The NNSA/DoD “3+2” strategy – hold on to your wallets

John Harvey is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs, where “he advises on plans, policy and oversight of the U.S. nuclear weapons program.” See his full bio at http://www.acq.osd.mil/ncbdp/bio_harvey.htm

On June 13 he made some comments that offer some good insights into the relationship between the Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on nuclear weapons, and their current “3+2” strategy for the “end state” stockpile. See http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/JRH-remarks-NDUF-breakfast-13Jun.pdf

According to Harvey that future stockpile will consist of not one, but three “interoperable” ballistic missile warheads, one gravity bomb (the B61) and one air-launched cruise missile warhead (which could be yet another variant of the B61). For details, see the just released NNSA FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan at http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/SSMP-FY2014.pdf

The costs will be astronomical, which the FY14 SSMP projects at ~$60 billion (and that’s without the usual cost overruns). And all this strategy does is take 4+3, the existing 4 ballistic missile warheads (W76, W78, W87, W88) and three air delivered bombs/warheads (B61, W80, B83) down to 3+2, but it includes bringing back deployed air-launched cruise missile warheads (which are currently declining in numbers). The gravity bomb that would be retired is the B83, but how useful is that at 1.2 megatons?

Moreover, NNSA and DoD were probably going to get rid of W80 cruise missile warheads anyway. Bush Sr. withdrew many W80’s from active deployment circa 1992 following the break up of the Soviet Union. The W80 life extension program was canceled ~5 years ago, all W80-0’s have already been dismantled, but now the entire class of W80’s might be retired. However, the W80 design was based on the B61 to begin with, so all of this is kind of a distinction without a difference anyway.

The overall trend is lower-yield, more accurate nuclear weapons substituting for higher yield weapons, which I contend on the face of it are new military capabilities, contrary to declared U.S. nuclear weapons policy. Reducing the number of the types of nuclear weapons is a smoke screen.

Harvey notes that the ballistic missile warheads will be “interoperable” because they could share the same nuclear explosives package, but that does not a truly swappable warhead make. And at what point do heavily modified nuclear weapon become “new,” and at what point are original designs so changed that confidence in reliability is eroded without full-scale testing?

With respect to the NNSA/DoD relationship, I continue to think that it is largely the tail wagging the dog, that is the nuclear weapons labs wagging both NNSA and the Pentagon. Related, my concerns increase over the congressional panel on the future of the NNSA because of heavy representation on it by the labs and their contractors. Two examples are former LLNL/LANL Director Mike Anatasio and ex.-NM Rep. Heather Wilson. Regarding Wilson, the DOE Inspector General recently reported how she was the recipient of $450,000 in open-ended consulting agreements that lacked deliverables with Sandia and Los Alamos Labs. They had to pay the government back for these unallowable costs, but in turn Wilson should be barred from the panel.

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