by Kingston Reif
Published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Online on October 25, 2013.
Article summary below; read the full text here.
At an estimated cost of more than $11 billion, the life-extension program for the B61 bomb would be the most ambitious and expensive nuclear warhead refurbishment in history. Concerned by this massive (and still growing) cost and skeptical of the need for a program of such breadth, two of the Senate’s appropriations subcommittees—Energy and Water, as well as Defense—slashed allotted spending on it in their respective fiscal 2014 funding bills.
Worried that their favorite refurbishment program is on the ropes, the Pentagon and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have launched a counteroffensive with an assist from supporters in Congress. The lobbying effort will be on full display on October 29 at a hearing hosted by the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee. It will include testimony in support of the life-extension program from the head of US Strategic Command and high-ranking representatives of the NNSA and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
The case against the proposed B61 life extension is simple: It is unaffordable, unworkable, and unnecessary. In addition, it is premised on assumptions about demand for nuclear bombs that may no longer be valid 10 years from now, when the program is scheduled to be completed. It would be foolish to spend $11 billion on an overly ambitious overhaul, when the future of at least half the weapons is uncertain and more cost-effective alternatives are available.