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U.S. Nuclear Modernization Programs

Press Contact: Tom Z. Collina, Research Director, (202) 463-8270 x104.

January 2014

Please click here for a chart of current modernization programs.

The United States military maintains a modern arsenal of about 2,000 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and Strategic Bombers. The Departments of Defense and Energy currently spend approximately $23 billion per year to maintain and upgrade these systems.[i]

For Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, nuclear weapons activities in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the U.S. nuclear stockpile and production complex, will be funded at $7.78 billion, an 11.6 percent increase over FY 2013 at a time when other defense budget accounts are in decline.[ii]

The U.S. military is in the process of modernizing all of its existing strategic delivery systems and refurbishing the warheads they carry to last for the next 20-30 years or more. These systems are in many cases being completely rebuilt with essentially all new parts.

This effort includes:

  • Modernized Strategic Delivery Systems: U.S. nuclear delivery systems are undergoing continual modernization, including complete rebuilds of the Minuteman III ICBM and Trident II SLBM. The service lives of Trident Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines are being extended. Additionally, a new submarine, the SSBNX, which will replace the existing Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, is undergoing development and is expected to cost about $100 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The B-2 strategic bomber, a relatively new system, is being upgraded, as is the B-52H bomber. The Air Force is also planning a new Long Range Bomber and a new cruise missile to replace the Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM).
  • Refurbished Nuclear Warheads: The U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads and bombs is continually refurbished through NNSA’s Life Extension Program (LEP). Existing warheads are certified annually to be safe and reliable. The JASON panel of independent scientists has found “no evidence” that extending the lives of existing U.S. nuclear warheads would lead to reduced confidence that the weapons will work. The panel concluded in its September 2009 report that “Lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence.”[iii] The United States does not need to resume nuclear test explosions, nor does it need to build new “replacement” warhead designs to maintain the reliability and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.
  • Modernized Production Complex: The nuclear weapons production complex is being modernized as well, with new facilities planned and funded. The FY 2014 NNSA budget includes $309 million for the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The total construction cost for UPF is estimated at $6.5 – 7.5 billion, according to an independent study conducted by the Corps of Engineers.[iv]

The following is a status update of existing programs to enhance the nuclear stockpile and modernize the delivery systems that make up each element of the U.S. nuclear triad:

1. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

The United States Air Force currently deploys 450 Minuteman III ICBMs located at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming; Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana; and Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

Today's Minuteman weapon system is the product of almost 40 years of continuous enhancement. A $7 billion life extension program is underway to keep the ICBMs safe, secure and reliable through 2030.[v] This modernization program includes the following enhancements to the Minuteman III missiles:

  • Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting (REACT) Service Life Extension Program: The first REACT system was installed in the Minuteman III in the 1990s. REACT reduces the time required to re-target the missiles. In 2006 the Air Force began modernizing REACT to extend its service life. The Air Force completed the effort in 2006.
  • Safety Enhanced Reentry System Vehicle (SERV): SERV modifies the reentry vehicles for the W-87’s that were removed from the Peacekeeper missiles and redeployed on the Minuteman III.
  • Propulsion Replacement Program (PRP): The PRP replaces the propellant in the Minuteman III.
  • Guidance Replacement Program (GRP): The GRP extends and improves the reliability of the Minuteman III guidance sets.
  • Propulsion System Rocket Engine Program (PSRE): PSRE is designed to replace the post-boost propulsion system components on the Minuteman III missiles.
  • Solid Rocket Motor Warm Line Program: In FY 2009 Congress approved an Air Force program to continue producing the solid rocket motors for the Minuteman III in order to preserve the manufacturing capabilities.

This modernization program has resulted in an essentially “new” missile, expanded targeting options, and improved accuracy and survivability. The Air Force is currently exploring whether to extend service of the Minuteman III missile or to field a new system. The Air Force is conducting an Analysis of Alternatives to determine if a new ICBM will be needed. An new missile and rebuilt warhead could cost $10 billiion over the next ten years.[vii]

The Air Force is also upgrading the Minuteman’s nuclear warheads by partially replacing older W78 warheads with newer and more powerful W87 warheads, formerly deployed on the now-retired MX Peacekeeper ICBMs. The W87 entered the U.S. stockpile in 1986, making it one of the newest warheads in the arsenal with the most modern safety and security features, including insensitive high explosive and a fire-resistant pit design, which can help to minimize the possibility of plutonium dispersal in the event of an accident. Under a 2004 LEP, the W87 warhead was refurbished to extend its service life past 2025.

