Reading Room

Budget Reveals New Nuclear Weapons Springing Forth at NNSA:
Includes Blooming Perennials and Seeds Planted for Coming Years

Posted by Kathy Crandall Robinson

The recently released Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Weapons Activities Budget further advances plans outlined in the Trump Administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review.  The overall NNSA Weapons Activities Budget Request is $12.4 billion an increase of 11.8% compared to the FY 2019 enacted spending. The FY2020 budget covers the time period from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020.

Included here are summary highlights of key nuclear weapons development programs. Further budget information on other components of the NNSA Weapons Activities is forthcoming.  For those who want to dive deeper into details, there are page references in parentheses to The Department of Energy FY2020 Congressional Budget Request, Volume 1 - a 651-page document covering the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The W76-2 Warhead Modification – production complete end of 2019.

The price tag and work for FY 2020 drops to $10 million (from $65 million in FY 2019.)  This is because all warhead modifications are to be completed by the end of 2019 with only final program documentation and close out activities to be completed in FY 2020. This new low-yield warhead is planned to be deployed on Trident D5 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles. (See pp.  82, 85) Currently Tri-Valley CAREs is an active partner in the effort to push Congress to stop deployment of this low-yield weapon, see: “Last Chance to Stop Trump’s More Usable Nuclear Warhead is Now.”

W80-4 Life Extension Program (LEP) – moves to next phase of development (6.3) with an increased price tag.

This extends the life of the W80 warhead for use on the new nuclear air-launched cruise missile called the Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) cruise missile. In December 2018, the phase 6-2A Weapon Design and Cost Report was completed and laid out requirements for additional resources, which are included in the FY2020 budget. The W80-4 is now awaiting Nuclear Weapons Council authorization to proceed to Phase 6.3 in the second quarter of 2019.  The next milestone aim is to complete a Baseline Defense Review in 2021. This progress makes it more difficult to stop the warhead and LRSO plans, and it also ensures that the price tag will climb further for the warhead. This year the increase to the direct budget for the LEP is over 37%, as the price climbs to $899 million in FY 2020 over the FY 2019 spending of $655 million. The projected budget for the W80-4 LEP for 2021 is over $1 billion with the price continuing to climb thereafter (See pp. 82-83, 85, 92.) The “lead lab” for the W80-4 design is Livermore.

W87-1 -Modification Program /Warhead Replacement (Formerly Known As IW-1) budget more than doubles, and activities blooming.

This name changing warhead was called the IW-1, or Interoperable Warhead-1 in the FY 2019 budget, and is planned to replace the W78 warhead by 2030 and support fielding on the U.S. Air Force (USAF) GBSD (Ground Based Strategic Deterrent) missile system planned to replace the current Minuteman III ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) force. This weapon replacement program has been a key driver for new plutonium pit (bomb core) production. Even without the “interoperability” feature, modifications to this weapon are likely to lead to a pit design different than currently available pits.  In FY 2019 the cost of the design work for the W87-1 was $53 million. The FY 2020 request is over $112 million – an increase of 111%. In FY 2021 an even larger increase is planned to $363 million and by FY2024 costs are planned to be $558 million (See pp. 82-83, 86-87, 93)

B61-12 LEP begins production and B83 remains too.

The expensive B61-12 “bunker buster” warhead is designed to consolidate and replace the B61-3, -4, -7, and -10 bombs. In June 2020 it is scheduled to enter a production phase (phase 6.5).  There is a nominal drop in spending for the costly B61-12 from the FY 2019 $794 million to the FY 2020 request of $792.6 million (See pp. 82-83,85, 86, 97-98.)

Amid previous controversy over the expensive B61-12 some in Congress (including California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein) were persuaded to reluctantly curtail opposition to the B61-12 in part with a promise that the B61-12 LEP would lead to the retirement of the huge B83 megaton-yield nuclear bomb. The President’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) reversed this decision and now funds are being expended to sustain the B83 in the stockpile indefinitely. For FY 2020 the cost to maintain the B83 “in accordance with the NPR” is $51.5 million, an increase of $16.5 million (or 47%) over FY 2019 enacted spending of $35 million.  Tri-Valley CAREs continues to oppose the B61-12, and we will further urge Congress to insist on retirement of the B83. (See pp. 73, 76, 100).

W88-Alteration 370 begins production.

W88 Alt 370 production phase 6.6 begins in FY 2020 with Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) to support Initial Operational Capability (IOC) by FY 2020. The final weapon development report will be in FY 2021. The W88 Alteration is scheduled to be completed by FY 2024, consistent with Nuclear Posture Review requirements. The projected budget for FY 2020 is $304.2 million - $99 thousand less than FY 2019 enacted. Alteration is the term used for a weapons refurbishment that is less extensive than a LEP. (pp. 82-83, 85-86, 90-91)

Sowing Seeds - Strategic Missile Warhead (Formerly Known As “IW-2 and now also called “Next Navy Warhead”), and a Sea-Launched Cruise Missile Study.

Beginning in 2023 the plan is to conduct feasibility studies for the “Next” warhead as part the Stockpile Responsiveness Program that aims for alignment with current DOD nuclear modernization plans. The planned cost for the Next Strategic Missile Warhead is $57 million in FY 2023 and growing to $182.5 million in FY 2024.  (See pp. 75-76, 83, 87, 140, 183-184)

Additionally, in keeping with the Nuclear Posture Review, there is a study considering Sea-Launched Cruise Missiles as part of the W-80 Stockpile Systems. While there is very little information about the planned study in the FY 2020 budget, the NPR called for consideration of a new nuclear-armed lower-yield Sea-Launched Cruise Missile. (See pp. 8, 84,100 and the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, p. 55 )

Along with blooming weapons, the nuclear weapons enterprise grows too.

We note that as new weapons designs and capabilities sprout, pressures to resume explosive nuclear testing will also grow.  Thus, Tri-Valley CAREs will be looking more carefully at plans to increase the number of subcritical experiments as well as the development of the “Enhanced Capabilities for Subcritical Experiments” project – a program with costs rising from $50 million in FY 2019 to $145 million in FY 2020 and continuing to rise in Fiscal Years 2021-2024. We are likewise scrutinizing other subcritical testing activities mentioned in the budget, as these tests in Nevada may be promoted by weaponeers making more radical changes to warhead designs. (See pp. 69, 74, 138, 158.)

These highlighted weapons programs together with growing new production facilities (such as a dramatic increase in plutonium pit production) show a burgeoning nuclear weapons development program. Tri-Valley CAREs will be further investigating additional key programs such as plutonium pit (bomb core) production and other infrastructure production activities.

Look for additional articles, fact sheets and action alerts as we continue to probe the FY 2020 budget request and related documents.