The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb life-extension program will cost an estimated $8.25 billion, according to an update issued recently upon the completion of the program’s development engineering phase.

The NNSA and the U.S. Air Force in 2010 initiated the program to consolidate four versions of the B61 nuclear bomb into a refurbished B61-12, which is expected to add at least 20 years to the service life of the B61 system (the number of warheads under the program is classified; roughly 200 B61s are believed to be deployed today at air bases in a number of NATO states).

A B61 bomb in various stages of assembly.
A B61 bomb in various stages of assembly.

The semiautonomous Department of Energy agency in June marked the program’s entry into the final phase of development before manufacturing by approving the production engineering phase of the life extension – authorizing the NNSA labs and production plants to finalize the design and complete activities for process development and production qualification.

These processes include production procedures and inspection and product acceptance requirements for components, which are then qualified by the design agency, reviewed by NNSA quality inspectors, and authorized for delivery to the Pantex Plant.

The development engineering phase preceded it; as part of that phase, a classified baseline cost report established a program baseline cost of $7.6 billion, NNSA said. The report estimated a total program cost of $8.25 billion, which includes $648 million in separate funds leveraged from other agency programs for early-stage technology maturation activities, the NNSA said.

In its fiscal 2017 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, NNSA said its total estimated cost for the program was between $7.3 billion and $9.6 billion in then-year dollars.

A Government Accountability Office report released in February said the NNSA’s and Air Force’s total cost estimate for the program increased from an initial $4 billion to roughly $8.9 billion as of last September.

The first production unit is expected in fiscal 2020, with production manufacturing to be completed by 2024. Congress has appropriated nearly $2.3 billion for the program as of fiscal 2016, NNSA has said.