There is no evidence to suggest that the W87—or any current U.S. nuclear warhead, for that matter—cannot be refurbished indefinitely. The Air Force and Navy are also exploring a joint LEP to field a common, refurbished warhead to replace the W78 and W88 (see SLBMs, below).[viii]

2. Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) and Submarines

The United States Navy currently deploys 288 Trident II D5 SLBMs on 12 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) based out of Bangor, Washington (7 boats) and Kings Bay, Georgia (5 boats). The Ohio-class submarines have a service life of 42 years; two twenty year cycles with a two year mid-life nuclear refueling. The total fleet includes 14 boats; due to the refueling process, only 12 SSBNs are available for deployment at any given time.

The Ohio-class SSBNs were first deployed in 1981, and will reach the end of their services at a rate of approximately one boat per year between 2027 and 2040. The Navy plans to replace each retiring boat, starting in 2031, with a new class of ballistic missile submarine, referred to as the SSBNX or the Ohio-class replacement.[ix] The Navy orginally planned to begin using the replacement boats in 2029, but in 2012 the Pentagon announced a two year delay to the SSBNX program. This would push back completion of the first SSBNX to 2031. The FY 2014 budget was funded at $1.1 billion for the SSBNX. The Navy ultimately wants 12 boats with the lead boat costing $13.3 billion and each subsequent boat $7 billion for a total procurement cost of about $85 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.[x] Research, development and evaluation of the SSBNX will cost an additional $10-15 billion, for a project total of about $100 billion. The Navy anticipates lower costs. The total lifecycle cost of the SSBNX program is estimated at $347 billion.[xi]

Taking into account the delay, the Navy now plans to purchase the first SSBNX in 2021, the second in 2024, and one per year between 2026 and 2035. The first boat is scheduled to become operational in 2031. As a result, the Navy will field 10 ballistic missile submarines between 2030 and 2040.

Each Ohio-class submarine serves as a launch platform for up to 24 SLBMs loaded with up to eight warheads each. Under the New START treaty, by 2018 the Navy plans to deploy 20 SLBMs on each Ohio class submarine rather than the full 24. This will result in a total of 240 deployed SLBMs. The SSNBX will carry up to 16 SLBMs, for a maximum of 192 deployed SLBMs when the fleet is fully converted to the SSBNX in 2040.

First deployed in 1990, the force of Trident II D5 missiles has been routinely tested and evaluated. It is currently being modernized to last until 2042.[xii] The Trident II D5 LEP is underway to modernize key components, notably the electronics. In 2008, 12 life-extended variants of the D5 were purchased; 24 D5s will be produced each year through 2012 for a total of 108 missiles at a total cost of $15 billion. The FY 2012 budget included $980 million for the Trident II LEP. The first modified D5s were deployed in 2013.

The D5 SLBMs are armed with approximately 768 W76 and 384 W88 warheads. In 2009, NNSA began delivery of the W76-1, a refurbished version of the W76 that extends its service life for an additional 30 years. According to NNSA, the W76 LEP is refurbishing the nuclear explosive package, the arming, firing, and fusing system, the gas transfer system, and associated cables, elastomers, valves, pads, cushions, foam supports, telemetries, and other miscellaneous parts.[xiii] This $4 billion program will run through 2018, delivering up to 2,000 W76-1 warheads.[xiv]

The W88 entered the stockpile in 1989, making it the newest warhead in the arsenal. The W88 was the last U.S. warhead produced before the Rocky Flats Plants - which made plutonium “pits” - was shut down in 1989. NNSA re-established pit production capacity at Los Alamos National Laboratory with the first “certifiable” pit in 2003, and new production resumed in 2007.[xv] A new plutonium research and pit production facility, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR), had been planned for Los Alamos, but was put on hold for budget reasons. Funding for construction of the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was funded at $309 million for FY 2014.

With the rebuilt Trident D5 missile in service to 2042, the W76-1's life extended to 2040-50, the relatively new W88 in service, and a new class of SSBNs lasting into the 2070s, the U.S. Navy’s Trident Fleet will be kept robust and modern well into the 21st century.

3. Strategic Bombers

The United States Air Force currently deploys 18 B-2 Spirit bombers at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, and 76 B-52H bombers at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, that can be equipped for nuclear missions. In 2008 the Air Force created a designated bomber squadron at Minot Air Force Base to focus on the nuclear mission.[xvi] Although all 76 B-52Hs will remain nuclear capable, this squadron will focus on the nuclear mission by running a greater number of nuclear training exercises and missions. The squadron began its operations in 2010 and is comprised of 22 B-52Hs.

