Jeffrey LewisCRS: Reliable Replacement Warhead on Fast Track

John Fleck at the Albuquerque Journal summarizes (subscription only) Jonathan Medalia’s most recent edition of Nuclear Weapons: The Reliable Replacement Warhead Program, RL32929, Congressional Research Service, 20 July 2005 (download).

Download the report from FAS

The July 20 edition of Nuclear Weapons: The Reliable Replacement Warhead Program expands substantially on previous editions, by adding a section on implementation of Congressional language.

The new section, John blogs, “suggests Reliable Replacement Warhead design work is on a decidedly fast track.”

Fleck’s story is subscription only, but here is a healthy excerpt:

The congressional definition of the Reliable Replacement Warhead was brief: a “program to improve the reliability, longevity and certifiability of existing weapons and their components.”

From that simple beginning, federal weapons officials have quickly laid out a far-reaching effort to begin designing a new submarine warhead, according to the Congressional
Research Service report.


According to the new report, a planning team met in May that included members from the Pentagon, the nuclear weapons labs and weapons production plants.

Representatives from Lockheed Martin Space Systems, which makes the missiles that would carry the new warhead, also attended.

The plan laid out at the May meeting calls for competing teams from Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national labs to come up with a preliminary design within 18 months. Sandia National Laboratories, which designs the weapons’ non-nuclear parts, would be represented on both teams, according to the new report.

The winning lab team would then develop a full design, which the Pentagon hopes to begin building by 2012, according to the Congressional Research Service report.

The report suggests some friction between the Pentagon and the National Nuclear Security Administration on this point. It notes that the NNSA thinks “2015 may be a more achievable date” because of the cost and workload associated with maintaining existing U.S. warheads in the meantime.


  1. earl (History)

    Don’t wolf down that crow too fast, it could give you a cramp. It is still foolish in the extreme to speak of an expansive development program when faced with a system that has no capability. This is worse than vapor ware, and it is hard to tell if MDA believes that since they have hardware they have a system, or if it’s just more defining reality.

    God forbid there is some short term call upon this supposed system. No radars, no comm links, no command and control, it will make the Patriot in gw1 look like ‘ole-dead-eye-dick’ from the serial westerns.

    [Editor’s note: That’s why I agree with Obering’s comment — I think MDA should either build a system that responds to real threats or not build at all. You can imagine, of those two options, my first choice. JGL]