Toward the end of last year we noted that the Air Force appeared to be hedging on the planned scope of the B61 life extension program (also known as the B61 mod 12). Turns out we were right.
At the February 29 House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the NNSA budget, we received public confirmation that NNSA revised their plans for the program.
Principal Assistant Deputy NNSA Administrator for Military Application Brigadier General Sandra Finan: The only additional comment is we were all on a path for which the original development of the B61 LEP was essentially financially unconstrained. And all of a sudden, it became obvious that we were financially constrained. You can’t —
REP. FRELINGHUYSEN: Without a control somewhat.
GEN. FINAN: It was the wish list had gotten huge. Everything was added in. And for whatever reason, we decided that was the set of options we were going to look at. And that’s what they did the detailed cost estimate on. When we looked at that, I mean, it was unrealistic.
REP. FRELINGHUYSEN: Well, that was a little bit of encouragement from us.
GEN. FINAN: Right. It was unrealistic to look at —
REP. FRELINGHUYSEN: The financial constraints.
GEN. FINAN: — that much more money to refurbish this weapon. And so as we looked at that, that’s what’s caused all this last minute — you know, we’ve got to redo the cost analysis. We’ve come up with another — a whole other option that didn’t exist at the time we did the original studies. And it kind of — it’s one of the things that we need to look at doing better is when we do our studies allow it to be a buildup so that we can make some choices as we go through that process rather than you can have this or you can have nothing which is essentially what we got to the choices. We did not have viable choices. When the final thing was done, there were not any real choices to be made.
REP. FRELINGHUYSEN: Of course, the other issue here is we’re not the only people sort of counting on this work, right?
GEN. FINAN: Right.
REP. FRELINGHUYSEN: Then we have some allies that are counting on us and continue to provide one of those over in Japan —
GEN. FINAN: And it gets back to the transparency —
REP. FRELINGHUYSEN: — I mean, in Korea. This is all about nuclear deterrent here.
GEN. FINAN: And so that really kind of put us in a pickle. And so that whole other process is that —
REP. FRELINGHUYSEN: So there will be gaps in meeting what we need to do relative to our allies or not?
GEN. FINAN: No, there will not.
Deputy NNSA Administrator for Defense Programs Donald Cook: There were a range of options taken. At high end, it was all bells and whistles. And, in fact, there were three different variations to that. At the middle end, there was an option, but that option had not been completely fleshed out. At the low end, there was only to replace the limited life components that caused the problem right now and then surely, by about five years or seven years from now, we would have to do a life extension. We’d be starting later and the systems would be in worse shape and not yet consolidated.
Deputy NNSA Administrator for Defense Programs Donald Cook: In the end, we took a middle option. It was formed up sufficiently well to have credibility in both NNSA and the Air Force, Nuclear Weapon Council, and U.S. Strategic Command agreed on that option. So that’s —
REP. FRELINGHUYSEN: And we have the overall cost related to the middle option or will?
MR. COOK: Yes. Yes. We have all the costs. We have all the items, but they’re not at a level of precision that will allow us to set a formal baseline and then hold labs and plants accountable for execution of that.
I’ve been told the chosen option is a lot closer to the high end than the low end. Be that as it may, we’ll have more to say later about the life extension program and why this whole episode should be a cautionary tale for NNSA.