The Air Force is developing a new long range penetrating bomber with nuclear capabilities. The 2012 Aircraft Procurement Plan anticipates a procurement of 80-100 bombers at an estimated per unit cost of $550 million, for a total of $40-60 billion. The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review initially called for procurement of the bomber by 2018. The Pentagon’s FY 2014 budget is $359 million for research and development of the bomber. The Air Force plans to spend $32.1 billion over the next ten years on research and development for the new bomber.[xvii]

The Air Force continually modernizes the B-2 fleet, which first became operational in 1997 and is expected to last through 2058. In testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Major General William Chambers stated that the B-2 is “capable of long-range delivery of direct attack munitions in an anti-access environment.” To enable the B-2 to continue operating in high threat environments, Chambers testified that, “we have programs to modernize communication, offensive, and defensive systems.”[xviii] According to the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) the Pentagon will invest over $1 billion over the next five years on upgrades to its survivability and "mission effectiveness." The B-2 modifications include an incremental three-part program to update the Extremely High Frequency Satellite Communications and Computer Upgrade program (EHF SATCOM). Increment 1 will upgrade the B-2’s flight management computers. Increment 2 provides more secure and survivable strategic communications by integrating the Family of Beyond-Line-of-Sight Terminals with the low observable antenna. Increment 3 connects the B-2 with the Global Information Grid. The Air Force also began procuring components for a Radar Modernization Program (RMP) in FY 2009. The RMP includes replacing the original radar antenna and upgrading radar avionics.[xix]

The B-2 carries the B61 and B83 strategic bombs. The B61 has several mods, 3, 4, 7, 10, and 11. B61-3 and B61-4 are non-strategic weapons deployed in Europe for NATO aircraft as part of the U.S.’s extended nuclear commitment. The B61-7 and B61-11 are strategic weapons deployed on the B-2. An LEP recently extended the life of the B61-7 for an additional 20 years by refurbishing the bomb’s secondary stage (canned subassembly) and replacing the associated seals, foam supports, cables and connectors, washers, o-rings, and limited life components. NNSA intends to start replacing B61 mods 3, 4, and 7 in 2020. NNSA intends to combine these mods into a single bomb, the B61 mod 12. The LEP will refurbish the warheads with new firing, arming, and safety components, updated radar components, permissive action link components and equipment, modified power supplies, thermal batteries, join test assemblies, weapon trainers, and test and handling gear. [xx] The LEP will also modify the B61 for compatibility with the new Joint Strike Fighter. The LEP will extend the life of the B61s for 30 years. According to the NNSA, the First Production Unit will be completed in FY 2019. Completion of the LEP is scheduled for FY 2022 – FY 2023, and will cost an estimated $10 billion dollars.[xx.1] The FY 2014 budget has increased to $537 million, reflecting a decision to ramp up system engineering and development components for refurbishing the warhead.

The B83 was first produced in 1983, making it one of the newer weapons in the stockpile. The B83 has the most modern safety and security features, including insensitive high explosive and a fire-resistant pit.

The B-52H fleet, first deployed in 1961, has an on-going modification program, beginning in 1989, incorporating updates to the global positioning system, updating the weapons capabilities to accommodate a full array of advanced weapons developed after the procurement of the B-52H, and modifying the heavy stores adapter beams to allow the B-52H to carry up to 2,000 pound munitions and a total of 70,000 pounds of mixed ordnance armaments. In 2009 the Air Force testified before the House Armed Forces Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces on the current initiatives to update the capabilities of the B-52H. These modification programs include: the addition of satellite and nuclear survivable and secure wideband high data rate communications, Sniper and LITENING advanced targeting pods, upgrades to computer and data transfer units, and the integration of smart weapons.[xxiii] In FY 2011 the Air Force added to its modernization efforts for the B-52H, receiving funding for the Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT) program, which updates the B-52 computer infrastructure.

The 2010 NPR states that some B-52Hs will be converted to a conventional-only role. The 1251 Report indicates that the Air Force plans to retain at least some B-52Hs for the nuclear mission through 2035. This time frame could be extended, as the modernization programs for the B-52H will keep it in service into the 2040s.

