Warhead replacement is dead. Or it should be.
Several of us have been eagerly awaiting the release of the JASON report on Life Extension Programs, which reportedly concluded that Life Extension was preferred to warhead replacement.
It’s here. Arms Control Wonk.com has an early copy of the full text of the unclassified executive summary of Lifetime Extension Program (LEP), JSR-09-334E.
JASON concludes that stockpile stewardship, and the Life Extension Program, is working:
JASON finds no evidence that accumulation of changes incurred from aging and LEPs have increased risk to certification of today’s deployed nuclear warheads.
This finding is a direct consequence of the excellent work of the people in the US nuclear weapons complex supported and informed by the tools and methods developed through the Stockpile Stewardship program. Some aging issues have already been resolved. The others that have been identified can be resolved through LEP approaches similar to those employed to date. To maintain certification, military requirements for some stockpile warheads have been modified. The modifications are the result of improved understanding of original weapon performance, not because of aging or other changes. If desired, all but one of the original major performance requirements could also be met through LEP approaches similar to those employed to date.
This should drive a stake through the heart of the RRW and warhead “replacement” in general.
JASON adds a second, more subtle message at the end of the summary. After noting that certification of certain reuse or replacement options remains uncertain, JASON concludes with “a concern.”
All options for extending the life of the nuclear weapons stockpile rely on the continuing maintenance and renewal of expertise … The study team is concerned that this expertise is threatened by lack of program stability, perceived lack of mission importance, and degradation of the work environment.”
As I read that, this is a very polite way of saying the push for new warheads like RNEP and RRW, far from being a panacea, has endangered the stockpile by politicizing what ought to be a technical question, creating program instability and low morale.
I always knew Buster hated our freedoms.