Jeffrey LewisLife After RRW

Elaine Grossman recently wrote pair of excellent stories on how NNSA is modifying the existing LEP programs for the B61 and the W76 in order to achieve some of the benefits of the RRW program:

U.S. Air Force Might Modify Nuclear Bomb, Global Security Newswire, September 26, 2008.

Military’s RRW Alternative Is Warhead Life Extension, Global Security Newswire, September 12, 2008.


  1. yousaf (History)

    there is a new report Bodman & Gates which essentially threatens renewed nuclear testing by the US unless RRWs are brought on-line. see p. 17 & 18.

  2. MarkoB

    An interesting angle in the B-61 story was the casing of the replacement warheads for this warhead type including the definition of a “mod”. This immediately reminds one of the RNEP; my understanding is that the real innovation for EPW’s lies in the casing not the physics package. This is interesting also because of the article on NATO nuclear modernisation and B61 warheads in the latest issue of Arms Control Today. So far as I can see NATO nuclear doctrine is still stuck with PDD 60; a disconnect between US nuclear strategy and NATO nuclear strategy has always been frowned upon in Washington. So it is interesting that we are talking about B61 “mod-ing” and the “modernisation” of NATO nuclear strategy from PDD60 to the 2001 NPR. That tends to suggest also that there is more to the “refurbishment” of the B61 than meets the eye.

    It is a tacit acknowledgement that current B61 mods (excluding Mod-11) are not very tuned into the “new triad” spoken of in the NPR.

    As a side issue. I wonder whether the WR1 (the replacement warhead for the W76) was designed to have a variable yield. Dial-a-yield warheads for ICBMs and SLBMs seems to be a very “tailored deterrence” type capability.

    Finally, the Bodman and Gates report provided a novel argument for RRW; that it is required to prevent Germany, Japan and South Korea from going nuclear because of fears about the reliability of extended deterrence.

    Surely, nobody seriously believes that?

  3. mike

    These two articles seem to point us down a path that is the worst of both worlds – aging weapons or refurbished weapons with so many changes that we really can’t say with certainty they will function as intended.

    Are the safety and security systems in place on the current arsenal so weak that simply replacing with identical (but new) components is a bad way to go?

    My own (non-wonk) objection to RRW is simply that the CTBT prevents us from doing one or two ‘real world’ tests to be certain the design is correct.

    Perhaps in the interests of longer run safety and security a one time exception to the CTBT should be arranged by the current nuclear weapon states to allow the test of more secure replacements. That should be good for another 50 years, no?

  4. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    The larger question is, with more and more nuclear powers anticipated in the coming decades (Australia, Japan and Korea in this neck of the woods), possibly Egypt in the Middle East, Germany in Europe, etc. is the hopes to build down the US arsenal by any double digit % a pipe dream?

    Under those circumstances, what is a few $$$ to fund the RRW as long as it can be done without testing?

  5. Russ Wellen (History)

    Don’t forget this little item by Ms. Grossman at Global Security Newswire yesterday. . .

    Obama Adviser Backs Missile Defenses in Europe

    A senior adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (Ill.) today expressed support for Bush administration plans to build a missile defense system in Europe, despite Moscow’s protests that the deployments would threaten Russia.

    “Serious conversation needs to be had with the Russians about what we’re trying to do, because it is not anti-Russian,” Richard Danzig, a member of Obama’s core defense and foreign policy team, told reporters during a breakfast question-and-answer session.

  6. FSB


    Thank you for mouthing the USG propaganda.

    1. RRW is not just a “few $$$”.

    2. The stockpile can be “built-down” without RRW.

    3. RRW will require testing.

    Not for certification but for the military users. Show me the General who will accept an untested RRW in his operational command.

    4. RRW will encourage other nations to develop new weapons also.

    5. Most importantly, it is unnecessary: a 90% reliable warhead has exactly the same deterrent effect as a 97% reliable warhead.

    Do you know the reliability of the Russian warheads? No. But you are nevertheless deterred.

    The reliability of the warheads should be a state secret and not be being divulged to potential adversaries!

    In any case, reliability has nothing to do with deterrence until it starts approaching <10%.

    These warhead will never be used.

    As long as no one finds out, they can be replaced by Mexican pinatas, and deterrence left intact.

    Come to think of it, do you have any real proof that the Russian warhead are not pinatas?

    USG (DoD/DoE) needs a big logic injection. (However, there is a real danger they may self-destruct if that were to occur.)

  7. yousaf

    NYT editorial. hear hear.

    October 13, 2008
    New and Unnecessary

    With the Bush administration, no bad idea ever dies. So it should be no surprise that the Pentagon and the Department of Energy have released a new policy paper — pitched to the next president — arguing the case for a new nuclear warhead.

    Nearly two decades after this country stopped building nuclear weapons, it should not get back into the business.

    As the paper signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman acknowledges, the current stockpile remains “safe, secure and reliable.”

    Any decision to build a new weapon would feed already deep suspicions about America’s judgment and motives and further undercut efforts to contain the dangerous nuclear ambitions of North Korea, Iran and other wannabes.

    The administration’s pitch sounds seductive. The proposed Reliable Replacement Warhead (how’s that for branding?) is supposed to be sturdy, reliable, secure from terrorists and not really new, just improved. And, oh yes, it’s supposed to contain fewer toxic materials.

    Officials also claim that if they get the new warheads, the government probably won’t have to keep as many backup warheads in the stockpile to hedge against technical failure — although nobody is making any promises. Officials also insist there will be no need to test the new warheads — computers can model it all.

    The United States has not tested a nuclear weapon since 1992, one of the few arms controls taboos President Bush hasn’t broken. But Mr. Bush also rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, so any promises about not testing the R.R.W. have always been suspect.

    The Pentagon became concerned about “aging” warheads only after it could not persuade Congress to finance a new “bunker buster” weapon to go after deeply buried targets. The nation’s nuclear weapons labs have long been lobbying for a new challenge to lure a new generation of nuclear scientists. But nuclear weapons cannot be a jobs project.

    Congress has wisely delayed financing a new warhead at least until a blue-ribbon study on nuclear weapons policy — led by two former defense secretaries, William Perry and James Schlesinger — is completed in December. Neither presidential candidate has categorically ruled out a new weapon. They both should.

    If the existing stockpile is “safe, secure and reliable,” there is no reason to build a new nuclear weapon.