Regular readers of the blog will remember that I’m a big fan of combing through answers to Questions for the Record (QFRs) asked by Members of Congress after full Committee or Subcommittee hearings.
As far as I can tell, the most recent relevant hearing posted on the Government Printing Office’s website are the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee’s March 6 hearing on the FY 2013 request for missile defense and its April 17 hearing on the FY 2013 request for atomic energy defense activities and nuclear forces programs. Below are a few highlights from the QFRs.
First, on missile defense, this won’t be news to many readers, but the Missile Defense Agency has yet to test the ground based midcourse defense (GMD) system against a target with an ICBM range and doesn’t have any immediate plans to do so:
Ms. SANCHEZ. In response to questions for the record pursuant to our hearing on the missile defense budget last year, you stated: ‘‘No GMD tests against a true intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) have yet been conducted.’’ When can we expect MDA to conduct such a test?
Dr. GILMORE. The Missile Defense Agency plans to conduct the first Ground-based Midcourse Defense flight test that will use an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM)-class target during the 4th quarter of Fiscal Year 2015. In the just signed Integrated Master Test Plan, Version 12.1, this test is designated as FTG–11.
Second, on the administration’s proposed delay of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) and its plan to sustain US plutonium capabilities in the absence of the facility, this is the first time I’ve seen an estimated cost for the alternative strategy:
Mr. TURNER. 1) What is the cost of the alternative plutonium strategy, including modifications to PF–4 and RLUOB, shipping material to DAF and Superblock, cleaning out the PF–4 vault, conducting the pit reuse study, etc.? How much will it cost to implement this alternative plan? To the extent possible, please break down the cost by individual actions/projects needed.
Secretary D’AGOSTINO. The preliminary Los Alamos cost estimate for execution of the interim plutonium strategy is in the range of $590M–$820M over the next 8 years. This range is the result of a sixty day study to revise the strategy, and NNSA will work with the laboratory throughout the FY 2014 Budget formulation process to refine that strategy and the cost estimate. In the interim, we have provided your staffs with the detailed analysis from the sixty day study.
Finally, on the B61 life extension program, the Nuclear Weapons Council apparently chose from among seven options for the refurbishment:
Ms. SANCHEZ. 14) Was a cost assessment done for all the alternatives to the 3B option chosen by the Nuclear Weapons Council for the B61 life extension? Why/why not? If so, how does the cost-range for the 3B option compare to the funding range for the 3 other options considered?
Secretary D’AGOSTINO. Several life extension options were considered and assessed by the NWC prior to the decision to proceed with Option 3B. Of the 6 other options considered, only 4 fully met the military requirements including service life. These options all exceeded the preliminary Option 3B costs by approximately $1.5–$2B. Other options considered but not selected ranged from $1.5B–$4B for various component alteration scopes. These less expensive options had significant shortfalls in the ability to satisfy military requirements. In addition these options still require NNSA to begin a future life extension program in the 2020s. The NWC assessment concluded Option 3B was the most affordable life extension approach that met military requirements and assured no capability gap in our extended nuclear deterrent.
In 2011, the Government Accountability Office gave us a sneak peak of how these military requirements were arrived at, but given the exploding cost of the life extension program, I think its necessary to take a fresh look at the less expensive alternatives.