I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones
-Albert Einstein (contemplating nuclear devastation)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

W-76 Life Extension... Problems, Problems, Problems

A report by the U.S. Energy Department's Inspector General made public yesterday paints a bleak picture of the government's program to extend the life of the current W-76 thermonuclear warhead, which is deployed on the Trident II D-5 submarine launched ballistic missile.

The W-76 has been undergoing "refurbishment" under the National Nuclear Security Administration's "Life Extension Program", designed to give the "aging" warheads a new lease on life.

And quite a lease it is.  Existing warheads are removed from either storage or from the missiles on which they are deployed and transported to the Pantex facility in Texas.  There they are disassembled, and are reworked to produce what the government calls "refurbished" warheads.  In fact the refurbished warheads receive a number of upgraded components, including guidance systems, and are an improvement over the original warheads.

Of course, conducting such highly technological and sensitive work is neither cheap, nor can it be done quickly.  The Inspector General's report concludes that the "NNSA may be unable to complete the W76 LEP within established scope, cost and schedule parameters..."  These findings should come as no surprise, nor should any subsequent request for more funding to bail out the program.

What follows is the statement (by the Inspector General) that seems (to me) to be the crux of the matter and begs the question, "What, if anything, will change to make future work on the W76 any more efficient or cost effective???"

...the W76 Life Extension Program (LEP) has experienced significant delays in startup and in achieving production goals. By the end of Fiscal Year 2011, NNSA had completed less than half of the anticipated units due to technical production issues. NNSA intended to address this problem by increasing production rates in future years.
Based on the performance (or lack thereof) so far it looks like a long-shot for NNSA to be able to play catch-up on the W-76 Life Extension Program, no matter how much money Congress may decide to pour down the hole.
Perhaps someone should re-evaluate, in light of realistic disarmament objectives, just how many of these warheads need to be refurbished after all.  Perhaps it's time to end the W-76 Life Extension Program (with a whimper rather than a bang) once and for all.
An additional benefit would be one more reason NOT to build the Second Explosives Handling Wharf at the Bangor Trident submarine base (Naval Base Kitsap Bangor)!!!

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