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Administration Increases Submarine Nuclear Warhead Production Plan

Administration Increases Submarine Nuclear Warhead Production Plan
08-30-2007

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The Bush administration has decided to more than double the number of nuclear warheads to undergo an expensive upgraded for potential future deployment on the navy’s 14 ballistic missile submarines, according to answers provided by the National Nuclear Security Administration in response to questions from the Federation of American Scientists.
 
The upgrade concerns the W76, the most numerous warhead in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. The Clinton administration decided to upgrade 25 percent, but the Bush administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in 2001 recommended that significantly more warheads had to be upgraded. The National Nuclear Security Administration letter reveals that an assessment completed by the Department of Defense in 2005 increased the plan to 63 percent of the W76 stockpile. FAS estimates that the new production plan involves production of an estimated 2,000 warheads through 2021.
 
“Both the Senate and House of Representatives have called for a review of the size and role of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, but the administration’s decision to increase the W76 production appears to preempt such a review,” said Hans M. Kristensen, director of the FAS Nuclear Information Project.
 
Kristensen submitted the questions after he noticed changes to consecutive years of Department of Energy budget requests.
 
The W76 Life Extension Program extends the service life of the W76 warhead by 30 years. The program produces an improved nuclear reentry vehicle – W76-1/Mk4A – for arming Trident II D5 sea-launched ballistic missiles deployed on 14 Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. The modified reentry vehicle includes a new fuze (an Arming, Fuzing and Firing system) that will increase the capability of the weapon against hard targets. With 63 percent of the W76 stockpile being added the new fuze, the U.S. inventory of reentry vehicles with hard target kill capability will increase significantly from 400 today to 2,400 in 2021.
 
The disclosure of the 63 percent number suggests that the administration plans to retain the capability to increase the warhead loading to eight warheads per Trident missile if necessary, the same number it deployed during the Cold War.

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