The Department of Energy plans to partially defray cost overruns on two nuclear-weapon refurbishments by stripping features out of the planned warhead for the next land-based, intercontinental ballistic missile, a senior agency official said Thursday.
The features to be cut, however, are not mission-essential requirements for the planned W87-1 — more like features that are good to build into the warhead “if you can,” but ultimately “within the tradespace” of things that could be comfortably omitted from the weapon’s design, Charles Verdon, the DoE National Nuclear Security Administration’s deputy administrator for defense programs, said here during a question and answer session after a panel hosted by MITRE Corp.
Verdon did not say exactly which features will be stripped from the W87-1, which the military has selected to tip planned Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) intercontinental ballistic missiles. W87-1 has not even crossed the DoE’s Critical Decision 2 milestone yet, meaning it has neither an official cost nor schedule estimate. By the time it gets those, the scrapped features will be long off the drawing board.
W87-1 and the planned W80-4, a warhead intended for future Long Range Standoff Weapon air-launched cruise missiles, have been tapped as bill payers to keep the B61-12 gravity bomb and W88 Alt-370 submarine ballistic-missile warhead refurbishments on schedule.
B61-12 and W88 Alt-370 are looking at combined overruns of $850 million, compared with earlier DoE estimates, after the agency admitted in May that it would have to throw out capacitors planned for use in the weapons. The off-the-shelf capacitors, DoE said, could not be counted on to work correctly for the decades of extra service life DoE is building into the rebooted weapons.
B61 is a nuclear gravity bomb. W88 is larger of the Navy’s two submarine-launched ballistic-missile warheads. The B52H, and eventually the F35A and planned B-21 Raider, will carry the B61-12. The W88 will tip Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
B61-12, an ongoing homogenization of four different versions of the oldest deployed nuclear weapon, has the biggest shortfall: $600 million to $700 million, Verdon told a House Armed Services panel in September. W88-Alt 370, which will replace the arming, fusing, and firing systems W88, needs between $120 million and $150 million in extra funding.
Besides removing features from W87-1, Verdon said the DoE will pay for overruns on the two refurbs by applying manufacturing and program management “efficiencies” the agency worked out during the refurbishment of the W76-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile that wrapped up in late 2018.
“Some of it is literally just the number of development cycles that are needed to produce a component,” Verdon said Thursday. “We’ve identified ways to reduce the number of cycles, so that’s time and effort within the plants.”
The overruns for B61-12 and W88 Alt-370 will not affect the DoE’s funding needs until 2021, meaning further details might wait until the agency files its budget request for the next fiscal year. Those requests are nominally due in February.
A compromise National Defense Authorization Act approved by the House Wednesday authorizes the requested levels of 2020 spending on all four of the weapons programs caught up in this year’s funding tradeoff: more than $790 million for B61-12; a little over $300 million for W88 Alt-370; about $110 million for W87-1; and some $900 million for W80-4.