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Trump Admin. requests $65 million for new nuclear warhead design

Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN 730) returns to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Amanda R. Gray/Released)
April 19, 2018

The Pentagon plans to spend $65 million to develop a new low-yield nuclear warhead design.

In a request to Congress to re-purpose the Department of Energy’s budget, the Trump Administration asked that $65 million be shifted to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) for “engineering development, and any subsequent phases, of a low-yield nuclear weapon” capable of being launched by a submarine, Defense News recently reported.

Funding for the warhead includes $22.6 million for Fiscal Year 2019 and $48.5 million for the Future Years Defense Program, which runs through Fiscal Year 2023.

According to the Nuclear Posture Review, China and Russia have been working toward increasing their nuclear weapons capabilities. While the U.S. does not see them as an adversary, U.S. defense officials believe low-yield nuclear weapons would be an effective deterrent.

NNSA Director Lisa Gordon-Hagerty said last month that there isn’t any money from the NNSA’s budget to work on the W76-2, a variant of the W76-1 nuclear warhead for the Navy’s Trident ballistic missile.

The W76-1 is currently undergoing a life extension program and was expected to be completed by Fiscal Year 2019. However, that could be extended for lower yield options.

“As closeout of the W76-1 program was planned to occur in FY 2019, commencement of this new program (W76-2) is needed in [Fiscal Year] 2019,” according to the Office of Management and Budget request. “Delays to the start of the modification in the existing program would require a restart of the W76 production line, increase costs and delay delivery to the Department of Defense.”

“All this would require us to reserve the last X number, tens of warheads, and instead of doing a full [life extension], do the primary only. It doesn’t require additional capacity,” said Robert Soofer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy.