Political Battle Brewing Over New Nuclear Program.

AuthorHarper, Jon

The Trump administration's proposal to begin work on a new nuclear warhead program to modernize the nation's aging stockpile is expected to be hotly contested.

For fiscal year 2021, President Donald Trump requested $28.9 billion for the Pentagon's nuclear enterprise. He requested an additional $15.6 billion for efforts by the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the stockpile, including $53 million for NNSA work on a new warhead, dubbed the W93.

The Pentagon's budget blueprint includes $480 million for work on the weapon system over the future years defense program, with $32 million slated for 2021.

The W93 is intended for the Navy's submarine-launched ballistic missiles, according to senior defense officials. There are currently two families of warheads for the sea-based leg of the triad: the W76 and the W88.

"Both of these systems are growing old, and so now we must start thinking about a warhead that will replace one of those two when it's time for those systems to retire," a senior defense official told reporters during a background briefing. "These things take a long time. There's a seven-stage process by which we start to develop a warhead."

The W93 will provide U.S. Strategic Command and the Navy a means to address evolving ballistic missile warhead modernization requirements, improve operational effectiveness, and mitigate technical, operational and programmatic risk, Stratcom Commander Adm. Charles Richard said during a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

"Given the potential severity of impacts on overall deterrence from late delivery of the W93/Mk7, it is imperative [to start] the complex work to identify opportunities to accelerate the development timeline and invest in technologies to reduce schedule risk," Richard said.

"Research-and-development efforts for critical national capabilities, such as fuzes and aero shells, must begin immediately to deliver a capability in the 2030s that maintains a credible at-sea deterrent through the 2050s and beyond," he added.

The Department of Energy has estimated that the program will cost about $10.9 billion in 2019 dollars.

Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said the $10.9 billion estimate is "low-balling it." A new fuze is also...

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