The Navy, in partnership with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), has completed approximately 70 percent of the production run of the W76-1 reentry body refurbishment program, Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs (SSP), said Friday at a Peter Huessy breakfast.
SSP and NNSA are working to extend the life of the reentry system to maintain the military capability of the original W76 for another 30 years, Benedict said, adding that “we are on schedule and on cost.” Production is to be completed by the end of fiscal 2019 at which time, according to NNSA, the number of W76s in the stockpile will decrease by almost 50 percent.
“We are also continuing work to also refurbish the aging electronics in the W88 reentry system,” Benedict said. “In that, we are collaborating with the United States Air Force to reduce cost through shared sub-systems.”
Benedict noted that the Nuclear Weapons Council, the interagency coordinating body between the Department of Defense and the NNSA – has directed the replacement of the W88’s conventional high explosives, which will support the warhead’s deployment for another 25 years. “We are on track for a [fiscal 2019] [initial operating capability] of that new effort,” he said.
W76 and W88 nuclear warheads are used on Trident II (D-5) submarine-launched ballistic missiles, a key component of the U.S. nuclear triad of air, land, and sea-based systems. The Navy will provide approximately 70 percent of U.S. deployed warheads under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, which caps deployed nuclear warheads at 1,550 for each country.
The NNSA recently released publicly the executive summary of a 2015 report by independent science advisory group JASON, which found that interoperability requirements for the core of nuclear warheads under NNSA’s “3+2” modernization strategy may lead to trade-offs associated with commonality and performance. It said that designing and qualifying a nuclear explosive package for two delivery platforms – rather than one – could potentially result in a common design “sub-optimal for each platform.”
Benedict also said at the event that sub-system and component-level commonality in the Navy and Air Force ballistic missile legs of the triad may reduce cost and risk to both services for their future missile programs. He suggested incorporating commonality criteria in the acquisition strategy for the Air Force’s Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD).
“I’ve recommended some form of criteria for commonality be included in the source selection evaluation of RFP responses for the GBSD [technology maturation and risk reduction] effort,” he said.
A top Air Force general official said recently that the service is on track for a Milestone A decision in August on the GBSD program, which would involve seeking approval to enter a phase of acquisition strategy, program risk, and cost management reviews (Defense Daily, June 16).