Common Interests

The Obama Administration is studying a common nuclear warhead design that could replace the W78 that sits atop Minuteman III ICBMs and the W88 carried by Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles, Pentagon officials told lawmakers this week. “A common warhead will need to be able to meet both the Navy requirements for the SLBM, as well as the Air Force requirements for the ICBM,” Rear Adm. Terry Benedict, director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs, told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel on Wednesday. He added, “That’s never been done before. [But] I do believe that, given the right time and talent, we can achieve those requirements.” Benedict said he anticipates that the Pentagon would seek the authority in this fiscal year to proceed into the applied research phase for the warhead. He said current plans call for the Air Force to lead this effort, with the Navy in a supporting role. At the same hearing, Andrew Weber, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear matters, characterized the common warhead as “among our highest priorities” for the strategic nuclear deterrent.