The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) took a step toward forging another link in the nuclear-weapon supply chain of the 21st century late last year when it sought industry input about producing new quantities of high explosives for weapons.

The agency has long foreseen the need for fresh nuclear-weapon-usable triaminotrinitrobenzene-based (TATB) energetics, and in October issued a sources sought in an “effort to understand other commercial opportunities to bolster the energetics industrial base and meet its production needs,” an agency spokesperson told sister publication Exchange Monitor


The spokesperson would not say which, or how many, entities responded to the call, citing procurement sensitivity. NNSA does not “intend on issuing a solicitation or awarding a contract in the immediate future,” the spokesperson said in response to follow-up questions.

Today, the Holston Army Ammunition Plant, an explosives hub in Tennessee run by Ordnance Systems Inc., is the sole supplier of TATB for the NNSA. Ordnance Systems, a division of BAE Systems, also runs the Radford Army Ammunition Plant in Virginia.

Notionally, the nuclear weapons agency will require 25,000 to 50,000 pounds of the TATB-based energetics annually starting December 2025. The material would be distributed across the Department of Energy complex beginning in 2026.

Newly made TATB, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said years ago, will be used among other things in the W80-4 warhead, to be carried on the Long Range Standoff missile. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was notionally to support a first production unit W80-4 — to be a modified version of the W80-1 now used on Boeing [BA]-made AGM-86b air-launched cruise missiles — by fiscal year 2025, which begins Oct. 1, 2024.

Los Alamos developed an industrial method for synthesizing TATB in the late 1960s. From the late ‘70s to the late ‘80s, there were two domestic suppliers. 

The GAO, Congress’ investigative arm, in June 2019 reported that Holston serves Department of Defense “customers that order far larger quantities of explosive,” requiring prioritization that could leave the NNSA on the back burner. Delays have occurred.

The NNSA and the Defense Department have since partnered to upgrade Holston. The agency is also continuing the design of the High Explosive Synthesis, Formulation and Production facility at the Pantex Plant in Texas, one of several “approaches for the future procurement of TATB,” the NNSA spokesperson said.