After delays attributed to unsuitable electrical components, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) now plans to manufacture the first refurbished B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb and W88 Alt-370 submarine-launched ballistic-missile warhead in 2022 and 2021, respectively, a senior agency official said here Monday.
That would mean between a one- and two-year delay for the B61-12 first production unit, which the civilian nuclear weapons agency now thinks it will finish in the first quarter of 2022, and between a one- and two-year delay for the W88 Alt-370, Charles Verdon, the agency’s deputy director for Defense Programs, said Tuesday morning in a question and answer session at the ExchangeMonitor’s annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit in Alexandria, Va.
In 2019, NNSA acknowledged that it could not use commercial off the shelf capacitors planned for both B61 and W88 Alt-370 because the components would not last as long as the the Pentagon required.
The NNSA is refurbishing both B61-12 and W88 Alt 30 for decades more service in the bomber and submarine fleets, respectively. B61-12 is a homogenzied version of four previous iterations of the gravity bomb, including one with moderate earth-penetrating capability and will fly aboard the B-2 bomber — later, aboard the planned B-21 Raider Northrop Grumman is developing.
W88 is the largest of the Navy’s two submarine-launched, ballistic-missile warheads. The Alt 370 will refurbish the weapon’s convention high explosives, which trigger its nuclear detonation and refresh other components of its detonation system.
First production units are proof of concepts that are disassembled after they are built to prove that a design is ready for mass production.
Verdon said, knocking on wood as he did, that the agency’s plan to replace the unsuitable capacitors — design its own capacitors from scratch at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., then build them at the Kansas City National Security Campus in Missouri — is on schedule.
It will cost more than $850 million, total to replace the capacitors needed for B61-12 and W88 Alt-370, Verdon said last year. The NNSA had yet to release its detailed 2021 budget justification at deadline Monday for Defense Daily, but the agency is seeking a substantial year-over-year increase — $19.8 billion, or almost 20% more than the 2020 appropriation of more than $16.5 billion. The Weapons Activities budget would get more than $15.5 billion, 25% higher than the 2020 appropriation and nearly all of the proposed increase.
The DoE budget justification documents could have more information about the NNSA’s capacitor replacement plans, and more information about how the NNSA will help defray the expenses of the delays by changing the scope of the planned W80-4 cruise missile life extension program, and the planned W87-1 intercontinental ballistic missile warhead life extension.
Before the delays, and including the NNSA’s $8 billion share of the bill, the B61-12 is estimated to cost about $12 billion in civilian and Petagon funding over 20 years. The NNSA and the Pentagon estimate that the W88 Alt-370 will cost about $4 billion over roughly 10 years, including up to $3 billion in NNSA expenses.
The NNSA plans to build some 480 B61-12 bombs and has roughly 350 W88 warheads, the nongovernmental Federation of American Scientists estimates.