid on a contract to build and deploy GBSD. Boeing, which could still protest the bid or award, confirmed it did not bid, saying through a spokesperson that it “continues to support a change in acquisition strategy that would bring the best of industry to this national priority and demonstrate value for the American taxpayer.”
The House wanted to hold GBSD funding at around $460 million in 2020, more than 20 percent below the requested level. The Senate had proposed full funding.
The NNSA, meanwhile, would get $710 million for its Plutonium Sustainment account in 2020. That would fully fund the agency’s plan to build two factories capable of producing fissile warhead cores, or plutonium pits, for GBSD. The two factories would notionally produce 80 fissile GBSD warhead cores, or pits a year in 2030, with production starting at 10 pits a year in 2024.
NNSA plans to split the work between planned factories at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C. The agency has acknowledged it will be a “challenged” to hit the 80-pit-a-year level by 2030. The House, especially skeptical of NNSA’s plans and seeking to slow the overall GBSD program in order to free up funding for modernization of conventional weapons, wanted to hold Plutonium Sustainment funding at around $470 million: nearly 35 percent below the request.
The NNSA would also receive more than $100 million in 2020 for early work on GBSD’s planned warhead, the W87-1. In a nod to House Democrats’ concerns about the intercontinental ballistic missile modernization writ large, the 2020 spending bill’s report would withhold 25 percent of the W87-1 budget until the NNSA starts filing quarterly progress reports with Congress about the agency’s progress on the warhead.
Among other things, these W87-1 reports would address any foreseeable delays to the program, including delays associated with building pit infrastructure, or pits themselves.
The continuing resolution funding the government expires Friday, so the Senate will have to pass the 2020 budget before then to open the funding taps for GBSD.
The Air Force plans to replace 400 Minuteman III silo-based, intercontinental ballistic missiles with GBSD missiles beginning in 2030 or so. The service will procure more than 600 GBSD missiles to provide emergency spares and some extras to test-fly. The NNSA’s planned pit complex could, in theory, produce enough pits by the mid-2030s to provide one W87-1 warhead for every GBSD missile the Air Force plans to procure.