Jeffrey LewisBrooks on the Reliable Replacement Warhead

Greetings from the Sandia International Security Conference, which is being held in Chantilly, VA.

NNSA Director Linton Brooks, in his Congressional testimony, added some detail to the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program:

With the support of Congress, we are beginning a program—the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program—to understand whether, if we relaxed warhead design constraints imposed on Cold War systems (that have typically driven “tight” performance margins in nuclear design) we could provide replacements for existing stockpile weapons that could be more easily manufactured with more readily available and more environmentally benign materials, and whose safety and reliability could be assured with highest confidence, without nuclear testing, for as long as the United States requires nuclear forces. Such warheads would be designed specifically to facilitate less costly remanufacture and ease of certification of safety and reliability, and thus would reduce infrastructure costs needed to support that component of the stockpile. Because they would be designed to be less sensitive to incremental aging effects, they would dramatically reduce the possibility that the United States would ever be faced with a need to conduct a nuclear test in order to diagnose or remedy a reliability problem.

Now that isn’t what the program was supposed to do—it was supposed to focus on existing weapons in the stockpile.

A few months ago, I wrote that Bill Broad at the New York Times had misrepresented the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program. Now, I have a sneaking suspicion that John Harvey—Broad’s principal source and one of Brooks’ underlings—was test driving the new rationale for the program.

Ever feel like you’ve been lied to?

Senator Nelson, perhaps, does. Walter Pincus at the Washington Post reports that Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) asked a pointed question about the real purpose behind the program:

Is it an opportunity to have a serious review and discussion of nuclear weapons and nuclear policy? Or is it just an excuse to develop a new nuclear weapon and to return to nuclear weapons testing?

Good question.


  1. Michael Roston (History)

    This point was also trotted out on March 2 before the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of HASC.

    Check out item 4