The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is extending its contract with the panel of scientists known as JASON for up to a year, while the Pentagon works to resurrect its old arrangement with the group.
The semiautonomous Department of Energy nuclear weapons agency retained the JASONs last year for a trio of studies including a recently completed — and classified — look at plutonium-pit aging. The $5 million deal, awarded in June, was set to run out this month, but now will be extended “for up to one year” in order “to provide for continuity of services and the completion of existing studies,” according to a procurement note dated Jan. 9.
The note does not quantify the potential value of the extension, which covers both JASON personnel and expenses associated with their studies. Besides plutonium aging, the group is looking into nuclear detonation detection and cybersecurity of operating equipment for the NNSA.
Early last summer, the Pentagon last year stopped funding the JASON contract with MITRE Corp., terminating a relationship between the Department of Defense and the independent group of scientists that dated to the 1950s. The move angered Congress, which in the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed Dec. 20 ordered the department to bring JASON back.
The new arrangement, according to the text of the defense policy bill and its detailed explanatory report, should be similar to the old JASON accord: a single Pentagon contract with MITRE that allows it and other agencies to commission studies.
The NDAA also ordered the NNSA to use JASON for a new study about the planned W87-1 warhead, which is supposed to tip Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent intercontinental ballistic missiles starting around 2030.
The mandatory JASON study on W87-1 must be “an assessment of the risks to certification and the need for planned upgrades to the warhead,” according to the explanatory statement appended to the 2020 NDAA.