Timeline for Nuclear Warhead Life Extensions

The United States’ three nuclear warhead life-extension programs are continuing, but at a slower pace due to budget cuts, said Thomas D’Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Thursday. “Over the last two years, the Administration’s been very consistent at putting out a fairly significant program to do life-extension work on the stockpile itself,” D’Agostino told reporters in Washington, D.C. Commitment to regenerating the Air Force’s B-61 free-fall warhead and the Navy’s W-76 warhead that Trident ballistic missiles carry “hasn’t changed, . . . just the pace has slowed down a little bit,” he explained. NNSA is also continuing to study future life-extension needs for the W-78/88 warheads fitted to the Minuteman III and Navy Trident II missiles. “What’s being slowed down are what’s typically been called hedge warheads,” said D’Agostino. “We’re going to slow down and stretch out that particular piece” to meet budgets constraints over the short term, he noted. This means that the Navy’s W-76, which is currently in production, is the highest priority in the short run. After that, the B-61—arguably the most complex rework—will tentatively begin production in 2019, he said. The W-78/88 life extension programs, which are the least pressing, are longer term goals, said D’Agostino.