The B-52H carries the air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), first deployed in 1981. Each ALCM carries a W80-1 warhead, first produced in 1982. NNSA is requesting $46 million for work on the W80 in FY 2013. In 2006 the United States had 1,142 ALCMS. According to a statement made by Major General Roger Burg, the ALCM fleet would be reduced to 528 and consolidated at Minor Air Force Base. A LEP is in place to extend the ALCM to 2030, but there are concerns at the Pentagon as to the feasibility of an LEP on the ALCM given that the components are becoming obsolete and unaffordable.[xxiv] NNSA originally planned to begin the research for the W80 LEP in FY 2022. The Department of Defense, however, indicated that it does not support a W80 LEP.[xxv]

The Air Force is currently researching a replacement for the ALCM, the Long Range Standoff missile, or LRSO. The Air Force plans for initial production of the new cruise missile around 2025, if it decides to move forward with the LRSO. [xxvi] Defense officials say that the LRSO could eventually cost $10-20 billion.

US NUCLEAR MODERNIZATION PROGRAMS

Department of Defense Programs

System

Modernization Plan

Costs

Length of Deployment

Additional Information

Minuteman III ICBM

Modernization and Replacement Program

$7 billion

through 2030 and possibly longer

Modernizes the propellant, guidance systems, propulsion system, targeting system, reentry vehicles and continues work on the rocket motors

Next ICBM

ICBM follow on study

$10 billion (FY 2014-2023)

 

Analysis of Alternatives will be completed in 2014, at which point the Air Force will determine if it will go forward with the program

B-2 Bomber

Modernization Program

$9.5 billion (FY 2000-2014)

2050s

Improves radar and high frequency satellite communications capabilities for nuclear command and control

B-52H Bomber

On-going modifications

 

2040s

Incorporates global positioning systems, updates computers and modernizes heavy stores adapter beams, and a full array of advance weapons

Long Range Strike Bomber

Research and development phase

$32 billion (FY 2014-2023)

 

The exact specifications of the new bomber are yet to be determined

Long Range Standoff Cruise Missile

Replacement for the ALCM

$10-20 billion (estimated)

 

Air Force is completing the Analysis of Alternatives.

SSBNX

New ballistic missile submarine

$100 billion (estimated)

2031 - 2080s

Replacement submarine for the existing Ohio-class SSBN

Trident II D5 SLBM LEP

Modernization and life extension

 

2042

 

 

Department of Energy - NNSA Weapons Activities

System

Modernization Plan

Costs

Length of Deployment

Additional Information

W76

Life Extension Program

$4 billion

2040-2050

Scheduled for completion in 2018

B61 - 3/4/7/10

Life Extension Program

$10 billion

2040s

Scheduled for completion in 2023

W78

Life Extension Program

$5 billion

2050s

Scheduled for completion in 2025

W88

Life Extension Program

 

 

Scheduled to begin in FY 2016 and end in FY 2031

 



[i] Congressional Budget Office, Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2014 to 2023, Dec. 2013.

 

[ii] FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill.

 

[iii] Lifetime Extension Program (LEP) Executive Summary, JSR-09-334E, The MITRE Corp., JASON Program Office, September 9, 2009, p. 2.

 

[iv] Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Water and Energy Development, Senate Report 112-75, September 7, 2011,

http://thomas.loc.gov/home/approp/app12.html

 

[v] Jason Simpson, “Kehler: Air Force Investigating Minuteman III Follow-On System,” Inside the Air Force, October 8, 2009.

[vi] Amy F. Woolf, “U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues,” Congressional Research Service, March 10, 2011.

[vii] Congressional Budget Office, Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2014 to 2023, Dec. 2013.

[viii] http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2013_09/Pentagon-Defends-3%202-Plan-for-Warheads

[ix] Ronald O’Rourke, “Navy SSBN (X) Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress”, Congressional Research Service, April 22 2011.

 

[x] Congressional Budget Office, “An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2013 Shipbuilding Plan” July, 2012.

 

[xi] Christopher Castelli, “New Nuclear Subs Will Cost $347 Billion to Acquire, Operate” Defense News, February 16, 2011,

http://defensenewsstand.com/NewsStand-General/The-INSIDER-Free-Article/dod-new-nuclear-subs-will-cost-347-billion-to-acquire-operate/menu-id-720.html

 

[xii] Dana J. Johnson, Christopher J. Bowie, and Robert P. Haffa, “Triad, Dyad, Monad? Shaping the US Nuclear Force for the Future,” Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies, December 2009.

 

[xiii] National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), “Life Extension Programs,” http://nnsa.energy.gov/defense_programs/life_extension_programs.htm.

 

[xiv] Report to Congress on Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for FY 2011.” Director, Warfare Integration (OPNAV N8F), Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, February 2010,

http://www.militarytimes.com/static/projects/pages/2011shipbuilding.pdf.

