Jeffrey LewisCRS on Reliable Replacement Warhead

Jonathan Medalia at the Congressional Research Service has written a very thorough treatment of the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RW) program.

Medalia quotes Raymond Jeanloz, chair of the National Academies Committee on International Security and Arms Control, to describe the basic choice involved with RRW:

He supports a version of RRW that would build on the success of SSP to improve manufacturing practices, lower costs and increase performance margins, as these enhancements would support the Administration’s decision to significantly reduce the size of the U.S. stockpile. This RRW would stay within the design parameters that have been validated by nuclear testing.

In contrast, he opposes an RRW that would move beyond those parameters in order to create new weapons, as that approach could lead to new weapons that are less reliably validated, that require testing, and that would counter U.S. nonproliferation efforts. In particular, he believes that new designs would undermine U.S. attempts to convince other nations not to develop nuclear weapons by showing them that the United States still feels the need for new weapons.

That strikes me as about the right balance. If members of Congress share this view, Medalia observes they could impose legislative restrictions to require:

  • RRW components stay within the design parameters validated by
    nuclear testing.

  • RRW not be used to enhance military capabilities or provide for new military missions.
  • The number of non-deployed warheads be significantly reduced if RRW proceeds.


  1. JLo (History)

    This is probably a neophyte question in this forum, but is there any policy currently in place that defines a position on U.S. development of new weapons? It sounds (without having read Medalia’s article) as though this is an attempt to back-door new weapons under the guise of cost savings, and I’m unsure as an average citizen what policy currently defines these boundaries. Are there objective standards that would tell us when such a thing is occurring, or are your recommendations a push to establish them?

  2. Bernhard (History)

    Please check this:
    U.S. Brochure Drops Arms-Control Deals

    Could someone scan and send a copy of that brochure?

  3. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    The relevant nuclear weapons related National Security Presidential Directives are as follows

    NSPD 4 [Review of U.S. nuclear offensive and defensive postures]

    NSPD 14: Nuclear Weapons Planning Guidance (June 2002).

    NSPD 17: National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction (December 2002).

    NSPD 28: United States Nuclear Weapons Command and Control, Safety, and Security (June 2003), which “provides direction on various nuclear issues, to include security.”

    NSPD 34: Fiscal Year 2004-2012 Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Plan (May 2004), which “directs a force structure through 2012.”

    NSPD 35: Nuclear Weapons Deployment Authorization (May 2004).

    In addition, Congress—using its authority to authorize and appropriate—may impose additional restrictions on the development of nuclear weapons.

    One such restriction was Section Section 3136 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1994, which prohibited “research and development which could lead to the production by the United States of a low-yield nuclear weapon” of less than 5 kilotons. That restriction was repealed in 2003, although the Secretary of Energy “may not commence the engineering development phase, or any subsequent phase, of a low-yield nuclear weapon unless specifically authorized by Congress.”

    Similar restrictions are imposed on the development of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP). Any new nuclear weapons program would proceed through a series of stages:

    The key phases for RNEP are: Phase 6.2, feasibility study and option down select; Phase 6.2A, design definition and cost study; Phase 6.3, development engineering, in which the nuclear weapons laboratories produce a completed warhead design; and Phase 6.4, production engineering, in which the design is adapted for production and a system to manufacture the weapon is created.

    DOE is seeking $ 4 million in 6.2/6.2A money for FY 2006 to conduct “development of RNEP requirements and programmatic documents; system design and integration; planning, cost and risks analyses; and phenomenology studies.”