Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories have successfully performed a second joint abnormal thermal environment test for the W80-4 Life Extension Program, the labs recently announced. 

Carried out at Sandia’s Cross Wind Test Facility in New Mexico at an undisclosed date, this abnormal thermal environment test, or ATE-2, was a fast-heat, fully engulfing system-level fuel fire test, the first for Livermore in more than three decades, according to a

statement published on Livermore’s website.

The test is another milestone toward nuclear safety certification of the W80-4 and provides data to validate computational models of the warhead’s performance.

ATE-1 was an intermediate heating test performed last summer in the Contained Firing Facility at Livermore’s Site 300 Experimental Test Site. Both tests are designed to determine how the weapon will perform across a range of temperatures. 

“These system-level tests are essential for providing evidence that nuclear safety requirements are met and provide the primary basis for nuclear safety certification,” said Charlie Hamann, the W80-4 Systems Engineering and Integration (SE&I) group leader in the Defense Engineering Technologies Division at Livermore.

Before entering service with the U.S. military, all nuclear weapons, including the W80-4 that will eventually ride on the Air Force’s Long Range Standoff (LRSO) air-launched cruise missile, require nuclear safety certification. The process ensures the weapons will not only meet the thorough safety standards placed on U.S. nuclear weapons but also that they will explode properly if ever deployed. 

“The data that we’ve obtained allows us to show that the warhead will respond in a safe and predictable manner in some of the most extreme credible accident scenarios that could occur when the weapon is in the stockpile,” said Erik Merilo, Abnormal Environment Assessment lead for the W80-4 and a group leader for Engineering Design and Test (ED&T) in DTED.

Two further abnormal temperature tests are planned, though the labs did not specify where or when. Though these tests are part of the W80-4 program, the labs said the techniques, technologies and data-gathering processes involved will inform future warhead modernization efforts. 

This story first appeared in Defense Daily affiliate publication Exchange Monitor.