[xv] Los Alamos Study Group, “Plutonium Pit Production — LANL's Pivotal New Mission”, http://www.lasg.org/campaigns/PUPitProd.htm.

[xvi] Amy F. Woolf, “U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues,” Congressional Research Service, March 10, 2011.

[xvii] Congressional Budget Office, Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2014 to 2023, Nov. 2013, p. 72.

[xviii] Major General William A. Chambers, Assistant Chief of Staff, Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration, “Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Budget Request for Department of Energy Atomic Energy Defense Activities and Department of Defense Nuclear Forces Programs”, Statement before the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, April 5th, 2011.

 

[xix] Department of the Air Force Presentation to the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces, United States House of Representatives, Subject: Air Force Programs, Combined Statement of: Lieutenant General Daniel J. Darnell, Air Force Deputy Chief Of Staff For Air, Space and Information Operations, Plans And

Requirements, Lieutenant General Mark D. Shackelford, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition , Lieutenant General Raymond E. Johns, Jr., Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans And Programs, May 20, 2009, pp. 14-15.

 

[xx] Department of Energy Fiscal Year 2012 Congressional Budget Request, National Nuclear Security Administration, February 2011.

[xx.1] Hearing transcript, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Water and Energy Development, July 25, 2012.

 

[xxi] Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Water and Energy Development, Senate Report 112-75, September 7, 2011,

http://thomas.loc.gov/home/approp/app12.html

 

[xxii] House Appropriations Subcommittee on Water and Energy Development, House Report 112-118, June 15, 2011,

http://thomas.loc.gov/home/approp/app12.html

 

[xxiii] Department of the Air Force Presentation to the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces, United States House of Representatives, Subject: Air Force Programs, Combined Statement of: Lieutenant General Daniel J. Darnell, Air Force Deputy Chief Of Staff For Air, Space and Information Operations, Plans And

Requirements, Lieutenant General Mark D. Shackelford, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Lieutenant General Raymond E. Johns, Jr., Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans And Programs, May 20, 2009, pp. 15-16.

 

[xxiv] Dana J. Johnson, Christopher J. Bowie, and Robert P. Haffa, “Triad, Dyad, Monad? Shaping the US Nuclear Force for the Future,” Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies, December 2009, p. 18.

 

[xxv] Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Report 109-274, June 26, 2006,

http://thomas.loc.gov/home/approp/app07.html

[xxvi]Amy F. Woolf, “U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues,” Congressional Research Service, March 10, 2011.

 

US NUCLEAR MODERNIZATION PROGRAMS

Department of Defense Programs

System

Modernization Plan

Costs

Length of Deployment

Additional Information

Minuteman III ICBM

Modernization and Replacement Program

$7 billion

through 2020 and possibly 2050

Modernizes the propellant, guidance systems, propulsion system, targeting system, reentry vehicles and continues work on the rocket motors

Next ICBM

ICBM follow on study

$26 million for FY 2012-2014


Analysis of Alternatives will be completed in 2014, at which point the Air Force will determine if it will go forward with the program

B-2 Bomber

Modernization Program

$9.5 billion (FY 2000-2014)

2050s

Improves radar and high frequency satellite communications capabilities for nuclear command and control

B-52H Bomber

On-going modifications


2040s

Incorporates global positioning systems, updates computers and modernizes heavy stores adapter beams, and a full array of advance weapons

Long Range Penetrating Bomber

Research and development phase

$40-60 billion (estimated)


The exact specifications of the LRPB are yet to be determined

Long Range Standoff Cruise Missile

Replacement for the ALCM

1.3 billion (estimated)


Air Force is completing the Analysis of Alternatives. If they choose to go forward production is estimated to begin in 2025

SSBNX

New ballistic missile submarine

$96-101 billion

2029 - 2080s

Replacement submarine for the existing Ohio-class SSBN

Trident II D5 SLBM LEP

Modernization and life extension


2042







Department of Energy - NNSA Weapons Activities

System

Modernization Plan

Costs

Length of Deployment

Additional Information

W76

Life Extension Program

$4 billion

2040-2050

Scheduled for completion in 2018

B61 - 3/4/7

Life Extension Program

$4 billion

2040s

Scheduled for completion in 2022/2023

W78

Life Extension Program

$5 billion

2050s

Scheduled for completion in 2025

W88

Life Extension Program



Scheduled to begin in FY 2016 and end in FY 2031

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