Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Subs or New Nuke?

New Warhead Could Siphon Funds From Sub Builders
Two Labs Compete To Design New Tips For Trident Missile

By Seth Owen, Day Staff Writer

Published on 1/13/2007 in Region » Region News

A long-delayed decision on a replacement warhead for the missiles carried on Trident submarines may mean more work for nuclear warhead designers — but possibly at the expense of funding for submarines.
“What it means is less money for submarines. The cost is billions, at least enough for another Virginia,” said New York-based military analyst James Dunnigan, author of “How to Make War” and other books on military affairs.

The latest Virginia-class attack submarine, the Hawaii, was a $2.5 billion project.

The decision on the Reliable Replacement Warhead, expected next week, was due by the end of last year, but it's been a “forever moving target,” spokeswoman Julie Ann Smith of the National Nuclear Security Administration said in a telephone interview.

The NNSA, an agency of the federal Department of Energy, is responsible for choosing between designs submitted by two competing laboratories: Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The nation's nuclear warhead programs have been under the civilian control since the Atomic Energy Commission was created in 1946. The programs later came under the Department of Energy when that cabinet-level agency was created in 1977.


Both of the nation's facilities that can design nuclear weapons are taking part in the RRW competition.

The Los Alamos design is expected to be a brand new design that uses existing components that have been tested, Kimball said. This approach is more radical because it introduces uncertainty about whether the warhead will work as expected when put together in a way that's never been tested, he said

Kimball said the Livermore labs design is expected to be a “more robust” version of an existing design in order to achieve the certainty needed.

“More robust in this context means more fuel for the bomb,” he said.


Published reports suggest that the final decision may end up supporting some hybrid program that combines the ideas of the two labs, a notion termed “peculiar” by Levi.

A hybrid program seems designed to meet bureaucratic needs by spreading the work around to everyone involved, instead of selecting the best design, Levi said. It could backfire, Levi warns, and end up not really motivating anyone because there would be no consequence to losing the competition.

The argument that the work is needed to preserve jobs at the labs and the ability to design warheads is something of a “straw man,” Dunnigan said, especially if it comes at the cost of other programs in the competition for other defense dollars.

If the country needed to recreate the ability to do the design work after a long layoff, it could be done, analysts said.

[For more of this in-depth article, click on underlined title of this post.]

So, according to Dick Morse--is he "certifiable," or is he onto something?--RRW is the answer to design flaws in the W76. But if we cut back on subs, what's the point of the RRW? Just how many nukes do we need, if we are never going to use them, just threaten to? A full (yet unclassified) discussion should be aired on this blog, or else Dingell and Bingaman ought to be encouraged to air this issue in their hearings, not just dwell on security "breaches."
I think they are talking about an
"attack sub" not a boomer. We do not
need any more attack subs. They
are suppose to hunt subs from the USSR. In any case the older ones
are better for current operations.
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